Income Taxes for Francis Helbling, 1886

May 1886 Excise Tax Header for Pennsylvania.
May 1886 Excise Tax Header for Pennsylvania.
May 1886 Excise Tax for Francis Helbling.
May 1886 Excise Tax for Francis Helbling.                          (Click for larger and sharper images.)


Happy (??) Belated 101st Anniversary to the 16th Amendment, which was ratified February 2, 1913.

As our income tax information comes in this month and we scramble to understand the complex laws that will determine how much we owe Uncle Sam for last year’s income, it is worth noting that the US did not have an income tax for most of its early history. The few tax records remaining, however, will provide interesting information to family historians.

An income tax was proposed during the War of 1812, based on the British Tax Act of 1798. (A few levels of irony there…) The proposal was made in 1814, but because hostilities ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1815, this progressive tax of 0.833% to 10% was never implemented.

By the time of the Civil War, however, the need for a federal income tax was apparent to pay the high costs of war, and income taxes were imposed on personal income in 1861. Any income over $800 was taxed at 3%. The Revenue Act of 1861 was repealed but another tax was implemented in 1862.

In 1894, an income tax was again passed to compensate for the reduction of federal income due to the Wilson-Gorman Tariff, which also reduced tariffs. Income over $4,000 was taxed at 2%, which only affected about 10% of the households in the United States. In 1895, however, a Supreme Court ruling effectively made this an impractical tax to impose, due to constitutional limits on direct taxes needing to be apportioned by the states per the census enumeration. Thus technically no ‘income taxes’ were paid to the federal government until ratification of the 16th Amendment on 02 February, 1913.

Amendment XVI to the US Constitution:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

“Excise” taxes, however, were imposed before this time, because it was possible to tax on property; such records may be found in the NARA records for the IRS. Some are available on, such as the record above that shows Francis Helbling paid 85 cents excise tax on his two cattle (40 cents each) and one calf (5 cents tax). I have not proved that this is my ancestor, but it is possible since Francis X. Helbling was a butcher and lived in Pennsylvania at that time. Many families kept some cattle for their own use, too. I have also seen Civil War IRS records for other family members, but am not sure how to find those on my Ancestry tree without going through each head of household’s data sheet for the proper time period. It is great to find these records, though, as they tell us a bit more about daily life for our ancestors.


And I’ll bet our ancestors complained about paying taxes just as much as we do.


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) Source Information: U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: National Archives (NARA) microfilm series: M603, M754-M771, M773-M777, M779-M780, M782, M784, M787-M789, M791-M793, M795, M1631, M1775-M1776, T227, T1208-T1209. Accessed 02/01/14.

2) Accessed 02/01/14.

3) Of course, other taxes were imposed such as road taxes, a poll tax to vote, etc. Those records are sometimes available as well.


Please contact us if you would like a higher resolution image.

Copyright 2014 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

We would love to read your thoughts and comments about this post, and thank you for your time! All comments are moderated, however, due to the high intelligence and persistence of spammers/hackers who really should be putting their smarts to use for the public good instead of spamming our little blog.

Helbling Family Home & School, Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Helbling Family Home & School


Helbling family home in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. From a family photo but image may also be found in St. Augustine Diamond Jubilee, page 40-2, St. Augustine Catholic Church, Lawrenceville, PA. From a family photo but image may also be found in St. Augustine Diamond Jubilee, page 40-2, St. Augustine Catholic Church, Lawrenceville, PA.
Helbling family home in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania.
From a family photo but image may also be found in St. Augustine Diamond Jubilee, page 40-2, St. Augustine Catholic Church, Lawrenceville, PA.

In the year 1854, the Franz Xavier and Maria Barbara (Helbling) Helbling home was across from the Allegheny Cemetery and halfway between Sharpsburg and St. Philomena’s Roman Catholic Church. The Redemptionist Fathers of St. Philomena’s often stopped at the home of the devout Helbling family when traveling between the Church on Fourteenth St. and Sharpsburg. (The home was still standing in the 1930s, but 4807-4809 Butler St., Lawrenceville, PA, is now an empty lot.) German Catholics were very devoted to parochial schools- they felt their children should start their day with a Mass and that they should be schooled in a Catholic school. The Helblings had eleven children, and there were many more children of German Catholic families in the town of Lawrenceville, PA, near Pittsburgh which was rapidly becoming an important industrial city.

