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.