Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘WI

Great Find

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A visit to the Pierce County Historical society yesterday proved incredibly rewarding for just the information I was hoping to learn. What was the industry like in the area during the 1860s and 70s when three of my ancestors’ families made this place their homes?

Esdaile was just being settled and lumber was a focal point in the valleys along the waterways of the county. Agriculture was becoming the focus on the flatlands above after the big trees had all been harvested.

I was able to purchase a book about the history of the township of Hartland. Among the multiple references to Stephen Hays and Charles Church, I hit gold with the details revealing Joseph Sleeper to be a significant contributor to the developing community.

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Copyright: Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Chapt 1-15. Madison, WI

He helped organize the first school and served on the school board for several years, in addition to having been a member of the town board years earlier. Between those, he was a member of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Sounds like the Sleeper brothers were pretty industrious. First, they build a sawmill and then they fashion a gristmill. It was the center of activity on Isabelle Creek.

I also learned there was a significant lumber company in Red Wing, MN, which is where Stephen Hays first lived after coming from Canada. The owner of that company expanded his operation to Esdaile and a “Mr. Hays” was the manager of that mill which made wheel hubs and spokes among other things.

There is a fabulous description of the factory that was written by a visitor:

Copyright: Krogstadt, Roland J. 2010. Hartland Heritage: A History of Hartland Township, Pierce County, Wisconsin, edited by Donna M. O’Keefe. Chapt 4-61. Madison, WI

One other detail uncovered more than once in the book was the mention of flooding that destroyed properties, including mills. Sometimes they would rebuild, but once the big pines in the vicinity had all been cut, the number of sawmills dropped precipitously. In a few instances, they just didn’t build again after a flood.

Coincidentally, the way home for me from the location of the Historical Society in Bay City to our place further north allowed me to travel along the banks of Isabelle Creek, passing the location where the Sleeper brothers built their mill. A deer was standing in the road as I approached, steep forested banks rose on both sides of the valley. A bald eagle flew from its perch in a nearby tree.

It was easy to imagine I was back in the 1870s, despite the modern comfort of my car. There aren’t many residences along the gravel road that follows the creek, so few signs of modern life. I got the impression it would be a treacherous place to be when the creek overflowed its banks.

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Written by johnwhays

February 21, 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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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

High Points

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After work yesterday, Cyndie and I hopped in her car and drove up to the lake for the weekend. Leaving on a Thursday night makes for easy driving, in the absence of the typical weekend traffic headed north. Our route took us through some of the damage from last week’s storms that produced near-hurricane force winds and some baseball-sized hail.

It was fruitless to try to capture a representative photo of the large scope of broken trees for miles, but I snapped a few shots on my cell phone through the car window at highway speed.

It was a little easier to capture a sample of some building damage that hadn’t been covered up yet.

The extensive damage to trees was a really sad sight. It gave me a whole new perspective on the comparatively minor issues we are facing at home with a few dead or dying trees leaning across our trails. We’ve got it easy.

High point of the day for me yesterday was finding a neighboring farmer working our fields to finally bale some of the cut hay that has been left on the ground for weeks, repeatedly being rained on instead of properly drying out. The past week offered the longest stretch of dry days that I can recall so far this summer.

The second high point was getting a chance to watch portions of Stage 18 of the Tour de France on the subscription TV channels when we got here. At home, we only pick up what is publicly available through the airwaves, and bike racing coverage is minimal.

Two big mountain stages remain, today and tomorrow, and I am thrilled to be able to view all the drama as it happens.

Maybe it will be rainy here as the morning progresses so I don’t waste sunny lake time sitting indoors in front of the glowing screen getting my bike racing fix.

Honorable mention high point yesterday goes to the Coop’s pizza dinner we devoured when we got to Hayward. Oh, so delicious.

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