Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Archive for January 2022

Winter Serenity

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Location, location, location. While up to two feet of snow was falling in places on the east US coast over the weekend, we were enjoying two rather idyllic winter days. When I stepped outside with Delilah yesterday morning as dawn was starting to ramp up the daylight, the calm outdoor air offered a definitive aroma of winter that triggered treasured memories of years spent in the woods up north.

When the temperature isn’t so extremely cold that it feels like we are being bitten by it, walking through the woods on a winter morning is one of my favorite pleasures.

We took the blankets off the horses to let them have a break from that constant contact on their hides. They’ve done incredibly well wearing them for over a week with almost no problems. One of them ripped a bite out of Mia’s blanket and Mix unbuckled a strap under her belly leaving half the blanket sliding off to the side Saturday, but those were the only issues that occurred this session.

It would be just fine with everybody, I’m sure, if blankets wouldn’t be needed for the rest of the year.

Our snow is getting to be old snow and is filled with a clear chronicle of animal activity since the last significant accumulation. It’s great being able to see everywhere the horses have been in the two fields we almost always have open for them. They are still finding grasses to munch on underneath the snow out there.

Yesterday afternoon, I let Delilah wander to her heart’s content in the hayfield, thinking the horses might come out and join us but they were positioned around the waterer in the paddocks when we arrived and showed no interest in moving from there.

Everything felt divinely serene.

There is hardly any snow left on the roof of our house, making it seem like spring might be just around the corner, even though history tells us that is just wishful thinking at the end of January.

Living in the moment, we’ll take what we’ve been given for these last few days, especially given the type of weather New England was experiencing during the same time period.

There are still plenty of chances left for us to need our plows and snow shovels before the season ends this year.

Over the last weekend, I fully appreciated the serenity of our late-January winter days outside, largely aided by the fact I didn’t need to clear two feet of freshly fallen flakes in our neck of the woods this time.



Written by johnwhays

January 31, 2022 at 7:00 am

But Wait

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Sometimes, it’s not what you think. When searching for something that continues to elude discovery because it is not where you expect it to be, one strategy is to go back to the start. I did just that yesterday and, although I may have ended up even farther from what I am ultimately seeking, I gained valuable new insight.

Since my search for the birth record in Hinesburg, VT of my 3rd-great grandfather John Hays (b.1795) was exclusively based on information taken from his youngest son’s death record, I decided to revisit that source death record to confirm I wasn’t misremembering anything.

Oftentimes, the information collected and entered onto the family tree record becomes gospel despite each tidbit of detail for each record having variable degrees of accuracy. It pays to keep in mind the fragility of the whole collection.

I looked up the actual record from which I picked up the belief my ancestor was born in Vermont.

Upon a fresh viewing, the first thing that caught my eye was that both parents are shown with the birthplace of Hinesburg. I have other sources about Laura Kittle that tell me that is not accurate.

It’s like having the wrong piece of a jigsaw puzzle in place that makes it impossible to find any adjacent pieces that will fit.

If it isn’t accurate for Laura, then what makes me think it is correct for John? Who provided that information upon John B.’s death? Why was that thought to be true? Something must be behind the thought of Hinesburgh being the place of birth. What could that be?

I have found a surprisingly thorough history of Hinesburgh, Vermont that makes the place sound barely established when I am trying to envision my ancestors being there. The first (colonial) birth was noted as happening in 1785 and there were no doctors yet. Despite there being very few families noted in the history of this community around that time, there is absolutely no mention of the name Hay(e)s anywhere.

Next, I revisited the details I’ve collected about John(b.1795) and tried finding notice of his death in 1840. I learned that death records weren’t kept before 1869 in Ontario. However, I did rediscover one of his daughters (under her married name) was buried in the same cemetery near Vankleek Hill.

Maybe, with her married name, I can find her death record to see if that one lists the birthplace of her parents. Of course, think about it. I really am relying on whoever the survivors were to report this information at the time of death. Genealogy research is one endless puzzle.

