Immigrant Experience Research Guide

The history of Missouri reflects the United States’ ongoing experience as a nation of immigrants. The State Historical Society of Missouri holds numerous manuscripts, photograph collections, publications, and other materials on Missouri immigrants and immigration. In addition to the links provided here, please see the research guides on the German American Experience in Missouri and the Jewish American Experience in Missouri.

A Brief History

After becoming a state in 1821, Missouri’s first significant wave of immigration consisted of Germans who began arriving in the 1820s and came in larger numbers in the following decades. They joined an existing population of white American settlers, most of whom had come from Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, as well as earlier settlers of French heritage. These earlier groups had brought slavery to Missouri, giving the state an African American presence that would account for 10 percent of the total population by 1860.

The Germans bolstered settlement in areas where Missouri’s population was already concentrated, such as near the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and in St. Louis, the state’s largest city. In the city, and also in smaller towns and rural areas, Germans formed their own communities while they gradually adapted to their new surroundings. They maintained a strong and cohesive ethnic culture throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Suppression of German language and culture during World War I, when their ancestral homeland was at war with the United States, dealt a severe blow to German heritage in Missouri, but appreciation for Missouri Germans has revived in recent decades, with several organizations dedicated to preserving and celebrating their contributions to the state.

As Missouri grew and its economy expanded, numerous other immigrant groups arrived. By the outbreak of the Civil War, a sizable Irish population had developed, especially in St. Louis and in Jackson and Buchanan Counties on the western side of the state. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe came in significant numbers. They typically worked in factories, in industries such as mining, or in the construction trades, and often lived in the cities, forming distinctive communities like the Italian American neighborhood in St. Louis known as The Hill. Missouri’s Jewish communities, which had been dominated by German Jews prior to the 1880s, were profoundly changed by the arrival of eastern European Jews.

When the influx of immigrants from Europe was halted during World War I, African Americans filled much of the void left in the workforce. The Great Migration from the South greatly increased the state’s black population. Immigration from outside the United States picked up again after the war, and new populations from places as varied as Mexico, Vietnam, Somalia, and Bosnia came to Missouri over the remainder of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

Articles in the Missouri Historical Review

In addition to the links provided here, please see the Research Guides on the German American Experience in Missouri and the Jewish American Experience in Missouri.

Manuscripts

The State Historical Society of Missouri manuscript collections include personal papers, organizational records, and other materials related to immigrants.

View All Immigrant Manuscript Collections

Newspapers

Immigrant newspapers played an important role in Missouri’s various immigrant communities. German, Jewish, and Italian newspapers in Missouri’s cities and towns helped Missouri immigrants maintain their cultural identity. The papers reported on issues of local and national interest and provided networking opportunities for cultural clubs and promotion of a variety of immigrant run businesses.

For a list of all digitized newspapers, visit the Missouri Digital Newspaper Project.

For a list of newspapers on microfilm at The State Historical Society of Missouri, visit the newspaper catalog.

County Title Available On Date Range
Buchanan Das Westliche Volksblatt Microfilm September 9, 1876
Buchanan St. Joseph Volksblatt Microfilm February 6, 1906; 1920-1932 part of Kansas City Press
Buchanan Westliches Volksblatt Microfilm 1858-1879
Cole Der Fortschritt Microfilm 1868-1876
Cole Missouri Staats Zeitung Microfilm 1879-1883
Cole Missouri Volksfreund Microfilm 1876-1925
Franklin Deutsche Welt Microfilm April 26, 1889
Franklin Die Washingtoner Post Microfilm 1870-1895
Gasconade Die Gasconade Zeitung Microfilm 1873-1874
Gasconade Hermanner Volksblatt Microfilm 1860-1928
Gasconade Wochenblatt Microfilm 1845-1855
Gasconade Licht-Freund Microfilm 1843-1845
Jackson El Cosmopolita Microfilm 1914-1919
Jackson La Stampa-Italiana Microfilm 1931-1941
Jackson Guide to Jewish Life Microfilm 1995-1999
Jackson Jewish World Microfilm Sep 15, 1901
Jackson Kansas City Jewish Chronicle Microfilm 1954-2000
Jackson La Voce dell’emigrante Microfilm 1909-19??
Jackson L’Osservatore Microfilm 1908-1915
Jackson Svenska pressen Microfilm 1901
Jackson Svenska sydvestern Microfilm 1895-1899
Jackson Svenska tigningen Microfilm 1892-1898
Jackson Svenska weckobladet Microfilm 1890-1891
Osage Osage County Volksblatt Microfilm 1899-1917
St.Charles Der St. Charles Demokrat Microfilm 1852-1916
St. Charles St. Charles Republikaner Microfilm 1884-1901
St. Louis Hlas Microfilm 1901-1929; Feb 23, 1945
St. Louis Il Pensiero Microfilm 1945; 1969-2014
St. Louis Jewish Free Press Microfilm 1885-1887
St. Louis Jewish Tribune Microfilm 1879-1884
St. Louis Jewish Voice Microfilm 1888-1926 (missing 1892)
St. Louis La Lega Italiana Microfilm 1914-1920
St. Louis Revue de L’Ouest Microfilm 1854
St. Louis St. Louis Es Videke Microfilm 1958-1969
St. Louis St. Louis Jewish Light Microfilm 1947-2013 (incomplete)
Warren Der Missionar Microfilm 1881-1882
Warren Die Union Microfilm Aug 31, 1876
Warren Warrenton Volksfreund Microfilm 1881-1918

Oral Histories

Interviews with Missouri immigrant groups, professionals, and other individuals.

Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE) Records, 1880-2009, (K0670) 
7 cubic feet
Organizational records and other research materials relating to the activities of CAJE and the history of the Jewish Community in Kansas City, particularly in preparation of the book, Mid-America's Promise: A Profile of Kansas City Jewry.

Heart of America Jewish Historical Society Records, 1990-2005 (K0958) 
0.27 cubic feet
The records contain organizational records and audio cassette tape recordings of meetings and oral histories.

History Speaks Oral History Project Records, 2000-2002, (K0400)
10 linear feet, 295 VHS video cassettes, 142 folders
RESTRICTED
The records of the History Speaks Oral History Project contain videotaped interviews, participant files, and project administrative files relating to this early 21st century project. The project focused on capturing stories of prominent Kansas Citians from the business, nonprofit, arts, political, and civic communities. Participants were selected whose experiences highlighted events that shaped Kansas City's history and development. The concept for the project originated out of celebrations surrounding Kansas City's 150th anniversary.

Italian Immigrant Oral History Project, 1973-1984, (S0511)
19 cassettes
Mormino conducted interviews with Italian immigrants residing in the "Hill" neighborhood in south St. Louis as part of the research for his book, Immigrants On The Hill, Italian Americans in St. Louis 1882-1982.

Jewish Community Archives Oral History Project, (K0440)
Video and audio oral history interviews with member of the Jewish community in the Kansas City area.

Jewish Community Center Centennial Oral History Project, 2013, (K1286)
0.3 cubic foot
Oral histories of long standing members of the Jewish Community in Greater Kansas City, particularly relating to the Community Center.

Lance, Donald M. (1931-2002), Papers, 1938-2002, (C3992)
11.3 linear feet, 144 audio cassettes
The papers of a University of Missouri English professor, well-known for his lectures on the pronunciation of "Missouri" and other dialect research, contain extensive professional correspondence, research data, articles, presentations, teaching materials, and materials related to his work with professional organizations. Audio cassettes include interviews with Germans in Missouri and with decorated U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Byrl D. Taylor, Missouri folk musicians, and examples of English language dialects.

Oral History Collection, (S0829) 

ONLINE TRANSCRIPTS 
11 Boxes, 800+ Audio Recordings
The Oral History collection consists of reels, cassettes and transcripts of oral histories of influential St. Louis citizens. These interviews fall into general categories such as Immigrants, Black Community Leaders, and Labor Leaders.

Puchta, Randolph E. (1928-2006), Interview, 1998, (C2521) 
1 Folder and 3 audio cassettes
An interview with Puchta, a resident of Hermann, Missouri. In the interview Puchta discusses his early life, German ancestry, wine making, local customs and leisure activities, and transportation. Of note are his descriptions of photographs from the Edward Kemper Collection.

Schroeder, Adolf E., Papers, (CA5349)
RESTRICTED
Additions to professional papers of a University of Missouri-Columbia Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies chairman. Contains correspondence, teaching materials, departmental papers, oral histories of German-Americans in Missouri, and student materials.

Shopmaker, Sylvia Minkin (1912-1996) Oral History Transcription, 1985, (K1213) 
1 Folder
Transcription of oral history of Shopmaker, daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, lifelong resident of the Greater Kansas City area, and active in the Jewish community.

Steinkuehler, Leland, German Dialect Collection, 2005-2008, (CA6096)
1 folder, 8 audio cassettes, 10 CDs
Recordings and accompanying paperwork of interviews done with Missourians of German heritage from Concordia, Loose Creek, Westphalia, and St. Elizabeth, Missouri, as well as visitors from Meerbusch, Germany. Includes a comparison of dialects between three interviewees. The interviews were conducted by Leland Steinkuehler. Addition of recordings of a Lutheran Church service conducted in Low German and a narration with English translations by Reverend Alfred W. Rodewald, 2009.

Stornello, Joseph A. (1951- ) Oral History Collection, 1995, (K0426)
2 Folders
Oral history interviews of four Kansas City area Italian-Americans talking about the nature of Italian-American assimilation, acculturation and education. Includes indexes for each interview.

Photographs

Below is a list of collections with images of immigrants throughout Missouri. Search the entire digital photograph collection online here.

Bek, William G., Photograph Collection, (P0586)
40 photographs
Photos of and relating to German immigrants in Missouri, including the Frederick Steines home and family, St. Albans, MO, the Muench family, the Goebel family, Bethel Colony, Charles Wulfing, and assorted followers of Duden.

German American National Alliance Convention, Photographs, 1913, 1916, (P0864)
2 photographs
Panoramic group photos from German American National Alliance Conventions, 1913 and 1916.

Historic Hermann, Postcards, (P0613) 
9 postcards
Postcards of German School and Hermann Museum in Hermann, MO.

Nahm-Mueller Family, Photographs, 1880s-1920s, (C1798) 
1 folder
Photocopies and 35mm negatives of fifteen photographs of a Hermann, Missouri, family. These photographs are part of the German Heritage Archives.

YMCA Addenda, 1853-2003, (S0835)
12 photographs
Images of St. Louis immigrant industrial workers, english lessons, and classes. View images here, using keywords "YMCA; immigrant".