It’s been 1,062 days since my last Project Lizzie post. That’s 2 years, 10 months, and 24 days. It wasn’t my intent to go silent for so long. I simply ran out of viable leads to speak with someone who actually knew Lizzie.
Multiple attempts to reach Lizzie’s relatives failed because they either couldn’t or wouldn’t give me what I needed. Lizzie’s great niece was in a nursing home, her great-great niece and great-great nephew refused multiple attempts for interviews, and while another great-great niece truly wanted to help, she didn’t know anything about the Nestor side of her family.
I was so close. All I wanted was something–anything–to add a touch of color to the sepia facts that I’d collected about the life of Lizzie Milligan. Yet, with no new leads, I was forced to change my strategy. Rather than aggressively seeking new relatives, I decided to sit back and wait patiently. With any luck, a relative would find me through either projectlizzie.com or Ancestry.com.
This new strategy came with risk, however. Time isn’t a luxury when seeking those with first-hand knowledge of a woman who passed away fifty-six years ago. Lizzie’s great niece died in December 2015, followed by her husband in March 2017.
My hopes of finishing Project Lizzie dimmed with each day…
…until two weeks ago…
…when one of Ancestry.com’s little green leaves announced that someone had uploaded a photo of the Cardinal family.
My heart nearly jumped out of my chest because Lizzie lived with the Cardinal family! I wondered if it could be the missing link that I’d been waiting for. Was Lizzie Milligan and her son Edward in this photo?
I reached out to Ken, the man who uploaded the image. I asked about the photo’s source and if he knew the identities of the people in it. Then I waited. I’ve been down this road before. Would Ken be suspicious, like Lizzie’s great-great niece and nephew, or would he open to help?
Ken was a godsend. He responded instantly, explaining that the photo came from his Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Fred. I combined his notes with mine and created the following annotated version.
Although I felt disappointed that Lizzie wasn’t in the photograph, her sister Ellen was. I must have studied Ellen’s face for ten minutes, hoping to find any clue as to what Lizzie might have actually looked like.
That’s when Ken sent me another photo, taken at Revere Beach circa 1941.
He identified the people, from left to right, as his:
- Great Grandfather, Joseph Cardinal
- Mother, Jeanne
- Uncle, Fred
- Grandmother, Gertrude
- Uncle, William Jr.
- Great-Great Aunt Elizabeth (Diddie) Milligan!
There she was–Lizzie as a 72 year old woman. Greedily, I requested more photographs. Unfortunately, I learned that this is the only known photographic image of Lizzie Milligan.
I savored an unprecedented feeling of satisfaction after completing this forty-year journey. Little did I know that I hadn’t yet crossed the finish line.
Ken introduced me to his Aunt Marilyn, who graciously offered to answer any of my questions. Could Marilyn add the splash of color that I’d hoped for? We engaged in a series of rapid-fire emails.
I learned that Marilyn’s husband, Fred, lost his father when he was six years old. Fred and his mother moved in with the Cardinals–just as Lizzie and Edward had done when Patrick Milligan died in 1890. I quickly put two and two together. Fred lived with Lizzie!
Marilyn explained, “Diddie was his (Fred’s) great aunt and when he moved in she took care of him like he was her son. When Diddie went to bed, Fred would have to go to his bed also. He complained to his Mom but she would say, just do it.”
Marilyn never met Lizzie, but they did speak briefly on the phone. “I met Fred at the age of 15 years (~1950) and when I would call the house to speak to Fred, if Diddie answered the phone, she would not let me talk to him. Ladies just didn’t call men.”
I laughed. It didn’t surprise me that Lizzie would go “old school” on Marilyn, especially when it came to a girl calling a boy that she’d raised as her own son.
When Lizzie’s sister Ellen died in 1950, she left 5 Robinson Road to her daughter, Angeline. Angeline sold the house, which forced an 83-year-old Lizzie to find a new place to live. “Fred and his mother moved to Hancock Street in Everett with Diddie,” Marilyn said, “but that did not work out, so Diddie moved to the Carline’s in Billerica…”
I stared at my computer monitor. Marilyn had just answered a HUGE question: How did Lizzie’s postcards get from 5 Robinson Road in Malden to 2 Edgemont Avenue in Billerica? I couldn’t have asked for a better answer. Lizzie brought them herself.
According to Lizzie’s death certificate, she died after two years of residency at the Mt. Pleasant Nursing Home in Billerica. Doing the math, she probably lived at 2 Edgemont for about ten years. So, when Lizzie died, someone probably moved her postcards into the attic, where they collected dust until I liberated them fourteen years later. The chain of evidence was now complete.
I just needed to ask Marilyn one last question: “What do you think Elizabeth would think about a crazy guy, a century younger than her, spending hundreds of hours researching her life?”
Marilyn’s answer didn’t disappoint. “Fred said she would probably wonder why and then tell you to get a life and mind your own business. She was a bit outspoken and private. Sorry, but you asked.”
I wasn’t sorry. I was HOPING for that answer. It confirmed all that I’d pieced together from postcard messages, mailing addresses, census results, vital records, transcontinental cemetery visits, and newspaper articles. Lizzie Milligan was a strong, independent, single-mom who commuted daily to Boston, where she worked as a “forewoman” at a cigar factory. To put that statement into context, Lizzie was a lady-boss in an age when women couldn’t yet vote in this country. Fred’s answer confirmed everything that I’d come to believe about the life of Mrs. Elizabeth (Nestor) Milligan.
My forty-two-year-old mystery was finally solved. I had traced Lizzie’s postcards from her hands to mine and then topped it all off with a 77-year-old photograph.