Research & Remembrances, Part 4

Research in the General Archives of Greece, Sparta office

After months of preparation, I was so very excited to go in person to the General Archives of Greece office in Sparta! It located in a building on Vrasidou Street in the center of Sparta.

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General Archives of Greece, Sparta office

The Archives has offices for staff and a spacious research room. It also has off-site storage areas where most of the books and records are kept. Some records for Sparta which are listed at the GAK website may also be available. The research room has a large table, perfect for reviewing the oversized books and taking notes.

Research room, Archives office, Sparta

Research room, Archives office, Sparta

In the lobby, there are several  display cases featuring historic photos and documents.

Display case, Archives office, Sparta

Precious documents and photos are on display at the Archives

Gregory Kontos and I were finally able to meet our new archivist friends with whom we had connected through Greek genealogy Facebook groups — Maria Stellakou and Mihalis Sovolis. I had sent Maria an email in advance, letting her know exactly when we would be arriving. These dear people had offered to assist us in every possible way, and that is exactly what they did. They asked us which locations we were researching and what types of records we were seeking. They told us that they would have the appropriate books ready for us when we arrived the following morning.

Maria Stellakou looks for a record.

Maria Stellakou looks for a record.

Can you imagine how thrilled I was to see the Dimotologion book for Agios Ioannis, the ancestral home of three of my grandparents? The Dimotologion is a register of families, listing husband, wife and children with their birth dates and other information. It is comparable to a U.S. census record.

Dimotologion for Agios Ioannis, Sparta

Dimotologion for Agios Ioannis, Sparta

When I opened that book and turn the pages, I found three Kostakos families. These records appear to have been created in the 1900’s, as that is when most of the children were born. Unfortunately, there are no similar family records for the 1800s.

Kostakos families, Dimotologion

Kostakos families, Dimotologion

I looked at Mitroon Arrenon, Male Registers, for Agios Ioannis, Mystras, and other nearby villages.

Mitroon Arrenon (Male Register) for Mystras, Sparta

Mitroon Arrenon (Male Register) for Mystras, Sparta

In the book for Mystras, I found an entry for my granduncle, Ioannis Eftaxias born in 1876. Konstandinos, my great-grandfather, is named as Ioannis’ father. Gregory and I were given permission to use our cameras to take photographs of any pages containing my family names.

Line 122: Eftaxias, Ioannis; father Konstandinos; born 1876 in Mystras.

Line 422: Eftaxias, Ioannis; father Konstandinos; born 1876 in Mystras.

Maria has begun to digitize some of these books herself. That is quite an ambitious project! She uses a scanner and then uploads the images to the office computers. With digitization, the old books can be preserved. They can also be easily accessed by computer.

Gregory and I spent all day on Tuesday (July 15) and Wednesday morning at the Archives. We were delighted to meet Pepi Gavala, the archivist, on Wednesday. Over the years, I have come to know Ms. Gavala by name, as she signs letters that I have written to the Archives when I was requesting information. She is a delightful woman, dedicated to her job and sincerely wanting to assist researchers in every possible way.

Here is an example: when we arrived on Wednesday morning, I asked if the books for Vordonia and Kastania were available. These are the ancestral villages of my first husband, Peter Lynard (Linardakis). Although I had not planned to research those areas, I had a strong impression that I should do so. Mihalis was at one of the offsite storage areas, and Maria called to ask him if he would go to the building where the Vordonia and Kastania books were kept. He stopped what he was doing, found the books, and brought them to us as quickly as he could.

I left the Archives, thrilled to have digital copies of civil records that are helping me piece together the various branches of my family. I also left behind new friends: Maria, Mihalis and Ms. Gavala. They made this visit both pleasant and productive. I am ever grateful for their cheerful help and their sincere desire for my success in finding the records I was seeking. I hope that someday I will be able to return their kindness and be of help to them.

Research and Remembrances, Part 3


Research at the Mitropolis of the Greek Orthodox Church, Sparta

I had spent months preparing for this research trip, and I was anxious to visit the Archives and the Mitropolis of the Greek Orthodox Church with my friend, Gregory Kontos. We had decided in advance that our first stop would be the Mitropolis to search marriage and other church records. Thinking ahead, I had asked Father Eugene Pappas, a “cousin” on my mother’s line (we’re still trying to pinpoint our common ancestor) to write a letter to the Bishop of Sparta, asking permission for Gregory and me to conduct research at the Mitropolis at a specific date and time. In addition, Gregory’s father had called the Bishop who had known Gregory’s grandfather.