I think I’ll go finish the jigsaw currently on the old family table and get away from the online searching for a day.



Written by johnwhays

January 30, 2022 at 11:25 am

Chasing Ghosts

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In my experience, imprecision seems to define searching historical vital records data. It’s certainly the case after the effort I put forth yesterday, scouring the Vermont, USA, vital records for 1760-1954 that I was able to locate online in a quest to learn anything new about my 3rd-great grandfather, John Hays (b.1795).

I know where and when he died and much about his wife and children because I have his last will and testament and have seen the headstone over his grave. It doesn’t include much detail: “JOHN HAYS (line) DIED (line) Sept. 25, 1840 (line) Aged 45 years” The only reason I believe that he was born in Hinesburg, VT is from the 1922 death notice of his youngest son, John B. Hays (1837-1922).

Yesterday, I focused on trying to find a record of his birth by hunting for an official record from Chittenden county in Vermont in the latter 1700s. What if his birth was recorded as being in Burlington instead of Hinesburg? What if he wasn’t 45 years old in 1840?

What if the archivists were not entirely precise in their record-keeping?

Here are some issues that are complicating my search:

  • Using search features of online genealogy sites relies on the interpretation of humans who have typed out the archaic cursive handwriting of census recorders and town clerks. I have seen instances of mistakes. Just because a search brings up no results doesn’t mean an actual record doesn’t exist.
  • I may find a record with a name I’m seeking, but if there is incomplete information recorded in the other fields of that record, it isn’t very reliable.

The record above is one of very few with 1795 as date of birth. Anecdotally, I can say that Vermont had a bit of a baby boom around 1858-1861.

Was this birth of Jonathon Hayes the mother’s first? We’ll never know by looking at this card. I can tell you that Mary and Eleazer Hayes did have other children because their names showed up on several other birth notices. I didn’t keep track because my confidence in this record is low.

Where were the parents from? Wish I knew.

Where did the birth occur? Luckily, they scanned both sides of the cards and the location is written there. It was Strafford, seventy miles away from Hinesburg, on the other side of the Green Mountains.

The records were “sorted” (imperfectly) alphabetically by the primary subject person. That resulted in a constant mix of birth, marriage, and death records, but frequently meant I could see the person born, get married, and die in three consecutive cards.

I searched for three primary spellings: Hay, Hayes, and Hays. I came across one card that had the father’s name spelled “Hays” and the just-born child written as “Hayes.”

One thing that inspired me when I started looking at these cards was the inclusion of birth records where there was no name given yet for the newborn. I never would have found these by only searching online digitized (transposed) information. If there was a nameless birth in 1795, that could have been my guy!

I didn’t find one.

My 4th-great grandparents Hays remain ghosts to me.



Written by johnwhays

January 29, 2022 at 11:11 am

Circumstantial Evidence

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We think we know what happened, but we have no proof. Today’s tale (no pun intended) needs to begin with a preamble that will put readers in a similar state of mind to the one I was in when I arrived at the shocking scene.

It was yesterday morning and I was walking Delilah like any other day. She sniffed at the typical spots and paused to take care of nature’s call twice, per usual. Our intermediate destination was the barn, to feed and clean up after horses, so I encouraged Delilah to turn onto the trail that most quickly brought us to the path around the back pasture.

Before we reached the last turn towards the barn, Delilah startled me with an immediate lunge off the path and made three strong leaps into a thick bramble of raspberry stalks and small trees before I could lock her leash and halt her progress. Every indication from her body told me there was a critter in the vicinity as she held her “High Alert!” stance and strained against the leash.

I froze with her and did my darndest to see any hint of movement from an animal intent on escape. Nothing. It wasn’t the first time she had what I consider to be a false alarm, so I pulled her back out of there and we continued toward the barn with both of us keeping a keen eye on the trees to our left for any movement.

It was while relocating equine fecal matter that I came upon the unsettling find.

