Family bibles often hold a treasure trove of information for genealogists – records of births and deaths, and sometimes even a few precious mementos. Some of my prized family heirlooms include two bibles from the Smith family of Jefferson County, New York. One bible is regular-sized and contains pages specifically labeled for births and deaths. The other is a smaller bible, which contained a red ribbon, a couple of miniature cards with animals, a photo, a few small newspaper clippings, and a calling card.
The plain, ivory colored calling card had “Miss Effie Vernetta Lobdell” printed in a fancy black font on the front, and a handwritten note that read “A bit of Sunshine From Effie.” Calling cards originated in 18th century France and were fashionable in the eastern United States throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as a way of leaving a formal note when people paid visits to friends.
Years of research on my own family tree has yet to produce any Effies. In my opinion, the name “Effie” is fabulous, so I set out to learn a little more about who Effie Vernetta Lobdell was. Was she a family member? A neighbor or friend of a family member? If so, who in my family was she tied to? First, I needed to learn more about the small bible’s likely provenance to understand where and when Effie may have lived and what her connection was to my family.
From Whose Hands Has This Bible Passed?
The inside cover of the small bible, published in 1855, includes a handwritten notation that reads, “A. Smith, Orleans, Sept. 3th, 1856.” My fourth great grandfather, Abram Smith, a carriage maker, was born 2 March 1812 and lived in Orleans, Jefferson County, New York in 1860. Abram’s wife, Elizabeth (Betsey) Bauter Smith, referenced as “Grandma Smith” in the bible, bore him seven children, including Ann Jeanette Smith and Mary E. Smith.
Mary married John Graves around 1862 and had nine children, five of whom were living in 1900. Their daughter, Elizabeth Graves, was living in Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York in 1900 with her husband, Herman Alter, and their daughter, Laura M. Alter.  A notation on the inside cover indicates that Laura May Alter inherited the bible from her great-grandmother, Betsey.
Which Effie Lobdell?
A broad search for “Effie Lobdell” on Ancestry revealed a number of Effie Lobdells. Some were ruled out because they used a middle initial other than V or Lobdell was their married name (so they would not be Miss Effie Lobdell). Others were initially ruled out because they lived in the southern or western parts of the country where the use of calling cards was not popular. One candidate stood out from the rest.
Effie V. Lobdell, born around 1883 in Indiana, was a 57-year-old housekeeper, single, living in Valatie, New York in 1940. She owned her home, valued at $3,800, she had an 8th grade education, and lived with her two middle-aged sisters and two boarders.
This Effie is a good possibility as the source of the calling card for two reasons – (1) the middle initial V could represent Vernetta, as printed on the card, and (2) she lived in Valatie, the same small rural village where Laura May Alter (one of the keepers of the bible) lived.
Effie V. Lobdell
Addison Lobdell and Josephine E. Morris were married in Benton County, Indiana on 4 February 1877. Addison, a farmer, moved his young family to Kansas around 1884. By 1885, 2-year-old Effie lived with her parents, A. L. and Josephine, and her older sister, Clara B. (age 7) in Prairie Dog, Decatur County, Kansas. Her father was a farmer by occupation and had learned the carpentry trade.
In June of 1905, the family lived on Suther Street in the Village of Valatie, Columbia County, New York. By then, Effie (age 22) and Clara (age 27) had two younger sisters – Jennie (age 18) and Mae (age 16). All four sisters worked at a cotton mill as strappers and overseamers.
By April 1910, Addison and Josephine, along with daughters Effie, Jennie, and Mae, still lived in Valatie. Effie and Jennie were employed as laborers in a piano factory. Addison was a farmer. Effie was born in Indiana, but Jennie and Mae were born in Kansas, suggesting the family had lived in at least three states within a 20-year period.
Effie’s older sister, Clara, married Charles C. New on 2 February 1910, which explains her absence in her father’s household in the 1910 census. In 1910, Clara and Charles lived with Charles’ five children from a prior marriage: Beulah, Grover, Harry S., Bertha, and Beatrice. Five years after Clara and Charles married, Clara’s stepson, Harry, married Laura May Alter (the owner of the bible). Thus, the calling card found in Laura’s bible was likely from her step-mother-in-law’s sister, Effie Lobdell.
