Friday, January 12, 2018

52 Ancestors: #54, Theresa (Murphy) Nera

This week's 52 Ancestors prompt is "Favorite Photo." While I have lots of favorite photos, this one has to qualify as my favorite of my mother, Kathleen Murphy, and her sister, Theresa. I mean, who could resist those sombreros? Since I already wrote about my mother as a 2014 Mother's Day post (52 Ancestors #19), this post is about Aunt Theresa.

Theresa (left) and Kathleen Murphy, Edinburgh, Texas, ca 1926
Theresa Murphy, 1924
Theresa Mae Murphy was born 18 May 1923, in Lewiston, Maine, the second daughter of William George Murphy and Glenna Rabideau.1 She grew up in Lewiston, aside from an apparently brief period the family spent in Texas, where the photo was taken, according to a handwritten caption on the back.2 I have no idea why they moved to Texas or just how long they were there, though it couldn't have been long. I have a vague recollection of my mother once mentioning that they spent some time in Texas, and I gathered that her mother had hated it there. I wish I had gotten more details when I had the chance!

I have few details of her childhood. Sometime in 1924 she had her photo taken seated on a pony. This photo was mounted on a card with a small 1925 calendar affixed and a ribbon to hang it by; a handwritten note on the back reads "To Auntie and Uncle – Teresa [sic]."3 Hard to say which "auntie and uncle" this was intended for – Glenna had two married sisters and William had at least six married siblings at the time – or how it ended up back in my mother's family photo trove.

In 1937, Theresa was one of 14 local girls to win a prize in a national Shirley Temple doll contest, making the local newspaper.4

Early school photo5"City Locals" item, Lewiston Evening Journal, 24 Apr 1937
Theresa attended Lewiston schools with her sister, including Jordan Grammar School (aka "Jordan Platoon School"), and graduated from Lewiston High School in 1940 as a member of the National Honor Society.6 The statement in her yearbook profile that "She plans to do secretarial work" was prophetic: after graduation she worked as a stenographer for the NYA (probably the National Youth Administration) and the Maine Shoe Company7 before joining the Women's Army Corps, after which she spent the rest of her career in Civil Service, as a secretary and court stenographer.8
Theresa Mae Murphy in The Folio 1940, Lewiston High School yearbook, Lewiston, Maine
In April 1944, Theresa enlisted in the Women's Army Corps9 and was initially stationed in Boston.10 In August she was transferred to the U.S. Army Recruiting Office in Manchester, N.H., and by the following February she had been promoted to corporal.11 I have not yet found a record of her discharge, but it was probably in 1946.

PFC Theresa Murphy, Lewiston Daily Sun, 19 Jul 1944Theresa Murphy, August 1944
Theresa was unlucky in love. She was engaged to Joseph Wilfrid Potvin, a soldier serving overseas who was killed in action in France in 1944.12 On 12 Feb 1945, in Manchester, N.H., she married William Duane Olson,13 a member of the Army Air Force stationed at Dow Field in Bangor, Maine.14 A week later he was transferred to Mather Field in Sacramento, California,15 and served overseas from 30 Mar 1945 to 29 Jan 1946.16 Theresa remained in New England, and it's possible they never lived together; the marriage ended in an annullment by October 1946.17 In 1947, she married Filipino musician Cayetano Lopez "Kaye" Nera in Boston.18 Not long after, they moved to Washington, D.C., where Theresa went to work as a secretary at Bolling Air Force Base.19 They had no children, and eventually divorced, sometime between July 1953 and November 1955.20

Theresa Murphy and fiancé
Joseph Wilfrid Potvin
William D. and
Theresa (Murphy) Olson
Kaye and Theresa
(Murphy) Nera
Although Theresa continued to live in the D.C. area for the rest of her life, she frequently came "home" to Maine to vacation. My memories of Aunt Theresa are of her semi-annual visits to her sister, my mother. Throughout my childhood, Theresa arrived like clockwork, mid-summer and Christmas, at the Lewiston-Auburn Airport on a Northeast Airlines flight, dressed to the nines complete with high heels, gloves, and a hat. That was the way women dressed for air travel in those days – and she couldn't wait to get to our home where she could change into comfortable slacks!21

Whenever she visited Maine, Theresa always wanted to get two specific foods not available in the D.C. area: Italian sandwiches (a peculiarly "Maine" type of sub), and chocolate donuts – the cake-type version dipped in granulated sugar that seems to be unknown south of greater Boston.22

The well-dressed 1960s air travellerAunt Theresa waves before boarding her flight
After visiting her sister, half-brother, and old friends in the Lewiston area, and satisfying her Italian sandwich and chocolate donut cravings, she would put on her travelling outfit and we'd drive her to the airport for her return flight. It was years before the advent of security screenings, and we could all go to the boarding gate with her and wave goodbye as she crossed the tarmac (no boarding tunnels!) to the plane.