The Helbling children attended the English-speaking school at St. Philomena’s on 46th St., but it was quite a long way to travel. Father John Hotz, C.SS.R. visited the Helblings at their home in the fall of 1854, and asked if the Helblings would board a teacher who could instruct their children. A schoolroom was set up on the second floor of the double house, and the teacher arrived.


Nine of the Helbling children attended school with this teacher: Elizabeth Barbara, Francis X., William, Philomena Rosanna, Catherine Josephine, Mary Sophia, John Baptist, and Joseph Anthony Helbling; sometimes Bertha Louise, just 2 or 3, attended class. The teacher was very stern and strange, only left the house on Sundays to go to Mass, and wore a long black robe but was not actually a priest. (He may have been a Redemptorist lay brother but no information has confirmed this.) He prayed to a picture of Our Lady of Guadeloupe constantly. The story told is that when, one day, Mrs. Helbling sent little daughter Bertha Louise to get some corn cobs from the yard, the child returned with them and said, “I got them.” The teacher, not being very fluent in English, thought that the child had said a curse word, and said, “Bertha Louise is surely going to hell.”

The adults in the family soon began to question the eccentric behavior of this teacher that their children greatly disliked and feared. The family never even knew his name- he was always just addressed as “Teacher.” As a mother, Mary Theresa (Knipshield) Helbling feared for her children that the teacher was about to lose his mind, and asked Father Hotz to dismiss him from their school and home. Fr. Hotz transferred the teacher to a school in Sharpsburg, where he did in fact lose his mind and have to be removed. Nothing further is known of him.

To be continued…


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) St. Augustine’s Parish History 1863-1938. Personal copy from a cousin, but the entire history may be found online at, page 11. Accessed 1-22-2014.

Please contact us if you would like a higher resolution image.

Copyright 2014 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

We would love to read your thoughts and comments about this post, and thank you for your time! All comments are moderated, however, due to the high intelligence and persistence of spammers/hackers who really should be putting their smarts to use for the public good instead of spamming our little blog.

Tombstone Tuesday- Dr. John H. O’Brien

John H. O'Brien- Headstone. (Used with permission of photographer.)
John H. O’Brien- Headstone. (Used with permission of photographer.)

My mother always thought that her family were most probably just poor Irish or German immigrants, with little education and only blue collar jobs. Little education did not mean little intellect, however- as an example, her father was brilliant and read everything. With the publication of the 1940 census last year I was surprised to learn that her father had only completed 8th grade, and her mother completed 2 years of high school. Education was very valued within the family, and that has been passed on through subsequent generations.

I wish my mother had been able to know about her family- by the time I found the early information on the family, it was too late. She would have been very happy to know about Dr. John H. O’Brien, who was the maternal grandfather of G. W. Helbling.

John H. O’Brien was born in June, 1808 in Carrick on Suir, Ireland. His parent’s names are as yet unknown- there are a lot of John O’Brien’s in Ireland!

Dr. John H. O'Brien- headstone detail
Dr. John H. O’Brien- headstone detail

John O’Brien graduated from the University of Dublin with a medical degree sometime before 21 Jun 1831 when he immigrated to the United States. Western Pennsylvania was in the midst of a cholera outbreak around that time, so his medical skills were put to good use right away. The inscription on the monument is appropriate for his calling, and states:

Blessed is he that understandeth concerning

the needy and the poor, the Lord will deliver

him in the evil day. -XL Psalm 

Dr. John H. O’Brien married Jane Neel who descended from early pioneers, and they lived in Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania, in various places such as Baldwin, Scott, and Pittsburgh. It has not been as easy to find information about John’s life and career as with other doctors- possibly because he was Irish, and they were looked down upon? Or because he initially practiced out on the frontier of Western Pennsylvania?

O'Brien Headstone- Anna Bell O'Brien and Eleanor O'Brien detail. Possibly daughters of John O'Brien and Jane Neel?
O’Brien Headstone- Anna Bell O’Brien and Eleanor O’Brien detail.

John and Jane had at least 10 children, and possibly two more who are listed on the O’Brien monument in Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery, Lawrenceville, Allegheny Co., PA, Section H.

Nothing is known about Jane Neel O’Brien’s death as yet, and she does not appear to be buried in the same cemetery, at least, not with this same name. She did survive him, and one researcher states she died 06 Dec 1895. More to come about the children and Jane Neel and her family in upcoming posts.

