Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘history

Aging Club

with 2 comments

Wildwood Lodge Club started in 1966. The first generation is dwindling and of the six current families, only three are original. The club is in its 57th year but the buildings have been around since 1919. It was a fishing lodge when the eleven original Twin Cities families bought it and formed the club. The children of the first generation have taken over decision-making responsibilities, significantly increasing the number of minds that need to come to a consensus on management.

One of the biggest issues looming is the integrity of the main lodge building which has kitchen facilities and restaurant-style seating. The foundation is failing and the floor is rotting. The repair costs are unpredictable and hard to justify.

The ramifications tend to ripple all the way out to shaking the visions of what the future of the club might be like for the 3rd generation and beyond. With each generation, the added number of invested people complicates almost all decisions, particularly ones needing consensus for managing association business.

There are no easy answers and we can feel that. Gathering at the beach yesterday to remove the winter’s worth of leaf accumulation and arrange chairs, paddleboards, kayaks, a canoe, a small fishing boat, and several sailboats, talk informally wanders to the issues that aren’t easily resolved.

Thank goodness the precious people who are the extended family of Wildwood are the true core of what defines this club. There is no shortage of fun and laughter despite all the tough decisions looming. Dinner at each house is a delicious mix of wonderful stories and good food. Wandering next door for a visit is a guaranteed party. The north woods surrounding the lake is a vacation paradise.

Last night’s corn on the cob tasted like August. I don’t know where it was grown or how long ago it was picked, but someone did an amazing job of providing an end product that defied my sense of time and logistics.

My luck at our multiple card games has been nothing but bad, however, the fun quotient is as present as ever.

We don’t know what the future may bring, but just because the club is aging doesn’t mean it can’t last. There are plenty of possibilities and I am confident this group will eventually figure out a way to adapt and endure.



Written by johnwhays

May 28, 2023 at 9:58 am

Obvious Evidence

leave a comment »

Based on all the mice caught in our traps throughout the winter, it should come as no surprise that they navigate the harsh elements as well as long-legged wildlife, but I am always intrigued by the obvious evidence rodents are burrowing beneath the snow.

Despite the frigid overnight temperatures greeting me bitterly at each morning feeding the last few days, it appears one little critter was busy making tracks.

There is also obvious evidence of the increasing angle of sunshine and its growing influence by way of melting that is occurring despite the chilly air temperatures. That will prove to be a benefit when it comes to the threat of spring flooding. There is a deeper snowpack now than we’ve had in many years and if it were to melt all at once, flooding would likely occur.

There is an additional aspect that could dramatically influence whether we have any troublesome flooding this spring or not and that is the amount of rain that will fall in spring storms. Based on a recent video released by our county’s historical society, flooding from heavy rain can happen at any time of year. In 1942 there was a flooding rain that happened in September.



When I saw this video the first time, I realized I would quickly blame the extent of warming of our planet if this kind of flooding rain happened today. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen rain of the intensity described by Dr. James Vedder happen in the fall. But it did happen back in 1942.

Flooding rain fell in July of 1879 and washed away a mill and flooded my great-great-grandfather’s house a little over ten miles south of where we live now.

To me, this is obvious evidence that the steep ravines and many rivers of the “driftless region,” of which our county is included, are susceptible to flooding from heavy rain.

I wonder how many mice survive that kind of extreme weather.





Free Weekend

with 6 comments

Happy last day of 2022! Next year will be an odd year. No, literally, 2023 is an odd number. Duh.

To all you history buffs and genealogy fans out there, this weekend, the Star Tribune newspaper archives are free to view! What’s the first thing I checked? “John W. Hays,” of course.

What I found wasn’t new information for me, since that is also the name of my great-grandfather whom I have searched for many times before, but I had forgotten about this wonderful morsel.

Great-grandpa was a trailblazing cyclist.

08 Sep 1900, 10 – Minneapolis Daily Times at Star Tribune (Minneapolis – St. Paul)

The article was published in 1900 looking back at an event that occurred in 1886 when they road the giant 56-inch wheel.

I have cycling in my blood.

Speaking of wheels, the father of that 1880s John W. Hays was none other than my great-great-grandfather Stephen who lived in Pierce County, WI, and made wagon wheels.

I am such a product of my ancestors.

I hope you will click the link above and check out the article that was beneath that old photo. And, if you are interested in what was in the Minneapolis newspapers going back to 1867, it’s free this weekend at

Happy odd New Year tomorrow!



Written by johnwhays

December 31, 2022 at 10:54 am

Chasing Ghosts

leave a comment »

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

Nine Years

with 2 comments

Nine years ago this month we were attempting to close on the purchase of our new home in Beldenville, Wisconsin. After twenty-five years in our Eden Prairie home, it was quite a leap to pack up all our possessions and head for the countryside without having locked in the legal papers to make anything official.

We hadn’t signed off on the sale of our EP home or the purchase of our new horse property in Pierce County but the moving van was en route.