Letter from Father Eugene to the Bishop of Sparta, requesting permission for Gregory and me to research

Letter from Father Eugene to the Bishop of Sparta, requesting permission for Gregory and me to research

The groundwork was laid. Early on a Monday morning, Gregory and I approached this stately and beautiful building that rises majestically in the midst of the busy city.

The Mitropolis of the Greek Orthodox Church, Sparta

The Mitropolis of the Greek Orthodox Church, Sparta

It is one thing to think about doing research in a religious institution, but it is quite another to actually be there. Gregory and I felt somewhat intimidated as we knocked on the door, but that escalated to total intimidation when it was answered by a somber faced priest with a long beard and piercing black eyes. His floor-length black robe and round cap added to our anxiety level. This was not like walking into the local library and asking for help! Thank goodness Gregory was with me! He explained in Greek who we were, and immediately the priest smiled and invited us in. Our letter to the Bishop had been received and we were expected. With great relief, we followed the priest into a beautiful waiting room ringed with icons, paintings and mosaics.

Waiting room of the Mitropolis, Sparta

Waiting room of the Mitropolis, Sparta

Shortly, we were cordially greeted by a man who told us that the Bishop had received Father Eugene’s letter and that we were welcome to review the records. He handed us the Bishop’s written response. It was both exciting and unsettling to have this document — just think, the Bishop now knows my name!

Letter from Bishop of Sparta-permission to view records 001

Letter from Bishop of Sparta giving us permission to view records

We were invited into a spacious, comfortable room with a large conference table. Our host brought us a plate of chocolates and water. He asked which books we wanted to review, and graciously brought us any that we asked for. The Mitropolis has books of marriage records, but not baptismal or death — those are kept by the local churches. Although I work with historical documents at the National Archives and the Maryland Archives, I was still awed to see these precious registers. Turning their fragile pages, I wished with all my heart that these records could be made available to the thousands of people who are seeking to their Spartan roots.

Mitropolis (4 Carol)

I wished I could have read these records! The old handwriting was just too difficult for me.

As hard as I tried, I was extremely disappointed that I could not read the old handwriting. I was occasionally able to decipher first names but the rest of the script was beyond my limited abilities. Realizing quickly that I would be of no use to Gregory, we came up with a plan. He would read the records and when he came to one I needed, I would take the digital photo. I gave him the names and approximate marriage dates for my great-grandparents. Because just a few first names were used in the late 1800’s (mostly the names of saints for males and a derivative for females) they were easy to recognize. Gregory found it was quicker to scan the pages by looking for first names.

Gregory finds the marriage record of my great-great grandparents, Panagiotis Nikolaos Papagiannakos and Aikaterini Eliopoulos.

Gregory finds the marriage record of my great-great grandparents.

I was thrilled when he found the marriage record for my great grandparents, Panagiotis Nikolaos Papagiannakos and Aikaterini Eliopoulou, married December 22, 1867!

Line #371 – 1867, December 22. Panagiotis Giannakos, resident of Alaimbey, Sparta, married Aikaterini, daughter of Efstatios Eliopoulos of Sikaraki. Their first marriage. Agios Dimitrios Church. Priest: Panagiotis Mouhtaras. Witnesses: Athanasios Moukasis and P. Smyrlakos.

Line #371 – 1867, December 22. Panagiotis Giannakos, resident of Alaimbey, Sparta, married Aikaterini, daughter of Efstatios Eliopoulos of Sikaraki. Their first marriage. Agios Dimitrios Church. Priest: Panagiotis Mouhtaras. Witnesses: Athanasios Moukasis and P. Smyrlakos.

As you can see, the condition of these old registers is heartbreaking. The pages are crumbling and tattered. It truly frightens me to think that, without digital preservation,  the priceless information contained therein will be lost to future generations.

As we perused the registers, I concluded that they must be copies of originals because the same ink and handwriting would be found on several pages, then it would change. I wondered if the Mitropolis received records from the churches and then transcribed the information. These marriage registers listed the date of the marriage, name of groom, name of bride, occasionally the bride’s father’s name, the names of witnesses and the name of the priest. There was a column for notes, but it was usually blank. I also wondered if the original church records had more information, such as the names of the parents.

The books are kept chronologically by year and the data is not sorted by village. This is both good and bad:  good because if you don’t know the exact village of your ancestor, you can browse chronologically and look for your surnames; bad because if you do know the village but you’re not sure of the year, you have to read pages and pages of names until you find your ancestor.

Occasionally, a priest would stop in and ask how our work was going. When he saw the excitement in my face and voice as I said in my broken Greek that Gregory had found the marriage record for my great-grandparents, a smile crossed his face. After four hours, Gregory had found a few records with my surnames. Because we could not search a specific village, we realized that it would take many hours (perhaps days) to look through all the registers. We decided to leave, thanking our gracious guests for their help and cordiality.