There was a large chunk of hair matching the color of Swing’s tail laying in the snow. I immediately got Cyndie’s attention and she reacted with a level of shock that aligned with my concern. Upon finding footprints in the snow by the manure pile, I told Cyndie about Delilah’s behavior just around the corner by the back pasture.

It was adding up to an image of coyote activity to us. We immediately checked Swings over for any evidence of confrontation beyond the chunk of missing tail. Nothing.

However, based on the evidence thus far, I decided to take Delilah back out and let her pursue through the trees whatever it was she sensed from before. That quickly led to another finding, uncomfortably in plain view of our house.

If you can discern what that image above is showing, you will notice an impression in the snow where an animal curled up and laid long enough to melt a little bowl, just like deer leave behind, except there were no hoof prints around. Only paw prints. And there wasn’t just the one melted circle. There were clearly two on top of the knoll and possibly two others, less defined, to the side in the trees.

That is definitely what Delilah had smelled, but the culprits had long since moved on before we passed by the first time in the early light of dawn.

Just to add an exclamation point to the drama, last night after dinner, I called Cyndie over to ask if she could hear something outside. Was it a siren in the distance or yipping coyotes? She opened the door and confirmed, “Coyotes!”

“And they are close!”

What do you think? Did a coyote take a chomp of Swings’ tail Wednesday night?

I hope at least one of them has a black eye from the impact of a hoof.



Written by johnwhays

January 28, 2022 at 7:00 am

Big Purge

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There has been a heroic level of de-cluttering going on around here lately. The credit goes to a burst of energy Cyndie experienced after doing some clean out of her mom’s house in preparation for a pending move. First, she inspired me to jettison a bunch of clothes I haven’t worn for years. Then, she brought me the contents of file cabinets that haven’t been cleaned out in a very long time.

I’d like to know who saved all this stuff in the first place.

The folder of long-term saved receipts was the most entertaining. I really need to remember to take the time to write what the receipt is for whenever that is not obvious. I was finding sales slips that had no clear identification of what the store or items purchased were. Why did we save those?

There were receipt slips with no date on them. Receipts for Apple products were printed with disappearing ink.

The types of purchases we intend to save records for a long time would be big-ticket items like furniture, appliances, or items of a high dollar amount. That’s why I would find Apple receipts. They’re not much good long-term if the print fades after two years.

Mixed into valid items in that file, I found silly, incidental low-dollar receipts. Better safe than sorry, we must be thinking at the time. Eight or ten years later, it makes for a laugh that we thought that way, originally.

We found our original marriage certificate tucked inside a folder of financial documents. Glad we haven’t needed to locate that document for decades. We never would have found it there.

After dinner last night, Cyndie sprung a surprise on me of some DVDs she discovered. Neither of us remembers getting old VHS tapes of home movies we’d recorded converted to digital, but there they were.

It went all the way back to 1986 when we made an attempt at recording movies that would chronicle the growth of our children, starting with 18-days-old Elysa up at the lake place. There were movies that neither of us remembers having watched back when they were originally recorded.

With a slice of warm from the oven blueberry/lemon pie for dessert last night, we viewed the first disc of three with Elysa’s name on it and then the first one of two with Julian’s. It was the obvious over-documentation of a firstborn and under-documentation of any child after the first one.

In classic kid form, at two years older than her little brother, Elysa was often seeking to be the center of focus when Mom and Dad were trying to record the boy.

We relived our kids’ first feedings of solid foods, first steps, and first birthdays. It had a significant ’80s vibe. There was a segment recorded at my mom’s small place for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner that included a glimpse of my vibrant (now-deceased) sister, Linda that amped up the already heavily nostalgic rush we were enjoying.

While in the middle of purging a lot of unneeded accumulation, we uncovered a treasure trove of memories we didn’t even know we had.




Written by johnwhays

January 27, 2022 at 7:00 am

Different Puzzle

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My love of toiling away on jigsaw puzzles and searching for specific shaped “needles” in the haystacks of pieces has a correlation to another of my treasured hobbies. This is probably not the first time I’ve come to the realization that I feel the same about the hunt and discovery of missing people in my family tree each time I return to my genealogy project.

