Relative Something

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

Archive for the ‘Chronicle’ Category

Incredible Stories

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I don’t know why I never previously felt much connection with the lives of my ancestors beyond the obvious fact of not giving them the attention they deserved for most of my life. Even after beginning to collect names and snippets of detail when I first began delving into the family tree in a quest for the original ethnicity of our surname, any incredible facts learned ended up being quickly filed along with the dates, names, and places for future reference.

In my latest quest for specific details of the families in Pierce County, WI, I discovered WikiTree, where citing source information is a requirement. Yesterday, I dipped my toes in their forum section for a weekly “weekend-chat” thread of fellow genealogists checking in on their week, writing about life in general as well as how genealogy research is progressing, and I introduced myself for the first time.

With one simple comment to me about what stories my ancestors hold, it struck me about how many there are to tell. Too many to do them justice in a single response.

From my parents’ adventures as newlyweds roughing it in Glacier Park; my grandfather, Forrest J. Hays’s accomplishments as a Cargill Vice-President and “Dean of Transportation” as CEO of Cargo Carriers; my paternal great-grandfather, John W. Hays traveling the country as Secretary-Treasurer of the International Typographical Union; my maternal grandfather, Walter Elliott perishing in a fire after getting my aunt and grandmother out of the house at a time when my mother was serving in the WAVES in Miami, FL; my paternal great-grandfather, Charles B. Elliott achieving the first Ph.D. granted by the University of Minnesota and going on to become a judge who was chosen by President Taft to be an ambassador to the Philippines; there are some captivating tales worth honoring.

While revisiting my boxes of family history information acquired over the years, I decided to digitize the unbelievable pages of a hand-painted, gold-inlaid, bound retirement proclamation presented to my great-grandfather, John Waters Hays by the Typographical Union.

Check this out: John Waters Hays Retirement Proclamation

The low point and a high point of my day came next. While looking for a portrait of Minnie Church that I believed to be in my collections of old photos, I opened a very large and very tattered fancy photo album that was filled with amazing portraits of family members, but not a single clue as to who each person was.

Making the situation more frustrating, the marriage certificate for John W. Hays and Minnie Church was folded up and stored between the pages, further adding to the probability these were faces that go with some of the Pierce County families I would most like to identify.

Luckily, the opposite was true when I opened the next album from a similar time period. It was filled with generations of the families above my paternal grandmother, Helen Barrett, and there was a name penciled in on the bottom of each and every portrait.

It’s a researcher’s dream.

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Written by johnwhays

February 22, 2020 at 7:00 am

Great Find

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A visit to the Pierce County Historical society yesterday proved incredibly rewarding for just the information I was hoping to learn. What was the industry like in the area during the 1860s and 70s when three of my ancestors’ families made this place their homes?

Esdaile was just being settled and lumber was a focal point in the valleys along the waterways of the county. Agriculture was becoming the focus on the flatlands above after the big trees had all been harvested.

I was able to purchase a book about the history of the township of Hartland. Among the multiple references to Stephen Hays and Charles Church, I hit gold with the details revealing Joseph Sleeper to be a significant contributor to the developing community.

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He helped organize the first school and served on the school board for several years, in addition to having been a member of the town board years earlier. Between those, he was a member of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Sounds like the Sleeper brothers were pretty industrious. First, they build a sawmill and then they fashion a gristmill. It was the center of activity on Isabelle Creek.

I also learned there was a significant lumber company in Red Wing, MN, which is where Stephen Hays first lived after coming from Canada. The owner of that company expanded his operation to Esdaile and a “Mr. Hays” was the manager of that mill which made wheel hubs and spokes among other things.

There is a fabulous description of the factory that was written by a visitor:

One other detail uncovered more than once in the book was the mention of flooding that destroyed properties, including mills. Sometimes they would rebuild, but once the big pines in the vicinity had all been cut, the number of sawmills dropped precipitously. In a few instances, they just didn’t build again after a flood.

Coincidentally, the way home for me from the location of the Historical Society in Bay City to our place further north allowed me to travel along the banks of Isabelle Creek, passing the location where the Sleeper brothers built their mill. A deer was standing in the road as I approached, steep forested banks rose on both sides of the valley. A bald eagle flew from its perch in a nearby tree.

It was easy to imagine I was back in the 1870s, despite the modern comfort of my car. There aren’t many residences along the gravel road that follows the creek, so few signs of modern life. I got the impression it would be a treacherous place to be when the creek overflowed its banks.

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Written by johnwhays

February 21, 2020 at 7:00 am

Discovering WikiTree

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At the risk of posting too many times lately about genealogy stuff, I feel compelled to advertise my latest discovery of an online tool for chronicling family ancestry. Frustrated over the number of times I get stumped by a paywall between my eager eyes and the precise bit of data I’m seeking, I started looking for alternatives.

