Posted by on Apr 5, 2014 | 1 comment

In October, 2013, I had the opportunity to travel home to Boston for a conference. Since I was in the area, I decided to take little side trip to Lizzie’s hometown of Malden, Massachusetts.

My goal was to locate two things: Lizzie’s final resting spot and her obituary. Lizzie’s death certificate helped with the former by telling us that she was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery. The latter, which I’ll talk about in another blog post, would require a visit to Malden Public Library.

Any preconceived notions of finding Lizzie on a casual stroll were crushed after entering Holy Cross Cemetery and observing rows and rows of tightly packed headstones that extended to the horizon. Help came in the form of a sign that lead me to the chapel and mausoleum.

holy_cross_chapel_and_mausoleum

The building was bigger than I had expected, keeping hope alive that someone would be able to help me navigate through the sea of granite that stood between Lizzie and me. The sound of footsteps followed by a door opening and closing indicated activity of the living. I followed the sound to find the Manager’s Office.

“May I help you?” a woman behind the counter asked.

I explained that I was looking for a particular grave and wondered if she could point me in the right direction. She nodded, asked for details, and approached a large card catalog system.  I watched as she thumbed expertly through cards that presumably contained the final resting places of thousands of people. She paused on one card in particular, wrote something onto a piece of paper, and returned to the counter.

“You’ll find the grave site here,” she said, pointing to an “X” that she had just drawn onto a photocopied map. “You are here. Just follow the line to this location,” she said, while pointing to some sort of address:

Elizabeth Milligan
37 No Lake 20 West

I studied the map. Evidently, the cemetery was organized into little streets. All I needed to do was follow the path that she had annotated with a yellow highlighter and a major Project Lizzie milestone would soon be accomplished.

My heart raced as I drove the rental car through the little cemetery town. I took a left onto St. Mary, a hard right onto Monument, a quick left onto Oak before a making a slight right onto Lake. According to the map,  Lizzie’s grave was located near the end of Lake Avenue on the left.

If I was interpreting the map’s annotations correctly, Lizzie’s address in Holy Cross Cemeterytown was something like the 20th plot, of the 37th row, of Lake Avenue. I stopped the car in order to complete the remainder of my journey on foot. The number “37” was painted on the pavement.

37_no_lake_ave

I looked up, estimated where the 20th headstone should be located, and began walking. “One, two, three, four,” I counted silently.

lizzies_row_on_lake_ave

My counting came to an abrupt stop, however, as large block letters on the 8th headstone spelled the name “MILLIGAN.” Since I was still anticipating another twenty yards before finding the grave site, the fact that I had arrived at my destination didn’t register immediately. But as I read the words chiseled into the polished granite, I realized that my goal had been achieved.

headstone_of_lizzie_milligan

In loving memory of

Husband, Patrick J
died Nov 10, 1894
Edward J
died January 20, 1935
Elizabeth Feb 3, 1962
MILLIGAN

My reaction was quite unexpected.

“Oh, Lizzie,” I blurted out loud. “You outlived your son!”

The emotion of the moment caught me by surprise.  I touched the top of the headstone, slowly running my fingertips across the hewn stone. My mind raced, as the sadness of Lizzie’s tragedy mixed with the joy of finally finding her. A moment later and these new puzzle pieces started to fall into place.

Before this moment:

  • I “knew” that Lizzie became a widow somewhere between 1885 and 1900.
  • I didn’t know if the Milligan family immigrated from Canada as a unit, or if Lizzie and Edward came alone,
  • And I knew that Edward had fallen off of the census rolls after 1930, but didn’t know where he went.

But now, I knew the answer to many of my earlier questions:

  • Lizzie, Patrick and Edward did come to the United States together, perhaps as early as 1890.
  • Patrick died in 1894, leaving Lizzie as a twenty-six (26) year old widow with an eight (8) year old son.
  • Forty-one years later, Lizzie buried Edward with his father.

And yet, just as this new information answered many of my questions, it opened up even more. How did Patrick die? How did Edward die?

As I walked back to my rental car, I couldn’t shake the sadness resulting from this unexpected and tragic story twist.