Shedding Light on the Family Tree: Missing

The 42nd in a series on my family tree

Prompt: Lost


The incident of the missing Crouse boys simply wasn’t the type of story the family could bring themselves to talk about. Too painful; too mind-numbing; too heartbreaking. A tragic story kept close to the heart. Not even a birth record to be found (yet) for the one who never came home, nor a burial plot.

In truth, we might never have known of this tragic tale had it not been unearthed quite by accident while researching our Crouse lineage. The item was tucked away in the digital file of Herbert Clarence Burleigh’s research on the Crouse family, a file available at It was an unassuming Letter to the Editor whose hook of grief tugged at our hearts. Its information corroborated later by a reference made in the obituary of Isaac Brock Crouse (1825-1915), a prominent contributor to the transportation infrastructure of London, Ontario, and elder brother to the subjects of this article. The incident further corroborated by a short paragraph in the 1100-page tome, The History of Middlesex County, Canada (1889).

The details of this tragic story have been lost forever. Some of the dates are even unclear. We wonder if relevant records might have been consumed in the flames of a bonfire into which great grandma, Mary (Belton) McDonall (1881-1966) unceremoniously tossed old family documents and photos in the belief that “no one is going to care about these people.” (She couldn’t have been more wrong.)

No matter. Whatever might have been is lost forever, and we are left to try to figure it out using conjecture, supposition, and active imaginations.

Now to the event in question.

Lost Boys

The incident concerns the two youngest sons of my fourth great-grandparents, Isaac (1786-1854) and Eliza (1790-) Crouse ~ Thomas (ca 1827-1832), and Nelson (1828-1904). (Their eldest son, William (1817-) and his wife, Ruth Sumner (1825-), are my third great grandparents.)

It’s best shared through the three accounts referred to above:

The first from The History of Middlesex County, Canada: from the earliest time to the present, containing an authentic account of many important matters relating to the settlement, progress and general history of the county, and including a department devoted to the preservation of personal and private records, etc.; illustrated ~ p. 570

“Two brothers of Isaac [Brock] Crouse were lost one Sunday in April 1829. All the settlers turned out, old Dr. Lee offering $50 for finding them, except Abram Patrick who, with his dog and rifle, said he would hunt them alone. On Wednesday he found one, Nelson, sitting on a log, five miles away; the other boy, Tommy, was never found.”

The first thing to note is the date. With a birth year of 1828 (supported by the 1871 Census and his obituary) Nelson would have been a toddler in 1829. It’s more likely we’re looking at the timeframe indicated in the following Letter to the Editor published in The Picton Gazette (Picton, Ontario), May 29, 1968:

A Letter to the Editor for C.G. Crouse regarding the fate of the two Crouse boys
Source: Herbert Clarence Burleigh via

“By courtesy of the Price Edward Historical Society I received a reprint of the Hallowell, Upper Canada, Free Press dated June 26th 1832. This was certainly a commendable project of local history.

On page one I noticed two “dispatches” from London, Ont. re the two lost Crouse children. Although a little late I wish to add some information on the tragedy. The two boys were sons of Isaac and Elizabeth Crouse who lived in a log cabin in what is now the heart of London, Ontario. A granddaughter, Mrs. William Chisholm of Kingston, is a descendent of Nelson the boy who survived the ordeal. Her son is a professor of Queen’s University. Some years later a skeleton of a small child was found in a hollow log. The father had it buried believing it to be the remains of Thomas who perished in the woods.

Incidentally, an uncle of the two lost boys lived in the Township of Marysburgh in pioneer times. Oliver Crouse was a soldier in the War of 1812-14 who had married Catherine McCrimmon, daughter of Donald McCrimmon, U.E. Loyalist. He moved to Amherst Island but finally settled in Tyendinaga Township about 1830. His brother Isaac drove all the way from Westminster Township, London to Lonsdale, to tell his kinfolk of the misfortune. The two men probably did not know of the write-up in the Free Press of 1832. It may have saved the long, tiresome trip via horse and farm wagon over narrow, dusty roads.

Sincerely yours,
C.G. Crouse,
Shawville, Quebec”

The story goes from bad to worse. In an obituary for Isaac Brock Crouse which appeared in the London Free Press, March 17, 1915, we note the following:

“ … Mr. [Isaac] Crouse, the younger, was born on February 26, 1824. His schooling was received in a little log shack in the middle of the bush. … He had many interesting stories to tell of the bears which roamed the woods. His brother, Thomas, age five, was killed and presumably eaten by the wild animals while out searching for his father’s cattle. …”

The Final Word

Regardless of the timing of this incident the tale of two little boys lost in the woods, one never to return, can only be acknowledged as tragic. It would undoubtedly have cast a pall over the family for years rendering them unable to speak of it. So many “If onlys” and “what ifs” circulating through the thoughts of bereft parents and confused siblings. It’s little wonder there were no whispers of it around the dinner tables or in the parlours of future generations. My mother, an only child raised among an extended family of adults, overheard many ancestral stories when everyone got together, but this incident wasn’t among them.

The heart holds many secrets, many tied to what’s been lost and too painful to remember. As we reveal the hidden stories of our ancestors it is well to do so with compassion. No doubt they suffered enough.❦

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