In 1966 Theresa became a court stenographer for the Washington, D.C., police department, retiring in 1979.23 She died on 15 July 2002 in Alexandria, Fairfax County, Virginia, after suffering a heart attack,24 and was buried next to her father in Mount Hope Cemetery, Lewiston, Maine.25

Theresa M. Nera grave marker, Mount Hope Cemetery, Lewiston, Maine
(This post was inspired by Amy Johnson Crow's 2018 "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge. My numbering for this year began at 53 – I wrote #1-52 in 2014 while participating in her original 52 Ancestors challenge.)

  1. "U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007," database, Ancestry ( : accessed 2 Apr 2016), entry for Theresa Mae Murphy, died 15 Jul 2002.
  2. Photos of Theresa and Kathleen Murphy, Edinburgh, Texas, ca 1926, and Theresa Murphy on pony, 1924, Kirk-Murphy Family Collection; privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia. These photos were in Kathleen's collection, which passed to her daughter (the author) at her death in 1993.
  3. Ibid. 
  4. "City Locals," Lewiston Evening Journal, 24 Apr 1937, p. 12, col. 1.  
  5. School photo of Theresa Murphy, ca 1928, Kirk-Murphy Family Collection; privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia. 
  6. The Folio 1940 (Lewiston, Maine: Lewiston High School, 1940), yearbook photo and profile for Theresa Mae Murphy; imaged in "U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2013," database and images, Ancestry ( : accessed 7 Jan 2018), > Maine > Lewiston > Lewiston High School > 1940 > image 59 of 162.
  7. Manning's Lewiston, Auburn ... (Maine) Directory for the Year Beginning [Month, Year] (Boston: H.A. Manning Co., 1942-1944), p. 181 (May, 1942) and p. 184 (January, 1944), entries for Theresa M Murphy; database and digital images, "U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995," ( : accessed 11 May 2014). 
  8. "Theresa M. Nera," obituary, Washington Post, 3 Aug 2002 ( : accessed 15 Apr 2016). 
  9. "Corp. Theresa Murphy's Marriage Is Announced," Lewiston Daily Sun, 14 Mar 1945, p. 3, col. 2-3.
  10. "Service Records," Lewiston Daily Sun, 19 Jul 1944, p. 6, col. 8, PFC Theresa Murphy.
  11. "Corp. Theresa Murphy's Marriage Is Announced," Lewiston Daily Sun.
  12. "PFC Joseph Potvin, Lewiston, Killed in Action in France," Lewiston Daily Sun, 20 Jul 1944, p. 12, cols. 7-8. 
  13. “New Hampshire, Marriage Records, 1637-1947,” database and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 Feb 2012), William Duane Olson- Theresa Mae Murphy marriage, 12 Feb 1945, Manchester.
  14. "Pfc. Wm. Olson of Ayrshire Weds Cpl. T. Murphy," Emmetsburg (Iowa) Reporter, 15 Mar 1945, p. 2, col. 1.
  15. Ibid. 
  16. "Iowa, World War II Bonus Case Files, 1947-1954," database and images, Ancestry ( : accessed 12 Jan 2018), claim number 44517 for William Duane Olson, 1949.
  17. Theresa's sister Kathleen (the author's mother) confirmed that the marriage was annulled. Also, "William G. Murphy," obituary, Lewiston Daily Sun, 17 Oct 1946, p. 20, col. 3. Her father's obituary refers to her as "Miss Theresa Murphy of Boston."
  18. "Massachusetts, Marriage Index, 1901-1955 and 1966-1970," database, Ancestry ( : accessed 1 Dec 2013), entries for Theresa M Murphy and Cayetano L Nera, 1947, Boston; citing vol. 12, p. 319, index vol. 149, reference no. F63.M36 v.149.
  19. "Theresa M. Nera," obituary, Washington Post
  20. Photo of Kaye Nera, ca July 1953, Kirk-Murphy Family Collection; privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia. In this snapshot, taken in the kitchen of the Neras' Washington, D.C., apartment (probably by Theresa), a 1953 calendar displaying the July page is clearly visible on the wall behind Kaye. Also, "Dorothy Jean Nera," obituary, Journal Courier (Jacksonville, Ill.), 20 Oct 2010, states that Dorothy married Cayetano Lopez Nera in November 1955. 
  21. Personal knowledge of the author.
  22. Theresa said when she described the Maine chocolate donut she was looking for to D.C. area bakeries, she was met with blank stares and outright disbelief. I always thought she must be exaggerating about the unavailability of this donut where she lived, until I moved to Tidewater Virginia 16 years ago and found that it was quite true: you can't get a good chocolate donut here.
  23. "Theresa M. Nera," obituary, Washington Post.
  24. Ibid. Also, "Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014," database, Ancestry ( : accessed 31 May 2015), entry for Theresa M Nera, 15 Jul 2002, Fairfax; citing certificate no. 2002030119, "Virginia, Deaths, 1912–2014," Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia.
  25. Mount Hope Cemetery (Lewiston, Androscoggin County, Maine), Theresa M Nera grave marker, read and photographed by the author, 13 Aug 2012.
  26. All photos not otherwise identified are from the Kirk-Murphy Family Collection; privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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