Saturday, November 7, 2009

Surname Saturday - HAYS

Since I brought up the Hays surname on Madness Monday, I'll post that for my Saturday surname. The name is found often as Hayes, but that is not how my great-grandfather spelled it and since I knew him, I'll go with "Hays". According to Wikipedia, in 1900, Hays was the 100th most common surname recorded. It is, of course, English in origin with the earliest recording as "Heise" in 1197.

The picture is of my great-grandparents, John Jefferson "John-John" Hays and Philena Josephine "Josie" Allen, taken in the early 1930's.

My earliest known Hays ancestors are my great-great grandfather Elias B. Hays and his widowed mother, Delitha. I've not been able to find out the father's name, although I believe John and William are likely possibilities. Neither can I find any family for Delitha.

Elias married Martha Frances Crutcher, 8 August 1847, Tippah County, Mississippi - a fact that survives only in her application for a Civil War widow's pension. They lived in Tippah County for the 1850 census, as did Elias's mother Delitha Hays. Unfortuntely the courthouse in Tippah County was a casualty of the Civil War.

The Hays family moved to Johnson County, Arkansas, before 1853, when a court record there reveals a guardian suit between Delitha and Elias Hays over Elizabeth Vincent, named as Delitha's granddaughter. In the 1860 Johnson County census, Elizabeth Vincent was in Elias Hays's household, along with the first five of the ten children born to Elias and Martha. One of Elias & Martha's daughters was named Delitha for her grandmother.

My great-grandfather, John Jefferson Hays, was born to Elias and Martha, 5 Aug 1856, in Johnson County, Arkansas, as their fourth child and eldest son. John married Philena Josephine "Josie" Allen, 1 Jun 1876, in Polk County, Arkansas where she was born 4 Nov 1856. The couple had six children, one of whom died as an infant. Their fourth child was my grandmother, Nora Lee Hays - I lived with her from age two to eight, and my great-grandfather was often a guest in the home, or we went to visit him.

The family called John Jefferson Hays, "John-John". He lived to be age 93, dying 26 Jun 1950; I was ten the year he died, so I do remember him well. He was a farmer; he and his brother grew cotton and ran a cotton gin. They also had a large strawberry patch - I have a picture [unfortunately in very poor condition] of many of the family members in the field on a strawberry pickin' day. He was a tall, slender man. He played the "fiddle" and I have his violin. He grew quite deaf in his old age and I recall that the fiddle playing suffered considerably as a consequence. I was a little frightened of him, because I could not speak loud enough for him to hear, and he would yell back at me. I have a better understanding of that problem now.

John-John outlived his wife Josie by some fifteen years - she died 30 May 1935. Most of that time he lived in the household of his youngest daughter and her husband, Minnie Hays and Ira Comstock, in Van Buren, Crawford County, Arkansas. They had a large two-story house and had no children, so that was the logical place for him to stay. He could be a bit of a curmudgeon, so my grandmother would often persuade him to come stay with us a week or so in Fayetteville to give Aunt Minnie a respite.

One of the stories John-John told about his youth involved the Civil War. His father served first in the Confederate Army - was captured at Vicksburg and released, signing the pledge to "never take up arms against the United States again". Elias then went back to northwest Arkansas and joined a Union company within a year - quite possibly for the paycheck as times were hard and he had a large family. This area of Arkansas was a hot bed of guerilla activity and the Hays family was burned out. It is somewhat unclear now who actually performed this unpleasant activity, but John-John remembered very well how the men piled their curtains and bedding in the middle of the floor and torched them. Martha and the children were forced to stand in the yard and watch their home burn. My mother always thought it was the Yankees that burned them out, but her brothers remember the story differently, that it was the disgruntled Rebels after Elias had joined the Union forces. The military records of Elias note a time when he was absent without leave - a time I believe coincides with the time his family was burned out. Likely he was needed to help them resettle somewhere and probably this was when the family moved to nearby Crawford County.

I will be posting more about my efforts to trace the Hays family.