I just began looking anew at my 3rd great-grandfather, John Hays (1795-1840) because he is the primary dead-end, or his father is the primary “missing piece” I would next like to find.

Just like with jigsaw puzzles, when I can’t find what I’m looking for, I will settle for other, easier pieces along the way. Because I haven’t been able to find out who John’s parents are, I have tracked down a lot of other people on different branches of my family tree.

But I always find myself returning to the missing link in the path toward confirming the precise origin of our surname.

According to information taken from the 1922 death certificate of one of John’s other sons, John was born in Hinesburgh, Vermont, USA.

In 1828, John married Laura Kittle (born 1807 in Lachute, Qc) in a Cushing Presbyterian church in Argenteuil, Quebec, Canada.

Their firstborn, Stephen W. Hays (1829-1910) has the birthplace of Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada.

Take a look at the proximity of the three locations on a map:

I haven’t found any record of who John’s parents were in Vermont in 1795.

When Cyndie and I traveled to Ontario in the early 1980s (with absolutely no genealogy experience whatsoever) we stumbled onto the plot of farmland owned by John, as well as his hand-written last will and testament. His will began with the fact he was ill of health but of sound mind. It was all very fascinating, but we had no way of knowing at the time that he had originally come from Vermont.

I wouldn’t mind visiting Hinesburg to see what we might stumble upon there in the present day. It looks like it might be a nice place to explore on my new bicycle.

Not having a good knowledge of history, I am curious what it was like to travel between countries in the early 1800s. Or, even fifty years later when Stephen W. traveled from Vankleek Hill with my very young great-grandfather, John W. Hays (1860-1931) to come to Redwing, Minnesota.

Was it a big deal to them to be crossing the national borders?

What took John from Vermont? Did that move happen when he was young and as a result of his unidentified parents’ decision?

How did John meet Laura Kittle whom he married in 1828?

Their son, Stephen W. married the girl who lived on the farm next door near Vankleek Hill. Maybe the answer to John marrying Laura Kittle will be revealed by a similar proximity of residence in the 1820s.

One thing I am sure of, it will be a huge rush if/when I find one of these key missing puzzle pieces of who John’s parents were.



Written by johnwhays

January 26, 2022 at 7:00 am

Treading Widely

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Our Belgian Tervuren Shepherd, Delilah, being one high-energy dog, gets multiple opportunities per day to burn off energy in walks around our property. If not, she gets a little stir-crazy in the house. As such, we tread on our paths repeatedly –from every direction, because I like variety.

In the last week, we have received a series of overnight snowfalls when the temperature has been very cold, bringing an inch or two of light powder each time, which has been enough that the trails we walk have needed to get re-packed every other morning. If we were to walk down the middle all the time we would end up with a rather narrow “aisle” of travel through the accumulating snow cover, so I make a concerted effort to walk the edges after new snow in order to keep the packed path nice and wide.











It makes it look like a large crowd has been taking Delilah for a walk, but it’s just me, three or four times a day.

Once the width has been re-established, I focus my boot steps on knocking down as many high spots as possible with each subsequent pass until the path is groomed smooth like an excellent fat bike trail.

The local wildlife has shown an affinity for following our packed trails as opposed to the deeper snow so Delilah often has a variety of enticing scents to track as we progress. Of course, that means we frequently find ourselves pausing to wait for her to come back to the trail after she followed some footprints that wandered off to the left or right in pursuit of alternate destinations.

When we get the big dumps of snow around a foot or more at a time, I break out the snowshoes to pack these trails. Just a few inches at a time are easy enough to walk through with just boots, which are easier to navigate when we stop to tend to the horses on our morning and late afternoon jaunts.

The middle of the day usually involves a route past the mailbox to pick up the daily snail mail.

