Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘ancestry

Wagon Wheels

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All these years, I’ve been walking past them. Mounted as handrails on either side of the steps to our front door are two wagon wheels.

They don’t actually make for great handrails, so I’ve never been all that enamored with them. In fact, I suspected they were simply replicas. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never really looked at these wheels closely, despite shoveling snow around them every winter.

Last week, when Matthew was here sealing the logs of our house, he pointed out that the wheels deserved some attention, too, and that they were simply screwed into the steps with three lag bolts each. He advised I remove them to sand each one down and put a couple coats of sealer on them myself.

So, I removed them.

It didn’t take long for me to discover these are REAL wagon wheels. Given the fantastic discoveries this past February that three families of my ancestors lived just about ten miles south of here in the 1860s-70s, and that my 2nd-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays was a wagon maker who managed a factory that manufactured wheels… having my hands on these beautiful relics is synchronous to an exponential degree for me.

I doubt it would be possible to verify the provenance of these wagon wheels, but I’m happy to just marvel over the weird coincidence of my working on these genuine wheels, given all I’ve learned about what was happening here 150-years ago that my ancestors’ hands were involved in creating.

I’ve got a second coat of sealer to apply and then I will remount these two to the front steps, and I will never walk past them again with the same cavalier regard as I had before.

Of all the features to find mounted on the front steps of a house we bought while entirely clueless about the history of the region and my ancestors’ contributions to it… It just boggles my mind.

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Written by johnwhays

July 22, 2020 at 6:00 am

Missing Credit

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In my giddy excitement over the discovery of pages and pages of informative details about my ancestors who made Pierce County their home in the 1860s last week, I neglected to credit the Pierce County Historical Association and more specifically, properly cite the copyright holder of the book!

Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Madison, WI

That has since been remedied, with proper citations subsequently added to last week’s post.

On Sunday, I took Cyndie for a drive and showed her the beauty of the high-walled gorge of Isabelle Creek valley. She agreed with my impression that the majority of the steep slopes look no more modern than the images we’ve seen from the 1800s. It is easy to ignore the rare street sign or occasional dwelling and imagine we are back in time.

Immersing myself in so much historical research has me thinking about my trivial day-to-day activities like brushing my teeth in preparation for a night’s sleep or dressing for the day in the comfort of my modern bedroom and comparing it to what the equivalent daily tasks must have been like for my ancestors beside the creek.

The minutia of an individual’s daily little tasks doesn’t tend to be chronicled in much detail in historical journals written a hundred-plus years later.

I can’t help but share one more morsel from Roland Krogstadt’s book, “Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin” that mentions my 2nd-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays (S. W. Hays).

Chapter 10, page 311, under the heading, “Weather”

The Hartland correspondent reported to the Herald, “Last Wednesday night, this town was visited by the most terrific and destructive storm of wind and rain ever known in this locality.” The details followed:

About 11 o’clock the rain began to descend and in a few minutes increased to a perfect deluge, while almost continuous and vivid lightning lit up the blackened sky as bright as day, and the thunder rolled with an ominous, heavy, and deafening roar that added to the solemnity of the occasion and awed all who witnessed it by the grandeur and magnificence of this, the greatest of nature’s pyrotechnical displays it was ever our lot to behold. It secured as though the god of storm and flood had turned out the vials of his wrath upon this once beautiful valley, which at sunset of that evening in seeming security lay clothed in peace and verdure, and which but a few hours later was destined to present a scene of destruction and desolation that words cannot but fail to describe.

A list of over 30 properties and the estimated losses followed and included: “S. W. Hays, house flooded, $50.”

In addition to that, “Strickland & Knowlton’s flouring mill, entirely destroyed with contents, $6,500; …Betcher & McDougall, mill dam washed away, steam factory undermined, east wing of factory, 14 wagons, sleighs, cutter woods, hubs, spokes, wagon lumber, logs and lumber washed away, flume and race filled up with mud, fences gone, &c., $4,000.”

