Posted by on Jun 14, 2014 |

if_you_fail_he_diesSo far our research has focused on names, dates, and places. But, what about the times that Elizabeth Nestor Milligan lived in? What did the major milestones in her life look like in the context of the times? For example, what was her life like 100 years ago today?

On June 14, 1914, tensions were rising across the Atlantic as decisions made years before were threatening peace. In 1878, European powers allowed the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary to occupy the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as long as the country remained under the rule of Turkey. However in 1908, Austria-Hungary decided to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the bold move agitated many, especially the little country of Serbia, that harbored its own thoughts of annexation to re-unite the Slavic peoples who had been divided by centuries of empires fighting over them. Little did the people of Malden, Massachusetts know, but in just 14 days, on June 28, 1914, those tensions would reach a breaking point after an Austria-Hungary Archduke visiting Sarajevo would be assassinated by a Serb.

Assuming that the Serbian government was behind the assassination, the Dual Monarchy presented Serbia with an ultimatum: let Austria-Hungary run the investigation into the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, or risk a declaration of war.

When Serbia didn’t accept the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary followed-through with its promise, creating a catastrophic domino effect where Germany backed Austria-Hungary and declared War on France, Russia rushed to defend Serbia and come to the aid of its ally France, and England soon followed. In less than one month, these tragic events would initiate the “War to End All Wars,” which would end up killing more than 16 million people and wounding over 20 million.

In the summer of 1914, Lizzie was 42 years old and living in either Everett or Malden. Local conversations would have been dominated with debates on whether or not the United States would enter the war–a development that Lizzie would have been keenly interested in, considering her 28 year-old son was draft-eligible. But Edward wasn’t the only household member that would have been effected. Depending on how long the war lasted, Lizzie’s nephews Joseph (14), Gerard (9), Francis (8), Nestor (7), and Edward (6) also found themselves in the draft queue.

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. The resulting draft of June 5, 1917 sought all men between the ages of 21 and 31, making Edward, at exactly 31 years of age, eligible. The second draft of June 5, 1918, sought those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917.  Lizzie’s nephew, Joseph, born on April 8, 1900, would have been 18 years-old, and thus was non-eligible. But that wouldn’t be the case for long. On September 12, 1918, a third draft sought men between 18 through 45, making Joseph eligible.


A search through the draft registration cards didn’t reveal anything for Edward, which may have had something to do with his diagnosis with Pulmonary Tuberculosis that same year. However, we did locate the draft registration card for Joseph Francis Cardinal. The card, dated September 12, 1918, suggests that young Joseph was eager to join the fighting, as he signed his card on his very first day of draft eligibility. Luckily for his family, though, the war ended two months later on November 11, 1918.

When reading history books, it’s easy to memorize the names of assassinated Archdukes, learn about secret societies with intriguing names such as the “Black Hand,” and glance casually at the number of soldiers who died at a particular battle. But it’s important to take a step back and think about the effect that these facts had on people who lived during those times. Lizzie, Edward, and Joseph didn’t choose their circumstances. The tragic events that unfolded thousands of miles away were thrust upon them and their lives were determined by how they chose to react.

Sources used in this post:

Family Search



Library of Congress