When I’m feeling generously adventurous, I’ll grant Delilah the opportunity to bushwhack through the woods wherever her nose leads. Those trips don’t happen as much once the snow gets deeper. Since we just cut a new trail through the middle of a portion of our woods last year, I more often let that be her treat for alternate exploration.

That path doesn’t get the same attention toward widening. It’s more like a rustic side road to our perimeter trail’s main expressway.

Winter tail maintenance at Wintervale is an art! What can I say?



Written by johnwhays

January 25, 2022 at 7:00 am


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just great
all time memory
not forgotten
last seen
staked out
struck down
alternate location
looking out
casting about
second option
only two
despite delight
indeed alright
in conversation



Written by johnwhays

January 24, 2022 at 7:00 am

Solar Anticipation

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Days are getting longer to the point of noticeably changing for us, as the periods of time when we feed our horses in the morning and evening are again happening in the presence of the sun’s rays. Last night we received a fresh blanket of the lightest versions of snow, a direct reflection of the low temperature at the time. As the precipitation moved past us, the clear sky that resulted dropped the temperature even more.

This morning the horses showed great patience but also eager anticipation for the sunlight to reach our location.

The air was ripe with hope. It was as if I could feel the rotation of the earth that was slowly bringing our vantage point in line with direct sunlight.

When the sun became visible, I was ready to return to the shelter of our house where I could relax my defenses against the icy bite of the air and leave the horses to luxuriate in the climbing energy of solar rays.

As we enjoyed our breakfast in the loft, increasing sunshine provided assistance for the heat radiating from inside to start sliding the overnight snow off the skylight overhead.

It’s going to be a beautiful, sunny winter day.



Written by johnwhays

January 23, 2022 at 11:26 am

Painful Loss

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I knew Jennifer to be a precious, congenial, and amiable person, despite the experiences she lived through that drove her to multiple treatments for mental health concerns. Every time I saw her again after long absences, that remarkable dose of her true spark and desire to gain full command of her wellness glowed anew.

My idealistic goal of loving everyone on this earth is not always effortlessly achieved. Jenny was not one of the difficult ones. I loved her as easily as anyone.

It is devastating to have learned that she took her own life this week.

Those of us who knew and loved Jenny are experiencing the pain of losing the sound of her laughter, for good this time. It is we who must now reconcile the mental turmoil of the various roles we played in her life, of opportunities now vanished, hopes tarnished, with the burdens of sudden grief pressing down upon us.

As a person who has enjoyed great success in breaking free of the oppressive mental weight of depression, with all of its distortions of perception and its focus on imagined perils, I suffer deep heartbreak over instances where the interruption and amelioration of the affliction are unsuccessful.

There is debate about whether depression is curable or not, but there is general agreement that it is treatable. Good health requires maintenance, and being treated by professionals for depression can be a project of a lifetime.

In a way, good health habits are a self-directed form of treatment that keeps my depression at bay. It doesn’t feel focused on depression prevention for me because my healthy practices bring so many other rewards beyond just keeping my mind free from the dark dysfunctions that define the affliction.

Put simply, living healthy serves as a vaccination against the ills of depression for me.

It feels important to me to accentuate the time component of dealing with depression and frankly, all other aspects of a journey toward optimal health. I am profoundly moved by the length of time and variety of avenues Jenny navigated in her efforts toward health and well-being.

Good health does not happen in an instant as a result of a momentary desire to be healthy. It is a process that requires firm determination to stay on task for days that become weeks, then months, and ultimately, years. I often point out that a goal of getting healthy should be referenced against the number of months or years we allowed bad habits to weaken our muscles, add excess fat, compromise our livers, overtax our hearts, rob us of needed sleep, and ignore or misinterpret our full range of emotions.

May we always remember the best about loved ones who are no longer with us and seek inspiration from those fond memories for a determination to strive for our own optimal health in a journey that we renew every morning for the rest of our days.



For any occasion involving thoughts of suicide, free 24/7, confidential services are available:

call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).