I believe that the Strickland mill was associated with my 3rd-great-grandfather Joseph Sleeper and the Betcher mill was the one Stephen W. Hays was managing.

It helps me to better understand how or why Stephen may have moved away after a few more years. It also has me wanting to be less whiny about the comparatively minor suffering we have endured from so many downpours here over the last seven years.

Nature’s wrath is nothing new.

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Written by johnwhays

February 25, 2020 at 7:00 am

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

Relative Proximity

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I recently received new information on a detail of my family history that adds intrigue to the fact Cyndie and I ended up living in Beldenville, Wisconsin. The pertinent morsel is revealed near the bottom of the first column of my great-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays’s (b.1829-d.1910) obituary.

After my great-grandfather, John W. Hays was born in 1860, the family moved from Vankleek Hill, Ontario, to Red Wing, Minnesota. Six years later, they moved to Pierce County, Wisconsin, where they stayed for 13-years before moving again, this time to South Dakota.

Beldenville is located due north of Redwing and is positioned near the center of Pierce County.

I have a new inspiration to see if we can discover where in Pierce County my ancestors once lived.

I’ve also gained a new interest in exploring the possibilities of relocating to the land between Ottawa and Montreal where my most-likely-Irish ancestors owned a farm, in case I finally act on a mostly-idle threat to flee this country’s dreary governance.

In an interesting genealogy note, I’ll point out that the surname, Hays, is misspelled several times with an added “e” in my great-great-grandfather’s obituary, even though the correct spelling also appears farther down. This was a burden for me when I first began my genealogy research because my initial goal was to find out why our name didn’t include the “e” which so many people seem to want to insert.

I struggled to grow comfortable with accepting all varieties of spellings in the quest to identify actual blood relations on the tree. I have come to realize how much more the person matters than the versions of surname spelling.

Based on information gathered from my Y-DNA, the closest connections of Hays matches have a very common origination in the counties of southern Ireland. Although I have a high percentage of English ancestry (a more common origin of the surname Hayes with that “e”), the lineage of my surname points toward Irish, where there is a chance the original moniker may have been “Hay.”

All the more appropriate that we have been growing hay on our Beldenville property, ay?

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Written by johnwhays

February 4, 2020 at 7:00 am

Familial Bonds

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I align with the perception that simply being human puts us all in the same family, but it’s hard to deny a reality that some people are more family than others. It’s not all that surprising when people who share a bloodline experience a connection born of common ancestry, but I have experienced enough occasions when I am drawn toward kindred spirits with whom I have no blood relation that I know there are mystical bonds deeper than our brains can explain.

Last night we had a chance to brush up against this fascinating phenomenon when the Grinnell families who had gathered in St. Peter for the memorial service of their patriarch, Robin (who was Fred’s cousin), drove up for a spur of the moment gathering at Cyndie’s parent’s home in Edina.

As an in-law in the gathering of Norwegian Friswold and Grinnell clans, it was a treasure to witness the threads of connection and hear the sharing of family stories. I have enjoyed short visits with the Grinnell brothers less than a handful of times over a span of several decades, so my relationship to them could easily be described as acquaintances.

So why does it feel like so much more than that?

Likely, for the same reason that I feel like a brother to Ian Rowcliffe and like a member of Dunia and Marco’s family.

There is a magical aspect to the attraction toward kindred spirits that defies definition by words. It is an energy of the heart. It is a special form of love. It is a unique feeling that blossoms for a select few.

It is a brush with things sacred, which tends to make me feel more fully human.

At the same time, that begs a question of why I don’t feel more of a connection to all who make up the human family. Wouldn’t that be ideal?

A lofty goal for which to aim. For now, I will enjoy the special warmth of sharing time again with people who mean more to me than I can understand. It fits nicely within the mysteries that I don’t really feel a need to have explained.

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Written by johnwhays

December 30, 2019 at 7:00 am