A grandchild of John and Jane is also buried in this plot, and listed on the monument:

O'Brien Headstone- Charlie O'Brien detail
O’Brien Headstone- Charlie O’Brien detail


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) The 1940 census was a goldmine for family historians, if you can find how they were indexed- Gerard W. Helbling is listed on as “Gerhart W. Hebling.” I found the family by looking for their daughter and her husband- they lived in the same house.

2) 1940 US Federal Census for Gerard W. Helbling: Source Citation: Year: 1940; Census Place: St Louis, St Louis City, Missouri; Roll: T627_2208; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 96-670. Source Information: 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls. Accessed 12 Jan 2014.

3) I have been unsuccessful as yet getting information from the University of Dublin re: John O’Brien’s attendance there.

4) A John O’Brien’s immigration is listed in 1840 in Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania, at Source Information: U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010. WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY, Pittsburgh, compilers. A List of Immigrants Who Applied for Naturalization Papers in the District Courts of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: the society. Vol. 2, 1841-1855. 1978. 139p. 7,800 names, p. 82. Original data: Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2012. I believe this may be another John O’Brien, or maybe when his papers were filed. More investigation is needed. Accessed 12 Jan 2014.

5) Find a Grave Memorial # 55460843 at Accessed 14 Jan 2014.


Please contact us if you would like a higher resolution image.

Copyright 2014 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Stories- A Family Legacy, Part 1

Edith Roberts McMurray with Son, about 1924.
Edith Roberts McMurray with Son, about 1924.

Family historians have a saying:

Genealogy without sources is just ‘mythology.’

We really should go a step further and say:

Genealogy without stories is just… well, BORING!

A recent New York Times article, “This Life. The Stories That Bind Us,” discusses developing a “strong family narrative.” The article (and book) is based on research by the Emory University psychologist Marshall Duke and his colleague Robyn Fivush. Their studies showed that children who had a strong sense of their family history had a higher sense of control of their life and greater self esteem. They also found these children were more resilient when faced with challenges.  This research hit home with me- at tough times in my life, my grandmother would tell me, “You come from strong pioneer stock- you can do anything you set your mind to.” Knowing those pioneer stories, and knowing the family support I had, helped me get through those tough times and use it as a lesson in my own life, and helped some of those times become a story for our own family.

When I started doing genealogy back in the 1960s (I really was a teen then, so not quite THAT old now), pedigree charts, family group sheets, and Ahnantafel and Register reports full of names and dates and places were what genealogy was all about. What really hooked me, though, was a trip to the county library where I found a book that actually told a story about my ancestors. I had family bible, obituary, and other information that my grandmother helped me find, but they were just cold, hard facts (mostly). When I saw the Benjamin name in a book I was browsing in the library stacks, however, my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t think it could possibly be my ancestors in a library book. Then I saw the name Brown, and because of the place and dates, knew it had to be my ancestors! The book was a reference book, so I could not check it out. I couldn’t stop reading, even though I knew my mother would be sitting out in the car waiting to pick me up. (See, I really wasn’t that old- couldn’t drive yet.) The story was about an Indian massacre of the Brown and Benjamin families in Loyalsock, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, in May of 1778. Many family members were killed, others taken captive and later released. (More in an upcoming post.) I copied the information by hand- copiers were still new-fangled  machines back then and not readily available- and rushed breathlessly to the car. My mother was not happy she was kept waiting, but thrilled when I told her what I had found about my father’s family. She was somewhat disappointed that it was not her family, and felt that since her ancestors were probably poor immigrants from Ireland and Germany, we would not find much about them. Little did she know what wonderful stories were to come about her family- one of her “poor immigrant” ancestors was actually a physician, John H. O’Brien (1808-1887). Dr. O’Brien came to America shortly after receiving his medical degree at the University of  Dublin, Ireland, around 1830, in the midst of a cholera epidemic in Pennsylvania. He survived and married Jane Neel (1823-1895) who came from a family of early pioneers in this country. (More about them in another post too.)

Social History

Telling the stories of the common people is a part of ‘social history.’ Scholarly historians have long looked down on genealogy as a mythology of name seekers who want to be related to someone famous, but are finally realizing that the everyday life of everyday people has as much importance as famous generals, battles, and political figures. (I think even more important.) This movement began with books such as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, and continues with the hundreds of books more recently published by both scholarly and family historians. Some of the books are biographies, but others are scholarly studies on events or places. These books can help us place family in the context of the times. Tip: Check the index to see if your family is listed. Indexes do not always pick up every individual, however, so skim through the book and you may find a treasure. Even if your family member is not listed, other information in the book may apply to your family. I had ancestors in northern New England in the late 1600s-early 1700s, so another Ulrich book, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750, had much information to help me gain a sense of what their daily lives would have been like.