Effie's Life in Valatie, New York
A search for “Effie Lobdell” on Old Fulton NY Postcards, a newspaper search engine, yields over 200 hits from the society pages of the Kinderhook NY Advertiser. Miss Effie Lobdell, as she was always referenced (evidence that she likely never married), kept busy singing, reciting poetry, giving lectures, visiting friends, serving as hostess for various events, and holding leadership positions in various religious and civic societies. Snippets from the society pages include:
It appears that Effie and her sister, Mae, lived together in Valatie as spinsters the remainder of their lives. Their sister, Jennie, had married Edgar Neander in 1923 – they were likely the Mr. and Mrs. Neander who Effie visited in Saratoga Lake. In 1930, Effie and Mae lived with their parents, then in their 70s, and two boarders on Luther Street in Valatie. Her parents had likely died in the next decade. By 1940, Effie and Mae were living together, along with their sister Clara (who had been widowed twice), and the same two boarders that lived with them ten years earlier.
Effie the Centenarian
Effie was born 21 March 1883 and died on 30 July 1989, at the ripe age of 106 years! She lived in two centuries and spent most of her life in rural, upstate New York. Her life spanned events from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, both World Wars, the civil rights era, the first landing on the moon, the Vietnam War, and other significant events. She witnessed the first automobiles, the first telephones, the first commercial flights, and the first televisions (in black & white and in color). It is possible she may have even experienced an early cell phone and computer. From the countless mentions in the society pages, it appears she led an active and wholesome life centered around her family, her faith, and her community.
Effie must have held a special place in Laura May’s heart, for her calling card to have been saved among so few of life’s precious mementos. Although we are not related by blood, I now feel a connection to Miss Effie Vernetta Lobdell – the sister-in-law of the father-in-law of my 2nd cousin 3 times removed. Here's a little ray of sunshine for you, dear Effie!
 Abram Smith Large Family Bible, The Holy Bible (New York: Carlton & Philipps, 1855); privately held by Jenny Irwin, Watervliet, New York, 2021. The bible is approx. 7” x 9.5”, the binding is secured with tape. Handwriting on the front page give clues to its recent provenance (past 50 years). One of the pages with family records has been torn and removed.
 Abram Smith Small Family Bible, The Holy Bible (London: G.E. Eyre, 1855); privately held by Jenny Irwin, Watervliet, New York, 2021. The bible is approx.. 3.5” x 5” with a small metal clasp. The binding is secured with black tape. Handwriting on the inside cover gives clues to its provenance.
 Claire Green, “Calling Cards and Visiting Cards: A Brief History,” blog entry, 12 September 2016, Hoban Cards, blog (https://hobancards.com/calling-cards-and-visiting-cards-brief-history : accessed 20 January 2021).
 Abram Smith Small Family Bible.
 “Orleans Four Corners, Correspondence of the Re-Union,“ Watertown Re-Union (Watertown, New York), 22 August 1894, p. 8, col. 2; database with images New York Historic Newspapers (https://nyshistoricnewspapers.org : accessed 31 December 2020). Also, Hamilton Child, compiler, Jefferson County Business Directory for 1860 & 1861 (Ogdensburg: James & Hopkins, 1860), p. 27, Smith, A.; digitized in “U.S. City Directories, 1822–1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 Abram Smith Large Family Bible.
 1900 U.S. Census, Montgomery County, New York, population schedule, Enumeration District (ED) 94, sheet 7-B, dwelling 175, family 177, John Graves; database images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 January 2021); citing NARA microfilm T623, roll 1078.
 1900 U.S. Census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Enumeration District (ED) 24, sheet 6-A, dwelling 111, family 119, Herman Alter; database images, Ancestry ( https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 January 2021); citing NARA microfilm T623, roll 1020.
