52 Ancestors: Week #16 – Live Long

The prompt for Week #16 of the 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks Challenge is LIVE LONG. Time to feature a long-lived ancestor.


“Grandma Witzke,” c. 1952

My maternal great grandmother was born Emma Baxter. She was born in Indiana in 1868, brought to Colorado as a small child with her pioneering parents, Alonzo and Elizabeth Robinson Baxter, married George Witzke, an Austrian-born stone mason, and with him had ten children, three boys and seven girls. She died in 1962 in Florida at the age of 93. Emma was married to George Witzke for 40 years; “Grandma Witzke” was widowed for more than 30 years. I know some facts about Emma’s years as a widow, but I’d like to know more.

I met Grandma Witzke at least one time. I might have been around ten years old, and although I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding the meeting, she made a distinct impression on me. She was probably the oldest person I’d ever met, a tiny woman in a wheelchair, which put her at about my height, face to face. I remember being rather terrified of her, and not really understanding who she was. CA02515The most astounding thing about her to me was her enormous (enormous, as it seemed to me, but it probably wasn’t) ear trumpet. She held that thing to her ear, and anyone speaking to her had to yell into it. I was told, “Go ahead, Becky, talk into Grandma Witzke’s ear trumpet, and be sure you speak up.” Good Lord, I had no idea what to say to her, but I must have managed something, because she yelled back at me, with a high-pitched wail that I will never forget, “Aaaaayy???” Now being deaf is no joke, especially before hearing aids were perfected, and poor Emma it seems was profoundly deaf. But you would think that someone would have prepared me for meeting this old lady with her ear trumpet. That’s my one and only memory of Grandma Witzke.


1930 | 26 Feb. George Witzke died from injuries in a car accident in Raton, Colfax County, New Mexico, where he was living at the time of his death at age 64. article_car_accidentHe was living at 335 Cook Ave. The informant for the death certificate was Mrs. Francis Beacham (Emma), George and Emma’s second daughter. He died a Miner’s Hospital. The death certificate indicates he had been living in Raton for about eight years.

1930 | 10 Apr. Emma Witzke is found in the 1930 U.S. census for Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa. She is living with her oldest daughter, Ernestine Messer, and Ernestine’s husband Leon. Ernie and Leon never had children. Leona Witzke is living with them, Emma’s 28-year-old single daughter, as is Emma, age 61, and Emma’s two youngest children, Nina, age 16 and Violet, age 13.

I guess I’m just naturally curious and skeptical, but the dates of these two records make me wonder if there is some detail that’s missing. George Witzke died unexpectedly. He was 64 years old and still working as a stone mason, a fact also recorded on the death certificate. He died on 26 Feb, and barely six weeks later his widow and two teenaged daughters are living in Sioux City, Iowa. It seems like fast work for Emma and her two young daughters to have moved 800 miles away from New Mexico to Iowa only 6 weeks after the death of their husband and father. I have a suspicion that Emma and her daughters might already have been living with Ernie and Leon when George Witzke’s accident occurred. Or perhaps the two girls were living there, and after George’s death Emma joined them? Otherwise, it would seem more logical that Nina, age 16 and Violet, age 13 would have finished out the school year in Raton before they moved to Iowa.

The photos I have of this period are more problematic than they are helpful. One of them comes from a collection

to be continued . . .

I’m moving soon, so I have to put away my genealogy until we get settled in our new place. This challenge has been a lot of fun. I’ll be back when life settles down a bit.


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