I left with a deep appreciation for the kindness and respect that we were granted. The clergy allowed us to enter their hallowed building and trusted us with their books and records. I will be ever grateful to them.

Next… on to the Archives!

Research and Rembembrances, Part 2

Family:  Joyful Reunions and New Connections 

Going to my ancestral village of Agios Ioannis felt like going home. My last visit was in 1996 (too long ago!) and seeing familiar places and extended family was both heartwarming and joyous. Having my daughter and granddaughters along made it even more meaningful. It was fun watching the girls’ faces when they met family that lived half a world away! I was especially elated to meet, for the first time, four “new” sets of cousins!

We were smothered with love and the famous Greek hospitality that is accompanied by food, food, food! As we made our way from one house to the next, the girls said “do we have to eat again?”

Christine, Elli, Ioanna Kostakos, Kathy at Ioanna's home, Agios Ioannis

Christine, Elli, Ioanna Kostakos, Kathy at Ioanna’s home, Agios Ioannis

Ioanna Ladis Kostakos is the wife of Grigorios Georgios Kostakos (now deceased). Grigorios and I are 2nd cousins. Our common ancestor is my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos. Ioanna has two children, Peggy, an attorney who lives in the family home, and Georgios, a business consultant who lives in Brussels.

Carol with Peggy Kostakos. Agios Ioannis.

Carol with Peggy Kostakos. Agios Ioannis.

My second Kostakos family in Agios Ioannis — Eleni and her children and grandchildren.

Family of Georgios Grigorios Kostakos: l-r: Panorea, Natasa Eleni, (kneeling) Eleni and Panos. Kathy, Elizabeth, Christine and Carol.

Family of Georgios Grigorios Kostakos: l-r: Panorea, Natasa Eleni, (kneeling) Eleni and Panos. Kathy, Elizabeth, Christine and Carol. At the Kostakos home, Agios Ioannis.

Eleni’s husband was Grigorios Panagiotis Kostakos, now deceased, who is also my second cousin. Our common ancestor is my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos. Eleni’s daughter, Panorea, lives in the family home, along with Panos (Eleni’s son) and his wife, Natasa, and sweet daughter, Eleni. During my last visit to Agios Ioannis, we had a delightful family gathering in a taverna that had been owned by the family at that time.

On this trip, our family gatherings were in a local taverna in town. Dinner started at 10:00 p.m. and ended with watermelon served after midnight!

Family gathering at local taverna. l-r: Ioanna Kostakos, Panorea Kostakos, Peggy Kostakos, Panos Kostakos. Agios Ioannis.

Family gathering at local taverna. l-r: Ioanna Kostakos, Eleni Kostakos, Panorea Kostakos, Peggy Kostakos, Panos Kostakos. Agios Ioannis.

The Aridas and Kostakos families are related through the marriage of my paternal grandmother, Hariklia Aridas, to my grandfather, Ioannis Andreas Kostakos.

Aridas family. l-r: Roula Aridas, Kathy-Christine-Elli Soper, Carol Petranek, Ioanna Kostakos, Adamadia Aridas and George Aridas (kneeling)

Aridas family. l-r: Roula Aridas, Kathy-Christine-Elli Soper, Carol Petranek, Ioanna Kostakos, Adamadia Aridas and George Aridas (kneeling). At the Aridas home, Agios Ioannis.

George Aridas is my first cousin, once removed. Our common ancestor is Georgios Mihail Aridas. There is an interesting story about the Aridas name. At one time, an ancestor had big feet or long legs and was given the nickname “arida” (big foot). The Michalakakos name is connected with this family — we haven’t quite figured out if Michalakakos was the original name and Aridas was a nickname spinoff, or if Aridas was the original name and Michalakakos was adopted by an ancestor, Konstandinos, who did not want to keep the Aridas name. There is always a mystery to solve in family history research!

Aridas family. l-r: Anastasia, Pigi, Carol, Mihail, George Kannellopoulos. Agios Ioannis.

Aridas family. l-r: Anastasia, Pigi, Carol, Mihail, George Kannellopoulos. Agios Ioannis.

I was overjoyed to meet another Aridas family — Anastasia and Mihail are my third cousins. Pigi, their mother, was married to Anastasios Mihail Aridas, who was my second cousin once removed. Our common ancestor was Mihail Aridas (my paternal grandmother’s line). I met this family when my friend and genealogy partner, Gregory Kontos, returned with me to Sparta to do research at the Archives. Gregory and I stayed at a hotel in Anavriti owned by George Kannellopoulos and his wife, who are friends of his parents. The surprising element here is that George is friends Mihail and his family, and when he heard about my connection with the  Aridas family, he offered to introduce us! What an amazing coincidence that led to finding another cousin!