 Dorothy Kerr Woody, letter enclosure detailing history of the descendants of “Abraham and Betsey Smith,” 5 September 1878; original in possession of D. Murphy, copy shared with J. Irwin in 2019.
 1940 U.S. census, Columia County, New York, population schedule, Valatie, p. 6-B, enumeration district (ED) 11-39, household 147, Effie V. Lobdell; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 January 2021), citing NARA microfilm series T627, roll 2518.
 Benton County, Indiana, “Marriage Records 1858–1882,” vol. 2, p. 374, entry for Addison Lobdell and Josephine E. Morris, 4 February 1877; database images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 20 January 2021); Benton County Courthouse, Fowler, Indiana.
 1885 Kansas State census, “Schedule I,” Decatur County, p. 259 (penned), A.L. Lobdell family; database images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 January 2021); citing Kansas State Historical Society microfilm roll KS1885_35.
 1905 New York State census, “Enumeration of the Inhabitants,” Columbia County, p. twenty (penned), 708 (stamped), Addison L. Lobdell family; database images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 1910 U.S. census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Enumeration District (ED) 27, sheet 6-B, dwelling 112, family 145, Addison L. Lobdell family; database images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 January 2021); citing NARA microfilm T624, roll 933.
 Columbia County, New York, “New York, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1847–1849, 1907–1936,” entry for Chas C. New and Clara Belle Lobdell, 2 February 1910; database images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 20 January 2021); Columbia County Clerk, Hudson, New York.
 1910 U.S. census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Enumeration District (ED) 28, sheet 1-B, dwelling 15, family 16, Charles C. New family; database images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 January 2021); citing NARA microfilm T624, roll 933.
 Columbia County, New York, “New York, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1847–1849, 1907–1936,” entry for Harry S. New and Laura M. Alter, 23 June 1915; database images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com: accessed 20 January 2021); Columbia County Clerk, Hudson, New York.
 Tom Tryniski, Old Fulton NY Postcards, historic newspaper website, https://fultonhistory.com: accessed 20 January 2021.
 “Kinderhook News," The Advertiser (Kinderhook, New York), 26 May 1933, p. 1, col. 6; database images, Old Fulton Postcards (https://fultonhistory.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 “Kinderhook News,” The Advertiser (Kinderhook, New York), 2 February 1934, p. 1, col. 1; database images, Old Fulton Postcards (https://fultonhistory.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 “Kinderhook News,” The Advertiser (Kinderhook, New York), 7 August 1942, p. 1, col. 1; database images, Old Fulton Postcards (https://fultonhistory.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 “Kinderhook News,” The Advertiser (Kinderhook, New York), 4 September 1942, p. 1, col. 6; database images, Old Fulton Postcards (https://fultonhistory.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 “Sunday School is Flourishing,” The Columbia Republican (Hudson, New York), 5 July 1910, p.5, col.3; database images, Old Fulton Postcards (https://fultonhistory.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 “Valatie,” The Columbia Republican (Hudson, New York), 19 April 1921, p. 6, col. 6; database images, Old Fulton Postcards (https://fultonhistory.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 “Valatie News,” The Advertiser (Kinderhook, New York), 6 June 1930, p. 1, col. 6; database images, Old Fulton Postcards (https://fultonhistory.com : accessed 20 January 2021).
 “New York State, Marriage Index, 1881–1967,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 January 2021), entry for Jennie F. Lobdell and Edgar W. Neander, 30 May 1923, certificate no. 44451.
 1930 U.S. census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Valatie, enumeration district (ED) 11-35, sheet 9-B, dwelling 194, family 249, Addison Lobdell household; database images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 January 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1418.
 1940 U.S. census, Columbia Co., N.Y., pop. sch., Valatie, p. 6-B, ED 11-39, household 147, Effie V. Lobdell.
 “U.S. Social Security Death Index,” entry for Effie V. Lobdell, database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 January 2021).