Each year since has been remarkable, but the power of those days of transition was possibly greater than everything that’s happened since.

Scroll over to the “Previous Somethings” and select the month of October in 2012. Roll down to the posts for Steps 1, 2, & 3 to read what it was like to have our dream complicated by real difficulties.

Obviously, everything worked out for us in terms of ultimately taking ownership and making Wintervale the place we’ve called home for the last nine years.

It is a real blessing to now be entering our tenth year here.



Written by johnwhays

October 19, 2021 at 6:00 am

Aerial History

with 4 comments

With much appreciation to my son, Julian, for his pointer to a precious University of Minnesota online historical aerial photograph resource he stumbled onto yesterday, I dedicate today’s post to my siblings and cousins who will most likely enjoy this more than anyone else.

I immediately searched for images from my old Eden Prairie homes. I started looking at our house on Cedar Ridge Road, but the big fun was exploring views of Intervale Ranch on old County Road 18.

Check out the place in 1960:

I have cropped this to include Fullerton’s and McCartney’s houses for reference, and the gravel pit across from the driveway of our house.

You can clearly see the center circle of our driveway, the tennis court, the barns, and the house on the hill that was the Superintendent’s quarters where the family first lived while our grandparents were in the main house.

Just seven years later, it looked like this:

Look how much bigger the gravel pit is. You can see the divided highway that formed the barrier between us and Braemar Park. I’m pretty certain that the final excavation of the surroundings was already underway, based on the pathway cleared between the outer barn and the highway.

Here is a closer zoom focusing on Intervale:

Can you find the chestnut tree?

And finally, here is a wider pan to show more of the surroundings:

This gives the added reference of 494 in the bottom of the frame, much of the golf course, and –with the stark white roof– the Braemar hockey rink.

You can also see the rest of the expanded gravel pit.

Remember how hilly it was around there? From the satellite view, it is really hard to get a sense of those dramatic features. I believe we have photos of the construction of the north/south divided highway that was County 18 at the time that are dated 1962. I find it interesting to consider the changes that happened in the seven years between these images.

Cyndie and I have been at Wintervale for seven years now. In October it will reach eight. Luckily, I’ve already been collecting the overhead satellite views of this property.

Hopefully, there won’t be any divided highway installations coming into the pictures in our lifetimes.



Written by johnwhays

July 7, 2020 at 6:00 am

Living History

with 3 comments

With the onset of this current global COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting financial repercussions underway, it is becoming obvious the incidents and impacts of these days will be noted in historical records for future reference. What is it like to live through national or global newsmaking events as they are happening?

I don’t really know.

And I’ve lived through plenty of them.

Life just seems to go on. People who don’t lose their lives or family members and friends find ways to adjust to temporary impacts on normal routines and employ a wide range of coping mechanisms to get on with doing whatever needs to be done. In the moments, it often doesn’t seem quite so historic on the personal level. It’s the collective impact of large segments of a population and the subsequent mass media accounting of details that tend to provide a bigger significance to things.

Even with that, being alive during historic circumstances never seems to feel as significant in the moment for me as I expect it should.

In my life, the impacts of newsworthy events haven’t been particularly acute. They are often shocking, such as the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster or the terrorist attacks against the United States in September of 2001, but none completely life-altering. Even for Cyndie, who was flying frequently in 2001, the change to her routine was short-lived with respect to the immediate grounding of flights for a time and then only minorly impacted after flights resumed.

I remember the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee by followers of the American Indian Movement and feeling like it was a significant event at the time, but it was really just a story on the news from where I lived.

As the 444 days of the Iran hostage crisis played out between 1979-1981, it felt awful to carry on with my activities as if nothing was amiss, but there really was no noticeable impact on my life beyond seeing a lot of yellow ribbons tied around trees in symbolic support of the hostages.

In 2008, there was what is now referred to as “the Great Recession” which just might end up comparing to the current financial “correction” in the markets. It’s possible we are about to experience the recession of 2020. Maybe it won’t be as “great.” I somehow plodded through the years surrounding the Great Recession with minor suffering. My net worth wasn’t so large that I had all that much value to lose and we were lucky enough to be in a position that our homeownership wasn’t threatened.

Somewhere in my collection of family history, I have the original “Quarantine” sign that was attached to my father’s home when he was [I believe] 12-years-old and contracted polio. That seems like a significant event for my father and his family, yet I don’t recall him ever mentioning it. The amount of subsequent paralysis he experienced from that was virtually imperceptible. Without my mother having mentioned it and giving me the sign the family had saved from his door, I wouldn’t have known.

I don’t really know what it’s like to live through historic events, even though that’s what I’m doing right now.

Maybe it’s simply like living the life that I’m living.



Written by johnwhays

March 10, 2020 at 6:00 am

Discovering WikiTree

leave a comment »

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, 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 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.



Written by johnwhays

February 20, 2020 at 7:00 am

Better Perspective

leave a comment »

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!



Written by johnwhays

February 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

Property Search

leave a comment »

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”