Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘tracing family history

But Wait

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Sometimes, it’s not what you think. When searching for something that continues to elude discovery because it is not where you expect it to be, one strategy is to go back to the start. I did just that yesterday and, although I may have ended up even farther from what I am ultimately seeking, I gained valuable new insight.

Since my search for the birth record in Hinesburg, VT of my 3rd-great grandfather John Hays (b.1795) was exclusively based on information taken from his youngest son’s death record, I decided to revisit that source death record to confirm I wasn’t misremembering anything.

Oftentimes, the information collected and entered onto the family tree record becomes gospel despite each tidbit of detail for each record having variable degrees of accuracy. It pays to keep in mind the fragility of the whole collection.

I looked up the actual record from which I picked up the belief my ancestor was born in Vermont.

Upon a fresh viewing, the first thing that caught my eye was that both parents are shown with the birthplace of Hinesburg. I have other sources about Laura Kittle that tell me that is not accurate.

It’s like having the wrong piece of a jigsaw puzzle in place that makes it impossible to find any adjacent pieces that will fit.

If it isn’t accurate for Laura, then what makes me think it is correct for John? Who provided that information upon John B.’s death? Why was that thought to be true? Something must be behind the thought of Hinesburgh being the place of birth. What could that be?

I have found a surprisingly thorough history of Hinesburgh, Vermont that makes the place sound barely established when I am trying to envision my ancestors being there. The first (colonial) birth was noted as happening in 1785 and there were no doctors yet. Despite there being very few families noted in the history of this community around that time, there is absolutely no mention of the name Hay(e)s anywhere.

Next, I revisited the details I’ve collected about John(b.1795) and tried finding notice of his death in 1840. I learned that death records weren’t kept before 1869 in Ontario. However, I did rediscover one of his daughters (under her married name) was buried in the same cemetery near Vankleek Hill.

Maybe, with her married name, I can find her death record to see if that one lists the birthplace of her parents. Of course, think about it. I really am relying on whoever the survivors were to report this information at the time of death. Genealogy research is one endless puzzle.

I think I’ll go finish the jigsaw currently on the old family table and get away from the online searching for a day.



Written by johnwhays

January 30, 2022 at 11:25 am

Chasing Ghosts

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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

Different Puzzle

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My love of toiling away on jigsaw puzzles and searching for specific shaped “needles” in the haystacks of pieces has a correlation to another of my treasured hobbies. This is probably not the first time I’ve come to the realization that I feel the same about the hunt and discovery of missing people in my family tree each time I return to my genealogy project.

I just began looking anew at my 3rd great-grandfather, John Hays (1795-1840) because he is the primary dead-end, or his father is the primary “missing piece” I would next like to find.

Just like with jigsaw puzzles, when I can’t find what I’m looking for, I will settle for other, easier pieces along the way. Because I haven’t been able to find out who John’s parents are, I have tracked down a lot of other people on different branches of my family tree.

But I always find myself returning to the missing link in the path toward confirming the precise origin of our surname.

According to information taken from the 1922 death certificate of one of John’s other sons, John was born in Hinesburgh, Vermont, USA.

In 1828, John married Laura Kittle (born 1807 in Lachute, Qc) in a Cushing Presbyterian church in Argenteuil, Quebec, Canada.

Their firstborn, Stephen W. Hays (1829-1910) has the birthplace of Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada.

Take a look at the proximity of the three locations on a map:

I haven’t found any record of who John’s parents were in Vermont in 1795.

When Cyndie and I traveled to Ontario in the early 1980s (with absolutely no genealogy experience whatsoever) we stumbled onto the plot of farmland owned by John, as well as his hand-written last will and testament. His will began with the fact he was ill of health but of sound mind. It was all very fascinating, but we had no way of knowing at the time that he had originally come from Vermont.

I wouldn’t mind visiting Hinesburg to see what we might stumble upon there in the present day. It looks like it might be a nice place to explore on my new bicycle.

Not having a good knowledge of history, I am curious what it was like to travel between countries in the early 1800s. Or, even fifty years later when Stephen W. traveled from Vankleek Hill with my very young great-grandfather, John W. Hays (1860-1931) to come to Redwing, Minnesota.

Was it a big deal to them to be crossing the national borders?

What took John from Vermont? Did that move happen when he was young and as a result of his unidentified parents’ decision?

How did John meet Laura Kittle whom he married in 1828?

Their son, Stephen W. married the girl who lived on the farm next door near Vankleek Hill. Maybe the answer to John marrying Laura Kittle will be revealed by a similar proximity of residence in the 1820s.

One thing I am sure of, it will be a huge rush if/when I find one of these key missing puzzle pieces of who John’s parents were.



Written by johnwhays

January 26, 2022 at 7:00 am

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!



Written by johnwhays

February 9, 2020 at 10:53 am