Maria Giovanna Pannitti (1898-1979)
Maria Giovanna Pannitti was my great-grandmother. I am her namesake. The general naming convention in Italian families is for the first born son/daughter to be named after the paternal grandfather/grandmother and the second born son/daughter to be named after the maternal grandfather/grandmother. My paternal grandmother's name was Mary, but my mother didn't like the name and that's how I came to be named after my great-grandmother. Maria Giovanna's name was anglicized as Jennie when she came to America in 1916. More on that below.
Life in Gildone:
Maria Giovanna was born June 23, 1898 in Gildone, in the Province of Campobasso in the Molise region of Italy. Gildone is a poor town in the hills located about 3 hours east and a little bit south of Rome (see red pin on google map below for reference). She was the second-youngest of 11 children born to her father, Domenico Pannitti. Her nickname was "Giovannina", perhaps because she was one of the youngest children and she was short in stature.
Two of Maria Giovanna's siblings stayed in Gildone their entire lives - Maria Laura and Maria Michela (nicknamed "Michelina"). In 1901, Francecoantonio immigrated to America and settled in Albany, New York. He sent money home for passage for his siblings. Maria Giuseppe and Pasquale arrived together in 1905. In 1909, Michele came over. In November 1914, Maria Giovanna sailed to America aboard the S.S. Duca degli Abruzzi with her sister-in-law (Michele's wife), Carolina. Two weeks later, the ship arrived at the port of New York. Maria Giovanna was just 16-years old. Her brother Carmine was the last of the siblings to immigrate, in 1920.
Life in America:
Jennie, as she was now known, lived with her brother Michele and sister-in-law Carolina on Van Zandt Street in Albany. Also in the neighborhood were other immigrant families from Gildone and other parts of Italy. About two blocks away on Fulton Street lived a young man named Pasquale Paolucci. Jennie and "Patsy" married in 1916 when she was 18 and he was 23.
Jennie and Patsy were blessed with 5 children: Angeline (1917-2012), Mary Constance (1919-1981), Rose Dorothy (1923 - living), and Joseph James (1927-2010). Another child named Rose Pauline was born in 1920 but died at age 11 months of pneumonia. According to family stories, Jennie's cries could be heard throughout the neighborhood at the death of her baby girl.
In 1920, the young family moved about a half mile to Beaver Street. By 1925, they had relocated to Grand Street in the same general neighborhood. The 1930 U.S. Census showed they'd achieved the American dream of home ownership. The new family home at 19 Ash Grove Place would be in the family for decades.
Jennie never learned to read, write, or speak the English language but that didn't stop her love of humor - especially at dirty jokes! She was a hard-working and frugal homemaker and someone who was always up for a good laugh. She made multiple trips back to Italy to visit family and friends - always by ship. She passed away in Albany in 1979 at the ripe old age of 81, leaving behind her husband (who died two years later), 4 children, 5 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
Maria Giovanna's Legacy:
A friend asked me what it means to me to be my great-grandmother's namesake. I was still in my first decade of life when "Little Nonni" died. Sadly, I don't remember much about her. I remember being at my grandparents' house for a Sunday dish of macaroni and she and "Big Nonni" (her husband, Pasquale) would be there and always made a fuss over the kids. I wish I had known her as an adult. My father remembers she took care of him after school when he was a little boy and made him fried pepper and egg sandwiches. My mother remembers that she welcomed her into the family when my parents were dating and that she loved sunglasses and would make lemonade. My extended family members remember her for her devotion to family and her sense of humor.
Earlier this week, my father told me that he remembers Little Nonni happily sitting in a lawn chair in the backyard of his and my mom's first home with me as an infant. What it means to me to be her namesake, I can't say. I enjoy hearing stories of what she was like and I'd like to think I have some of those qualities. The image of Maria Giovanna as a 70-something year old woman with a lifetime of love and loss, living across the world from where she was born and sitting happily with a baby on her lap makes me wonder what it meant to her to have a namesake. I hope that her legacy lives on through me in more than just my name.
Jennie and Jenny, 1972 in Albany, New York.
My Ancestor Stories
Instead of simply names and dates, I want to know more about my ancestors' lives. I love finding little nuggets of information that make the people in my family history seem more "real" to me.