For 100 years, Soyla Valentina Cardwell Lockhart has existed mostly in anonymity.
She died in November 1918 due to pneumonia from influenza, according to an Empire article at the time, and was buried in the Catholic section of Evergreen Cemetery. It was just nine days after she had given birth to a daughter and was shortly after she had arrived in Juneau.
She had come to town to surprise her husband, who was a mill worker at the Alaska-Juneau Mine, but she had been unable to track him down before her death.
Since then, Soyla faded from memory. Her husband eventually remarried, and her daughter was told almost nothing about her birth mother. Her grave in Evergreen Cemetery, like so many others in old cemeteries, became overgrown and forgotten.
That is, until a cruise ship came through Juneau in 2002.
Soyla’s great-granddaughter Paula Haug stepped off the boat, knowing that her ancestor had died here in Juneau but not knowing much else. She asked around a little bit, finding out that Soyla was likely somewhere in Evergreen Cemetery’s Catholic section but that her grave’s specific location had been lost to history.
It was unmarked, and they weren’t sure exactly which one was Soyla’s.
“It really bothered me that she was up here without a stone,” Haug said.
Over the years, the uncertainty about Soyla’s location began to go away. In 2015, multiple City and Borough of Juneau departments partnered on the Evergreen Cemetery Mapping Project to confirm grave locations and digitize those records. From afar, Haug went through these and tracked down Soyla’s grave, located in plot 991 in the Catholic section.
In April 2016, Haug reached out to Ben Patterson, the landscape supervisor at the cemetery, to tell him her story and say that she was bothered by the fact that her great-grandmother had no marker on her final resting place.
Patterson responded to her soon afterward via email, saying that over the span of 100 years, the ground under gravestones can shift and Soyla’s exact location might never be known. Patterson told Haug that he could work with her to place a grave marker on plot 991, though, which would at least put a marker close to Soyla’s remains.
That kicked off a two-year process that came to its culmination this year. Haug, a communications professor at Folsom Lake College in Folsom, California, made another voyage to Juneau this past week to return to the cemetery.
When she strolled the grounds in 2002, all she found in the area of Soyla’s grave was grass and eroded grave markers for other people. When she and her teenage daughter Carlie returned to Evergreen Cemetery last week, a bright and clean grave marker proclaimed Soyla’s resting place.
Figures of a cross and flowers surround Soyla’s name, with the dates Dec. 17, 1885-Nov. 16, 1918 carved beneath. Carved under that is “Psalm 95:1.” That Psalm reads, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.”
In her research, Haug found that Soyla had been active in choirs when she was younger, and Haug thought that verse was a good combination of Soyla’s interests in singing and in religion.
Haug learned quite a bit more than that about Soyla’s life and family, because almost nothing was known about her. Haug said that her grandmother (Soyla’s daughter) was hardly told anything at all, in part because her family didn’t want her to know her mother was Mexican.
In fact, Soyla’s roots are quite distinguished, Haug found. She was descended from prominent figures in California history, but also was connected to a tragic and romantic character in Southeast Alaska history.
On Soyla’s mother’s side was a girl named Concepcion Arguello who fell in love at the age of 15 with a Russian nobleman named Nikolai Rezanov in the early 1800s. Rezanov was based in Sitka at the time, and came to California to look for fresh fruits to bring the people of Sitka who were suffering from scurvy.
What he found in addition to citrus was Concepcion. They fell in love, but their romance was doomed. Rezanov died of fever and exhaustion in Russia in 1807, and Concepcion became a nun. The romance is part of Russian lore, and was the inspiration for one of the first rock operas, entitled Juno and Avos (named for Rezanov’s boats).
The discoveries of Soyla’s connections to these corners of history have been vast, Haug said.
“My dad and I have had a great time doing all the family history,” Haug said. “All of that fascinating everything is through her. She is that tenuous nine-day link between us and all of that family history.”
Haug is now well versed in her family’s history, and can go into detail about far-flung relatives from California to Sweden. She placed photographs of some of her family members on Soyla’s fresh grave marker, also putting an array of bright flowers just above the marker.
In an area where many stones are weathered with age and faded, Soyla’s marker stands out in the grass. After nearly a century of anonymity, her name is now proudly displayed.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.