Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘genealogy

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

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

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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