That search led me to WikiTree where I discovered I could create a profile for free and begin contributing my records to the collaborative single tree of the entire human family.

My energy has previously been put into Ancestry.com, where I can often see glimpses of other people’s trees who have records similar or equal to people in my tree. Sometimes, it’s helpful, but often it leads to confusion.

It makes so much sense to me to be working on one big tree with all other genealogists to establish well-sourced single entries for each human of every branch.

I have barely begun to grasp the details of Wiki-level record keeping and proper source formatting, so my participation is no deeper than the creation of my initial profile at this point, but I’m inspired about the opportunity to learn the ropes and begin using my puzzling passion to cross “t”s and dot “i”s in keeping records complete, accurate, and unique.

Using Ancestry.com to explore my Pierce County, WI relatives recently, I stumbled upon a photo of someone’s family details that had been published long ago in a book. It included a paragraph about a husband and wife from my family tree with so much valuable information that I claimed it all to fill out details in my records, including their marriage in 1838.

A few days later, I came upon a source that provided a scanned image of the original hand-written marriage record for that same couple. Much to my relief, it revealed the correct date to be 1848. Ten years is a significant amount of time when going from a child to an adult with respect to marriage.

Not having the authority to alter that erroneous record, I decided to add notes on the records for my ancestors to inform anyone who might visit my tree during their research.

If we were all working on the same tree, one fix would correct it for all.

I’m looking forward to getting my clan officially entered into the WikiTree records for the world family tree.

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Written by johnwhays

February 20, 2020 at 7:00 am

Doin’ Lowertown

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Last weekend was all about the Lowertown district on the edge of downtown St. Paul for us. We attended a concert at the Palace Theatre for a Valentine’s date on Friday night and met our friends, Barb and Mike on Saturday for dinner at the Handsome Hog restaurant that overlooks Mears Park. The drive from home feels quicker than the 35-40 minutes it takes when we exit directly onto 6th street and instantly find ourselves at our destinations, with no other turns required.

The highlight was by far the food and company on Saturday night. The contemporary Southern pig-centric menu is incredibly well-executed, based on the variety of delicious selections we all shared family-style. The location worked as an exact half-way point between our two homes, with the Wilkuses coming from the west and us from the east/southeast. They are the bestest of friends!

The concert on Friday was a meld of Calexico (Joey Burns and John Convertino) and the endearing Sam Beam who performs under the moniker Iron & Wine. They are a good match and clearly enjoy each other and performing together for an audience. I am a fan of Sam Beam’s songwriting and performance and generally can appreciate the Americana Tex-Mex indie rock of Calexico.

Unfortunately, I’ve reached an age where I too easily let the peripheral aspects of going out to see live performances tarnish the ultimate impression of events. The music was good, and the performers wonderfully engaging, so I was happily entertained in that regard.

We were impressed that the opening entertainer, 22-year-old Madison Cunningham, started exactly at the time the show was billed to begin, regardless the many unfilled seats. The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the balcony was that the rows were so tight I would be breathing into the hair of the person sitting in front of me. Luckily, there was no one there for the opening set.

Cyndie and I were unfamiliar with Madison and were pleasantly surprised. It would be fair to compare her singing and guitar skills to Joni Mitchell. No wonder we both liked her.

When the headliners took the stage, the seats in front of us filled and the fog machine pumped a mist to better show off the lights. I’m not sure where the director of the light show was sitting, but it’s a good guess it wasn’t in the balcony. They kept turning the fog machine on so often it was getting difficult to see the performers through the constantly thickening haze.

To make matters worse, they too frequently turned bright lights on behind the musicians, shining the beam up into our line of sight.

While I was fighting to see through all that, my eyes started to water from the essential oil or exotic shampoo aroma the woman in front of me (right beneath my nose) was radiating into the atmosphere. Maybe she had just pulled her coat out of moth-ball storage. It was hard to tell. It evoked a blend of rancid spices rubbed into an old dirty rug.

Much as I appreciate Lowertown, and as fun as it was to hear Iron & Wine music live again, I’m afraid the return to comforts of home with tunes playing through my speakers seems just as good, or even better.

Definitely a sign of aging.

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Better Perspective

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With details gained from my research in the county courthouse office of Register Deeds over the last two weeks, I have added some stars to an old map of Pierce County, Wisconsin, to show the locations of properties my ancestors owned in the 1860s and 70s, along with the property where Cyndie and I now live, for reference.

