With the major milestones in Lizzie’s life known, I’ve begun turning to more personal sources to answer questions such as, “What was Lizzie like?” At first, the task sounds simple: find an address and send a letter. But it’s actually more complicated. Think about it. If I were tracking down my own family members, I could introduce myself as something like “long lost cousin, Ron.” However, since my only connection to Lizzie is through lost postcards, such an inquiry has the potential to carry a creepy undertone:
“Weird California man seeks information about aunt who died fifty-two years ago.”
Research lead me to the great-niece who sold the Billerica house to my uncle. As luck would have it, the woman was a long-time resident of my home town, so at least we shared some sort of connection.
I sent her a letter. In it, I told her how I grew up in the town and that my parents still lived there. I graduated from both the local high school and a private college in the adjacent town. I shared the names of my wife and kids–anything to prove that I was a real person. Then I launched into finding the postcards, the research, and my goal to learn about Lizzie as a person. The letter included my snail mail address, email address, cell phone number and of course, the URL to this very website.
I left nothing to chance. Knowing that the great-niece was in her seventies and may not be savvy technically, the letter included a self-addressed, stamped envelope with the following single question survey:
1. Please circle and answer one of the following four responses:
a. I’d love to be interviewed for your project. Please feel free to contact me at the following telephone number: _________________________
b. I am interested in being interviewed, but only through text. You may contact me either through email: _________________ or at the following postal address: ______________________________________
c. I’d love to help, but I am probably not the best person to answer your questions about Elizabeth (Nestor) Milligan. I suggest that you reach out to: __________________________________________________
d. Thank you for reaching out. Your project sounds interesting, but I’m not interested in being contacted at the moment.
I dropped the letter in the mail and waited. Evidently, the letter was delivered and opened, but instead of it reaching its intended recipient, it ended up with the great-niece’s daughter…who…umm…immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was out to scam her parents.
On one hand, I could understand the reaction. I too am very protective of my parents. But, at the same time, the letter contained so much information that could be easily validated, that it shouldn’t have been a big deal. And although she did attempt validation, I never could have anticipated her method. Rather than using snail mail, email, cell phone, or the SASE, I’m guessing that she used the local phone book, where she found my last name, and…
…wait for it…
…called my mother.
A few minutes later, my slightly agitated, seventy-something year old Mom called.
“Some woman just called me asking if you were a scammer,” she said.
“Huh?” I asked, not quite connecting the dots.
“She was really upset. She got a letter about some postcards or something. She had lots of questions. She asked if my son’s name was Ron. I said, ‘Yes.’ She asked if you lived in California, and I said, ‘Yes.’ She asked how long I lived in town. I said, ‘Fifty years.'”
My cell phone beeped, notifying me of a message left by a restricted number. After calming my Mom down, I listened to it:
Hi Ron. My parents received a letter from you regarding the Milligans and Nestors from some postcards in Billerica. And I was just getting back to you on that. I would love to actually have the postcards or see the postcards. If you wouldn’t mind, you could send them to my dad at the same address that you sent the letter, and we can figure out what we can (unintelligible) for you and go through the family tree stuff, and because we have an extensive one done and get back to you. So, if you are interested, you can drop them into the mail to my dad and if not I’ll try to contact you back at some other time. Thanks. Bye.
I stared at the phone, stunned. She wanted me to send her Lizzie’s postcards? Seriously? I’ve treasured them for thirty-seven (37) years and wasn’t ready to hand them over to an unvetted home. And how could I voice my intentions with no way of speaking with her? She called from a restricted number.
I chewed on the dilemma for a couple weeks. I concluded that although my Mom’s interrogation may have shined some credibility onto the story, Lizzie’s great-great niece still wanted more proof. There was no way that I was sending the postcards, but I could send color copies of them. It took about four hours to complete the forty-nine (49) page document that contained all one-hundred ninety-eight (198) images. On April 27th, I dropped that document along with a cover letter into the mail.
It’s been a month and I’ve yet to hear back.
As Kenny Rogers said in The Gambler, “You got know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.” Therefore, before I’m slapped with a restraining order, it’s time to move onto another source.
The good news is that I have other family branches to follow. Hopefully, if this project gains the success that I have planned for it, Lizzie’s great-great niece will see that Project Lizzie isn’t a scam. It’s just a New England son’s passion to tell an amazing story.
And the weary writer trudges forward.