"Germans to Americans" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Rhineland is an east-central Missouri village carved out of the bottomlands and forests along the Missouri River in the 1830s. Due to the great flood of 1993, only remnants of the original town of Rhineland remain. Michael Montgomery's desire to learn about his family has resulted in a 150-page book about the hamlet and how it served as home to many German immigrant families and their offspring for nearly 200 years.
A wedding photograph of his great grandparents, Adolph F. Heying and Caroline Giesing, made Montgomery curious. He launched an investigation of his family tree and learned that a Heying had been among about a half dozen families who left Germany in the mid-1850s for the U.S.
After at least a 5-week long crossing of the Atlantic in a sailing vessel, these newcomers boarded steamboats and made their way up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Frank Gosen and his wife Elizabeth Heying were among the passengers. A year later, other Heying family members arrived. Montgomery's lineage goes back to the Heyings whose names can be found in 150 years of local records.
This pattern of “chain migration” was typical for thousands of mid-19th century Germans who settled in Missouri River towns from Saint Charles to Glasgow. Early Missouri settlers sent letters to family members in Germany who were suffering from harsh economic conditions. They would give glowing reports about the animal and plant life in the area and thus encouraged their fellow Germans to make the trek to the New World.
When arriving immigrants joined friends and family members whom they had known in the “old country,” their familiarity with each other, the fact that they spoke a common language, and shared a strong work ethic, meant that soon land was cleared, and a home was built for the new arrivals.
“Germans to Americans” follows the lives of these immigrant families for several generations beginning with their life in Prussia, and their settlement and advancement in these small, isolated Missouri River towns.
Montgomery weaves together his family genealogy and more general regional history. He notes when and why the small towns were incorporated, the family businesses that were established, the impact of the Katy Railroad coming to town, and other major events that shaped the rise and fall of the region.
Readers with family connections to the towns of Starkenburg, Americus, Rhineland, and other communities in southern Montgomery County will especially find this book fascinating. Heying descendants may take particular interest in this genealogical study, and those who have a general interest in the German migration to the Midwest will find this a welcome addition to the canon.
About the Author:
Dr. Michael R. Montgomery is a music instructor at the University of Arkansas. He has composed several pieces for double bass and has articles on bass performance in several music publications.