From what I have been able to determine amid the never-ending swirl of names, dates, and places uncovered recently that just as easily confuse as they inform, Joseph Sleeper was still here at the time of his death. Based on that, when we finally get around to exploring these properties up close and in person, we will also be seeking out cemeteries for a survey of headstones.

In trying to trace the activity of ancestors here during that time in history, both the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 just to the west in Minnesota, and the U.S. Civil War in the south looms large. This area was still very unsettled. In one of the multiple transactions recorded for acres purchased by Joseph Sleeper, there were immediate entries on adjacent lines revealing the Grantor (seller) was simultaneously getting the first official papers from the US government to legally define the land as his, in order to then sell.

I don’t know whether that land Joseph was buying had been originally squatted for a homestead and sawmill or how long it had been since indigenous people had been driven away by the encroaching migration of foreigners expanding west, but I imagine it must have been a pretty wild time around these river valleys near the mighty Mississippi.

The Wisconsin Territory was admitted to the Union in 1848 as the 30th state, and Minnesota was 10-years later as the 32nd, so there must have been some semblance of higher authorities in place to manage details and address conflicts by the time the families of my ancestors decided to spend some of their lives here.

I expect they never dreamed that one-hundred-fifty years in the future, one of their descendants would wander back from the big city to make this land his home again.

It certainly has been a surprise for me!

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Written by johnwhays

February 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

Property Search

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I vaporized a few hours in the Pierce County courthouse again yesterday. It took a couple tries to get past the clerk keeping the “gate” because she couldn’t find my application to research genealogy. When I figured out what she was looking for, we were able to establish I hadn’t filled out an application the week before because it wasn’t needed to search land records.

I already have the vital information they were being cautious to guard. I was simply seeking to locate land descriptions for property my ancestors might possibly have owned. In the days that have passed since last posting about finding a second family of past relations living nearby in Pierce County, I discovered that there was a third family here at the same time.

It probably shouldn’t be all that surprising that proximity contributed to marital relationships. The 1875 census for the township of Hartland tallied a mere 1,170 people. There likely were limited numbers of qualified partners from which to choose. Evidence reveals more than one of the ladies in these nuptials were still in their teens, so the definition of “qualified” was a bit different back then.

In addition to 2nd-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays, and the Church family of my great-grandmother, Minnie, there was the family of Joseph Sleeper, a mechanic, sawmill operator, and civil war era soldier sharpshooter. Joseph is a 3rd-great-grandfather, the father of Minnie’s mother, Sarah who married Charles F. Church.

So, there was Stephen Hays (b.1829) the wagon maker, Joseph Sleeper (b.1824) the sawmill operator, whose daughter married Charles Church (b.1845) one-time teacher, mechanic, and factory worker, whose daughter married Stephen’s oldest son, John W. Hays (b.1860). Given the nature of their occupations, it is easy to imagine the possibilities of their coming to know each other within the few miles where records show them all living.

How about an exercise in locating a plat of land?

In the book of Grantees for the time span of my interest, I found three records of Grantee Joseph Sleeper purchasing a warranty deed in 1861 and 1862 for land in Hartland Township. The cropped image from the platbook for Hartland in Pierce County in 1877-78 shown above includes sections 14-15-16 (counting right-to-left) and 21-22-23 (left-to-right).

Joseph’s property is in section 15. Those sections are first divided into quarters of 160 acres each, and then each quarter is repeatedly divided into quarters again for plots of land that go down to 40. Half-divisions will render plots of 80 acres and 20 acres, respectively. Cyndie and I purchased a 20-acre subsection up in the Martell Township about 12-miles north of what is shown here.

See if you can spot a 40-acre parcel that Joseph bought from Selah Strickland in the SW1/4(40acres) of the SE1/4(160acres) of Section 15.

Find section 15. Visualize the SouthEast quarter of that section. Finally, focus on the SouthWest quarter of that space.

Hint: It says, “GRIST MILL  SAW MILL”

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First Sign

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I know it’s only February, but spring can’t be far off now. Yesterday morning at work, I received this message from Cyndie:

Maybe that egg surprised the hen. Cyndie reported it was in the sand covering the floor of their coop, not one of the nest boxes.

If the first egg of the season doesn’t offer us hope for better days ahead, then we’ve been paying too much attention to news of the world. Well then, how about two eggs! By the time Cyndie went down to close the coop for the night, there was already a second egg, this time right where we want them, in a nest box.

There may be enough increase in hours of daylight to trigger egg-laying again, but this morning the hens got a brisk slap in the beak after a drop of 40°(F) temperature overnight. Ol’ Man Winter isn’t going to let us forget what month it is, regardless what fresh eggs make us think.

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Written by johnwhays

February 13, 2020 at 7:00 am