Sentimental Sunday: Mary Theresa (Helbling) McMurray

Mary T. Helbling and "Honeychow," the family's beloved cocker spaniel, c early 1940s.
Mary T. Helbling and “Honeychow,” the family’s beloved cocker spaniel, c early 1940s.

This is really a ‘Sentimental Sunday’- a day that causes memories, regrets, happy thoughts, and a whole mix of emotions to weave through my consciousness throughout the day. It is the birthday of Mary Theresa (Helbling) McMurray.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, to G. W. Helbling and Anna May Beerbower Helbing, Mary never knew that she was named for her paternal great-grandmother, Mary Theresa (Knipshield) Helbling. She always thought her family was of poor German and Irish origins, but it turns out that they were early pioneers, upstanding community members, and good, hardworking people. (See previous Helbling posts.)

Mary Theresa Helbling as a baby, 1925.
Mary Theresa Helbling as a baby, 1925.

Mary was the last of the seven children born in the family, with her nearest sibling eight years older. So she was the ‘baby’ of the family, and often felt like she had a number of mothers and fathers, since her oldest sibling was 17 years older. Her father was stern with her, but her mother doted on her, and she loved her mother so intensely that it was very hard for her to leave home even when she fell in love and married.

Mary T. Helbling playing chess as a child, c1930s.
Mary T. Helbling playing chess as a child, c1930s.

Mary’s father, G. W. Helbing, was extremely intelligent, even though he had not completed more than the eighth grade; her mother completed two years of high school. Her older brothers and sisters were very intelligent too- she sometimes had the same nuns for teachers as they had at St. Mark’s Catholic School, and the nuns would expect so much of her, because her older siblings had done so well. She was very good at spelling and loved to play chess, which her father and siblings taught her when young, and was a whiz at schedules and plain old arithmetic. She never really liked school though.

Mary T. Helbling as a young teen with one of the family's cocker spaniels, c late 1930s.
Mary T. Helbling as a young teen with one of the family’s cocker spaniels, c late 1930s.

Mary loved to play with paper dolls and read movie magazines, though the magazines were considered scandalous back then. She would sometimes cut out the pictures of the movie stars, and use them as paper dolls. She loved the ‘glamour girls’ of the 1940s and wanted to look like them- there are many pictures of her in similar poses. She loved singing- even sang on the radio once as a child or young teen. Her mother’s cousin was Elsie Janis- a famed comedienne/singer/actress  of the early 1900s and “The Sweetheart of the A.E.F.”  (more on Elsie in upcoming posts) – and Mary wanted to be like her. The family had cocker spaniels which Mary dearly loved. One died in a fire in the family home, and Mary was always so sad about that, even 50 years later.

"The Merry Macs" as she labeled this photo. Mary T. Helbling and her husband, Edward A. McMurray, September 1948.
Mary T. Helbling and her husband, Edward A. McMurray, September 1948. “The Merry Macs” as she labeled this photo in her album. 

 Mary was a very fast typist and knew shorthand. She worked at Gardner’s Advertising and then a government group (maybe AFEES?) during the war. Mary met US Army/Air Corp veteran Edward A. McMurray on a blind date at a picnic in a park in 1946. The two fell madly in love, but did not want to marry, as Ed was in pharmacy school. Love won out, however, and they married on June 5, 1948. They lived with her parents until Ed graduated, found a job, and they purchased a house in north St. Louis County, in a new subdivision during the booming 1950s.

Mary (Helbling) McMurray holding their first child, 1954.
Mary (Helbling) McMurray holding her first child, 1954.

Although Mary would have loved to have the glamorous life of a singing star, as her mother’s cousin Elsie Janis had, she mostly just wanted to be a wife and mother. She did both, and always said that was her greatest accomplishment.

Mary Theresa (Helbling) McMurray passed away April 3, 2008, of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Happy Birthday, Mary Theresa. We love you and miss you.


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) G.W. Helbling, head of household, 1940 US Federal Census- Source Citation: Year: 1940; Census Place: St Louis, St Louis City, Missouri; Roll: T627_2208; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 96-670.

2) Family photos and oral history.


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Those Places Thursday- WW1 and Citizen Historians

Reserve Officers Training Corps, Senior Division, Advanced Medical Course class picture. Taken in Ft. Snelling, Minnesota during the course which ran 14 Jun 1923 to 25 July 1923.
Reserve Officers Training Corps, Senior Division, Advanced Medical Course class picture. Taken in Ft. Snelling, Minnesota during the course which ran 14 Jun 1923 to 25 July 1923. Dr. Edward A. McMurray, Sr., is probably in this picture.


“That Place” this week could be anywhere on the Western Front (France and Belgium/Flanders) that British troops served in World War I. You can ‘go’ there, in that time and place, just by reading details of everyday life in the trenches- pun intended (sadly), especially for this war.

Genealogists are pretty much Citizen Historians, especially when they publish their work for others to see. They are also Citizen Historians when they participate in crowd-sourcing projects like FamilySearch Indexing and that of the 1940 US Federal Census.

Zooniverse is a crowd sourcing website that offers opportunities now for citizen historians (in the past it has just been science-oriented) to process data that would either be done by a lowly graduate student, or probably not get done at all in these days of little research funding. By using citizens to classify an overwhelming amount of data, scientists, historians, etc., can then do the analysis they were trained to do, and graduate students get a more interesting learning experience than just counting copepods or classifying galaxy shapes for hours on end.

A new Zooniverse project is “Operation War Diary.” One and a half million pages of British unit diaries from World War I have been digitized and put online. The first World War Centenary is coming up-  the war began 28 Jul 1914- and this project will be used to create a detailed index of orders, signals, maps, narrative reports, etc. Names are mentioned as well. The information is currently available online in a browseable format, but when complete, the index will be a boon to family historians, military history buffs, and university historians.

Worried that you won’t get it perfectly correct? No problem- Zooniverse projects, just like FamilySearch, have many persons classify the data. Zooniverse then uses powerful software that can help decide which is the most correct classification. No “Arbitrators” of questionable ability here- the expert historian (or scientist) has the final say of what is really right.

“Operation War Diary” needs our help! The diaries are not going to be transcribed in full. Each page will be classified, and then entries on each page tagged, sometimes with detailed information like a name and why they were mentioned in the diary. There is a tutorial to help get you started, a field guide to explain more of the information on the pages- I highly recommend going through it in detail before starting- and a discussion room if you have questions or want to share your findings. (Other Zooniverse communities that I have participated in have been great fun- and educational too!) The project supports both Mac and Windows platforms- see the “About Us” page for details on what versions of operating system and browsers are needed.

Remember, you will need to think with British spelling- “The Queen’s English” is ‘favoured’ in these diaries.

World War I is almost a forgotten war since it was so long ago and those who participated are long gone. It was one of the worst wars though, with chemical weapons and new ways to destroy the enemy and our American sons. Help keep the memory of those who served by contributing to this project, whether you have just a few minutes per day or hours to devote to the project. You may even find a rellie mentioned if you have British roots!

PS- If this project doesn’t interest you, Zooniverse has many others available.


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Copyright 2014 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

[Edited to change name to “Those Places Thursday” to conform to Geneabloggers’ prompts and my previous posts.]