 To be continued…

Notes, Sources, and References:

1) New York Times article “This Life. The Stories That Bind Us” published online 15 Mar 2013 at “Bruce Feiler’s recently published book, “The Secrets of Happy Families: How to Improve Your Morning, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smart, Go Out and Play, and Much More.”

2) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812  (Knopf, New York, 1990)

3) Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750  (Knopf, New York, 1980.)




Art in Artifacts: Helbling Gravy Boat

Helbling gravy boat-2
Every once in a while, there is an object that is just SO LOVELY that it becomes a part of your soul, and the above heirloom gravy boat is one of those objects for me.

The gravy boat sat in the china cabinet in our dining room as I grew up. We did not use the dining room very often, and I don’t ever remember using the gravy boat. Maybe it was too precious, or maybe all the cracks in the glaze made it unsafe to use. We didn’t have gravy often- my mother was a minimalist cook, plus she would have had her own gravy boat to match her china. So this lovely object sat in the china cabinet, which really was a museum of our family history and reminder of times gone by. I would lovingly dust it a few times per year, thinking of my grandparents, and how life must have been for my mother growing up, the youngest in a family of eight. It was her job to dust just as it was mine, and I felt her fear of dropping such a beautiful object or even chipping such a special piece that showcased the assets of a family.

So what is a ‘gravy boat’? A gravy boat, sauce boat, or sauciere is an oval table service piece that looks like a low, elongated pitcher. Most have handles for pouring out the sauce; others, such as this, are lower and have one or two long lips at the end, and may have a handle or not. Sauce could be poured but usually a gravy ladle would be used if there was no handle on the gravy boat. Gravy boats had a matching oval plate or saucer that was attached, or it might be separate, as in this piece. The saucer would have a depression into which the foot of the gravy boat sat so it didn’t slide if slippery gravy was dripped onto the plate, or while it was passed hand-to-hand around the big table. The saucer was also important to prevent gravy stains on the nice tablecloth- and that would have been cloth of the old fashioned kind- a linen or cotton that would also need starch and ironing after washing. (They had no quick-wipe plastic or easy care permanent-press polyester tablecloths like we have today.) A matching porcelain gravy ladle might have also been used, or the family might use their sterling silver or silverplate gravy ladle. The oval shape and spout-like ends of the gravy boat are designed to pour but also to hold the ladle without it slipping down into the gravy, though proper manners dictated that the gravy ladle at least start the meal sitting on the saucer. (See source #4 for an example of a similar set with plate.) I do not remember a plate for our treasured heirloom, so it was probably broken long before my time.

Helbling gravy boat_closeup
The decoration on this gravy boat is so very delicate and pretty. Sweet pansies or violas were hand painted in two lucious purples, and the raised gold is set off by beautiful white porcelain. It is authentic Noritake Nippon Hand Painted china as it has the correct mark, plus I know the chain of custody. The gravy boat would have been made between 1890 and 1918, probably, as the McKinley Tariff Act required “Japan” be used on imported pieces after 1921, although Japan had already started using the name of their country on export china shortly after WWI.

Helbling gravy boat_mark
This lovely object belonged to Anna Mae Beerbower (1881-1954) and her husband, William Gerard Helbling (1882-1971)- or Gerard William Helbling- he switched the order of his names throughout the years as good Germans often did. They were married 24 November 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri, the year of the World’s Fair. Maybe this was a wedding gift, or a special Christmas, anniversary, or birthday gift. The family was of modest means, but such lovely objects graced their table, even if there was not enough income to buy a lot of food, especially in the tough economies of the 1920s through the 1940s.

Interestingly, a daughter of the family was named Viola Gertrude Helbling (1913-1971). I wonder if my grandmother was partial to violas, the flowers? They have always been a favorite of mine, and my mother loved them too.

Somehow, KFC gravy in a styrofoam cup with plastic lid seems even more unappetizing after thinking about this lovely heirloom gravy boat.

Notes and References:

1) Family oral tradition.

2) Noritake Nippon mark:

3) Noritake history:

4) Similar:


Please contact us if you would like a higher resolution image.

Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.