The Boy Left Behind

When I discovered a message from a McCaul relative on Ancestry a few days ago, I read a name that stirred dim and troubling memories.

The message noted that my family tree includes a Julia Lovewell, which was the name of the inquirer’s great-great-grandmother, and asked if I might be able to provide more information.  At that instant I felt like the librarian at the Library of Congress in “All the President’s Men” who when asked by Woodward and Bernstein if they could see all research requests from the White House, replies, “I don’t know if you want ‘em, but I got ‘em.”  It’s the conversation which leads to that great overhead shot of the reporters sorting through stacks of little slips of paper, as the camera slowly pulls back to the top of the domed ceiling.

It was after taking a second look at the name of Julia Lovewell's child listed in the message, Frederick Francis Caul, that my blood ran cold.  Yes, I had a vague memory of a Frederick … no, a Freddie.  But was he the same man I’ve been calling “Willie” all these years?  My mind shot back to a letter from my mother mentioning that she knew Edward quite well and was also in touch with “Uncle Willie.”  Their sister Alice, my grandmother’s protector, was a family treasure.  I did a quick search of my own blog for any and all McCauls.  Yes, I acknowledge three McCaul children for Edward and Julia, boys Eddie and Willie, and daughter Alice.  But, Frederick?  The name stirred something.  I suddenly remembered exactly where I had first seen a mention of him, and what ran through my mind while I stared at it.

Nearly ten years ago at the Kansas Center for Historical Research I finally decided to have a look at the 1885 Kansas Census to search for the McCauls of Carbondale, even though common sense told me they all had to be long gone and living in St. Louis in order to meet a timetable long established by family lore.  Edward McCaul, Sr., died in St. Louis while working on the railroad depot.  With the breadwinner gone, Julia and her children faced poverty and starvation.  Julia learned of the existence of a town named Lovewell in northern Kansas and wrote a desperate letter to the postmaster asking if the town had anything to do with her long-lost father.  Thomas Lovewell caught the next eastbound train and brought Julia and her children to his new village in Jewell County, where she met and married her second husband, John Robinson.  Their daughter Lillie was born 29 January 1887, meaning that she had to marry Robinson no later than the spring of 1886 - didn’t she?  I find it hard to believe that I was that naive so recently, but I was.

It was almost closing time at the center and I had fifteen minutes and an empty microfilm reader - what the heck?  I slipped the film through the gate, flipped a switch, and there they were.  But there was also something hinky about the names and ages of the boys.  The census-taker must have been confused, I concluded, switching the names of the younger and older brother and hearing “Freddie” when someone said “Eddie.”  It was the sort of thing researchers encounter many times in census returns, occasional with amusement, as when an enumerator wrote “Hefty Belle” for “Hepsabeth.”  I was greatly surprised years later when  given the photograph of a very gaunt Hepsabeth Lovewell.  

My attention was probably drawn away prematurely from the McCaul boys when I saw the names listed below those of Julia’s children:  John Robinson and his girls Manie and Alice.  My great-grandparents appeared to be living together, clearly without benefit of clergy, since each was still married to a prior spouse.  Julia continued to herself Mrs. McCaul, while John Robinson, who had married Julia’s stepsister Susan Turnbull a few years earlier before turning his attentions toward Julia, was living under the same roof with both women.

I had found two boys in Julia McCaul’s family in the 1880 census, two in the 1885 census, and two in the care of John Robinson at Lovewell in 1895, after Julia's passing.  I was apparently too preoccupied with other things to realize that they were not always the same boys.  Julia had three boys, Eddie, Willie, and Freddie.  What I had mistaken for a clerical error was actually a clue that Eddie had left Carbondale by 1885, probably accompanying his father to St. Louis, and that Freddie must has stayed behind in Portland when Julia briefly reconciled with her husband, Edward, Sr., in St. Louis in 1893.

Shaving the “Mc” off his last name, Frederick Caul lived out his adult life in the Pacific Northwest, dying at the age of fifty-five in Puyallup, Washington.  His descendants tell me the Washington death record lists his parents as Edwin Caul and Julia Lovewell.

© Dale Switzer 2023