Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘history

Nine Years

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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

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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

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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

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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, 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

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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!



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”



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.









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.



Written by johnwhays

February 5, 2020 at 7:00 am


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Nothing else matters. The euphoria of a team victory in sports is great. Nine of them in a row, some of which were unlikely, starts to get pretty crazy. Especially when a fan-base, a state, haven’t witnessed such a feat in 115 years, …so, not in our lifetimes.

Way to go, GOPHERS!


Hee-hee. Minnesota is partying like its 1904!

I’ve attended a lot of University of Minnesota Gopher football games in my life, starting when I was a kid and my dad would take me to sit on the wooden bench seats of Memorial Stadium in the 1970s. Those season tickets were by the aisle to the press box above us, near where Minnesota Twins baseball great, Bob Allison had seats, so press guys would always pause on their way up to exchange pleasantries.

I suffered through the years when Gopher football games were moved off campus to the echo canyon of the Metrodome, including several when our daughter, Elysa, performed in the drumline of the marching band.

Eventually, the annually increasing expense of four season tickets exceeded our budget and we let them go. I remember how reluctantly the University accepted our decision. They checked thoroughly to confirm our choice to give up our seniority since the seats we held were associated with the original ones my dad first purchased in 1944.

I never even attended a class at the school, but it is the University of MINNESOTA! Our kids learned the words to the school fight song before they knew what it was. The university and its athletes represent the entire state. I am a big fan of all Gopher sports, football most of all.

We’ve endured a lot of coaches and coaching styles in the revolving door that has been Gopher football. P.J. Fleck has brought his boat-rowing meme to town as the latest rendition. So far, so good.

I don’t get to watch many games anymore, because we don’t have cable tv, and historically, Gopher football hasn’t risen to enough significance to earn broadcast on the airwave networks. That made yesterday’s matchup of two undefeated B1G teams (the oldest Division 1 collegiate athletic conference in the United States) extra special for me. From the first interception to the last, and every amazing catch, run, defended pass, or penalty-free play in between, I watched with awestruck amazement.

I’m inordinately proud of the accomplishments of the team this year. We deserve to party like it’s 1904!





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First, I want to point out that there are two special things I haven’t forgotten today. Happy Birthday, Julian! And, Happy Anniversary to Cyndie (and me).

One way I know that we have been married a long time: She sent me an email yesterday, announcing she had signed us up for a community education class on Navigating Social Security.

How romantic.

I chose one of her photographs for a new “Words on Images” composition.





Written by johnwhays

September 19, 2019 at 6:00 am

Memory Lane

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I traveled down the depths of some great memories last night for a 50th-anniversary event of the company where I launched my industrial high-tech manufacturing career, as an inexperienced fresh-out-of-tech-school entry-level Electronic Technician. I had the good fortune of working for that company in many different roles over eighteen years, putting me in contact with almost every department at one time or another.

That made this celebration event with current and former employees an extra special treat for me. I talked myself hoarse sharing stories over the clamor of hundreds of other simultaneous conversations all around me. From Assemblers to Scientists, Marketing, Purchasing, Fabricators, Software Developers, Facilities Manager, Calibration Technicians, Mechanical and Electrical Engineers in both Manufacturing and Research & Development, Human Resources, Customer Service and even the First Responders team, I came to know a lot of amazing people, almost all of whom I could describe as friends as much as coworkers.

It was difficult to finish a thought without getting interrupted by another fond greeting of long-separated colleagues. Many people asked if Cyndie was still a Principal and wondered what I was up to. I labored to explain how we moved to the country onto a property to have horses, but that we don’t have horses any longer, and I commute many miles to an unrelated day-job that is not all that different from the old high-tech industrial electronics job I did 20-some years ago.

So much has changed, but not that much has changed.

It was a blast seeing the faces of so many people from my years with that company and recalling some of the adventures and laughs we shared. One person reminded me of the times we used our lunch hour to play wally-ball in the company gym. Those were the days.

For some perspective, during the years I worked for that company, we transitioned from pencil drawings on vellum paper to digital CAD drawings. I interacted with my first desktop computers while employed there. I was part of a team that designed a custom system for 3M that they used to manufacture some of the first compact disc optical storage media.

We were dumbstruck that they would be able to store an entire set of encyclopedia volumes on one little disc. What would they think of next?

One night of being immersed in flashbacks to that previous life is a little disorienting. I sure had no idea at the time that I might someday be dealing with broody chickens. Makes me wonder a little bit about what I might think of doing next.



Written by johnwhays

July 25, 2019 at 6:00 am