Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘genealogy

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

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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Another Family

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Giddy with excitement over discovering my 2nd-great-grandfather Stephen once lived in the same area as we do now, my immediate focus narrowed to primarily his family during those years. After additionally coming upon the land records of a William Hays –of whom I had no previous knowledge– I decided to revisit the Pierce County census records for 1880 to see if I could find an entry for this man who had purchased multiple plots of land.

That search resulted in two surprises. First, that I came up empty on any additional Hays families in the 1880 census for this county. It’s certainly possible that the William Hays family was no longer here by the end of the decade when the counting occurred.

It’s frustrating for the puzzle builder in me. I end up searching for pieces that don’t exist. Genealogy is so much more complicated than jigsaw puzzling.

Minnie Church, date unknown.

The excitement that resulted from my second surprise made up for the lack of evidence I was hoping might clarify the mysterious William Hays. In the very same 1880 census where I found my 2nd-great-grandfather –just five “structures” away from him on the list– I came upon the family of my great-grandmother Minnie Church.

If you can keep track of this, Stephen’s oldest son, my great-grandfather John W. Hays, married Minnie Church in Minneapolis in 1888. Minnie’s family lived in Pierce County, Wisconsin!

Now I need to go back to the courthouse to investigate land records for her father, Charles F. Church, to see if that might clarify a question of whether they were actually near “Esdaile” or “El Paso” at the time of the census.

Although, at this point, the significance of the actual locations is fading for me.

Cyndie and I decided not to bother going for that drive yesterday to explore the area where we think Stephen’s property was located because I figured out I have already been riding my bike past there for years. It’s near 450th Street as it descends into the Rush River valley on the way to Vino in the Valley restaurant.

The surprise of discovering two different families of my ancestors have lived in Pierce County has imbued a sense of belonging that I find comforting. At the same time, it also complicates recent contemplations about the possibilities of putting this land up for sale and moving somewhere else.

My inclination continues to lean significantly toward living here. I’ve got roots!

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Written by johnwhays

February 9, 2020 at 10:53 am

Unclear Results

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Today I am consumed with a different kind of puzzling challenge in the form of filling in details of my ancestry, and unlike my jigsaw puzzles, I don’t have all the pieces. Yesterday, Cyndie and I did enjoy some success in our visit to the Register of Deeds office in the Pierce County courthouse in Ellsworth.

In a search to learn where my 2nd-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays may have lived in Pierce County around 1880, we scoured the records of land Grantees starting in the time we believe he arrived here from Red Wing.

The first ember of hope sparked when I came upon a record of a William Hays buying an unspecified acreage. Soon after that, another entry for William buying 20 acres. Then another for 40 more acres. As I was marveling over this to Cyndie and the clerk assisting us in our search, my eyes noticed the very next line on the page was for Stephen W. Hays!

Of course, this gives a strong impression that there might be a connection between these two individuals with the same less-commonly spelled surname.

While the records for William indicate he had purchased over 60 acres by that point, the details for Stephen were a little less impressive.

To find the deed, we followed the trail from the Grantees book to two other large books, finally reaching the goal of the hard to decipher legal description of the land in classic period handwritten script.

Commencing at a stake in the line on the North West side of the Highway from which a stake set in the quarter line twelve chains Twenty three links South of quarter past in North line of Section Thirty (30) in Township No. TwentySix (26) of Range No. Sixteen (16)West, bears north fortyeight degrees East (41) chains Thirteen (13) links, hence South forty eight degrees West four chains and fifty links to the centre of the highway, Thence North SixtyEight & one half (68 1/2) Degrees West three chains and forty five links to a stake set in the centre of the highway, Thence North fortyeight degrees east four chains and three links to a post, Thence South fortytwo degrees east three chains and eight links to the place of beginning. Containing one acre be the same more or less. (Magnetic variation Eight degrees East)

This is all well and good, but the census information we were working from placed him in Esdaile and the description for this property happens to be in El Paso, WI, about 17 miles to the north and east.

Stephen purchased that whopping one-acre plot for five dollars.

Now, there were seven years between the deed and the census, so the difference of location is certainly possible, but we weren’t able to find any other record of land transactions with Hays names on them for the years we believe Stephen and family lived in Pierce County. Maybe they rented a place toward the end of their stay here.

In fact, we couldn’t even find evidence Stephen sold his one acre. Eventually, years after he had moved the family to South Dakota, someone bought that one-acre parcel from the county for less than a dollar.

We plan to take a drive to see the land in El Paso, wondering if we will even be able to identify it by that complex old legal description of chains and links. If it mattered that much to me, I’d have this converted to GPS coordinates, but it doesn’t. I’ve already received the rush of simply knowing one of my ancestors roamed the local hills where we have come to reside.

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Surprisingly Close

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It didn’t take me long to find the 1880 US census record for my 2nd-great-grandfather, Stephen W. Hays in Pierce County. In an almost comical confirmation of the unreliability of name spellings when doing research, the record I found was listed for “Stiven” Hays. I’m not clear whether that was attributable to an initial misspelling, the handwriting of the actual census recorder, or the loose interpretation by the subsequent person(s) scanning and labeling the originals into digital form.

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The Hays family of Stephen and Judith and two of their sons are counted on the pages for Esdaile, Wisconsin. I was stunned to find this previously-unknown-to-me community is on the equivalence of 650th Street just about 13 miles south of our current home. Our driveway is also on 650th Street, which is an amazing bit of synchronicity and surprisingly close, in my opinion.

This opens up the next level of investigation, as I strive to discover just exactly what address they resided at during the thirteen years from 1871 to 1884 that they were in Pierce county, as reported in Stephen’s obituary article.

I don’t have deep knowledge of this period of history, but my intuition senses that relocating as often as the article indicates they did probably wasn’t an insignificant feat. It’s possible that it wasn’t as big a deal for them as I imagine, but I doubt I would be up to that frequency of big moves. At the same time, if it was actually a huge task for them, it begs the question to me of why they moved as often and as far away as they did.

The 1880 Census lists Stephen’s occupation as “Wagon Maker.” A quick review of wagons and wainwrights reveals that the 1880s were a boom time for that mode of horse-drawn transporting of both humans and goods so maybe Stephen was simply following opportunities in his field.

The accompanying portrait of the man evokes more of a Lincoln-esque stature than the shorter, rounder impressions of male Hays faces going back from me to my dad, to his dad, all the way to Stephen’s son, my great-grandfather John W. Hays. Maybe it’s the beard. I couldn’t grow something like that if my life depended on it.

Maybe there was more influence on appearance from the maternal sides of those generations after Stephen.

Cyndie and I hope to take a drive to explore the properties around Esdaile this weekend to see if we stumble on anything that looks over a hundred years old. If I see any antique-looking wagon wheels propped up somewhere, you can bet I’ll start asking questions.

I’ve ordered a historic map from the Pierce County historical society and plan to do some research on land records. As long as we’ve discovered they lived this close, it would mean a lot to me to also learn if they owned property that I could now visit knowing my forefather had once walked that same land, too.

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Written by johnwhays

February 5, 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