Eugenia Papagiannakos and my friend and genealogy partner, Gregory Kontos.

Eugenia Papagiannakos-Kyriakoulias and my friend and genealogy partner, Gregory Kontos.

This was the first time I met Eugenia Papagiannakos Kyriakoulias, who lives across the street from Ioanna Kostakos. I was so happy to meet her! She and I are related somehow through the Papagiannakos family of Agios Ioannis (my maternal grandfather’s line), but we cannot go back far enough to find our common ancestor. My friend, Gregory, is showing her my family tree and asking about her knowledge of the Papagiannakos family.

Chelidonis family. l-4:  Panagiotis, Venetia, Nikolaos.

Chelidonis family. l-r: Panagiotis, Venetia, Nikolaos. Athens.

Nikolaos Chelidonis and I are second cousins. Our common ancestor is my great-grandfather, Konstandinos Eftaxias from Mystras (my maternal grandmother’s line). I was able to meet this family because Panagiotis and I connected online through the Mystras  Facebook page! We met in Athens. Nikolaos told me that he had grown up never knowing that he had family in America. That fact made this meeting even more meaningful for all of us!

Andreas Eftaxias and his son, John.

Andreas Eftaxias and his son, John. Athens.

Andreas Eftaxias lives in Mystras. He was in the hospital for a procedure, and his son, John (whom I met on this trip through the Chelidonis family) was kind enough to take me to visit him. Andreas and I are first cousins, once removed; John and I are second cousins. Our common ancestor is my great-grandfather, Konstandinos Eftaxias (my maternal grandmother’s line). I had met Andreas and his late wife, Nikki, during my last trip to Mystras. When I walked into his hospital room, his face lit up and we had an emotional reunion.

Spending time with these wonderful family members — good, honest, hardworking people with strong values and dedication to family — brought me a renewed appreciation for my great-grandparents. I know they were people of high moral character who were  resilient to challenges and devoted to family, because their descendants are the most wonderful people I have met! I am honored to be born into this family. We may not have a royal pedigree, but we have royal spirits.

Research and Remembrances, Part 1

After months of preparation and then returning from a fulfilling and fruitful trip to Greece, it’s time to start documenting and sharing what I’ve seen and learned. Where to start? So many experiences and memories! I’ll devote several posts to this trip and my research. I have many photos which I will eventually tag and upload to the “Photos” tab at the top of this blog.

Part of the joy of traveling is sharing the experience with others. I was delighted that my daughter, Kathryn Lynard Soper, and her daughters, Elli (age 21) and Christine (age 15) were able to join me. Kathy is 100% Greek, as both her father’s family and my family are from neighboring villages in Sparta. Our trip started in Athens with visits to the Acropolis, many stops in the Plaka, and lots of kitten-sightings.

Christine, Kathy, Elli Soper at the Acropolis, July 2014

Christine, Kathy, Elli Soper at the Acropolis, July 2014

Christine, Elli, Kathy at the Plaka, July 2014

Christine, Elli, Kathy at the Plaka, July 2014

Elli, Kathy, Carol at the Acropolis

Elli, Kathy, Carol at the Acropolis

Elli, Kathy at the Acropolis

Elli, Kathy, Christine at the Acropolis

It is a joyful feeling to be able to share new experiences with those you love! For the girls, especially, taking them to the land of their ancestors is especially rewarding for me. As each succeeding generation melts into American society and culture, another layer of tradition and culture peels away. Just the sights and smells of Athens will be with them forever!

After three days in Athens, we headed to Nafplion (also spelled Naplion, Navplion) which was the first capital of Greece after the 1821 Revolution. It is a quaint and lovely port city, and we stayed in a charming hotel reminiscent of the American Victorian era. The problem was that we couldn’t find the hotel, so I stopped to ask a policeman and he escorted us through town to our lodgings!

Christine, Kathy, Elli, Carol at Nafplion, July 2014

Christine, Kathy, Elli, Carol at Nafplion, July 2014

Police escort to our hotel, Nafplion

Police escort to our hotel, Nafplion

Town Square, Nafplion

Town Square, Nafplion

We enjoyed our stay in this lovely city. We spent an afternoon at the beach in nearby Tolo, then headed to Sparta and the villages of our ancestors.

The Gift of Translation

My focus is laser-sharp and my time is impeccably calculated as I prepare for an upcoming research trip to Sparta, Greece. I’ll be joined by my daughter and granddaughters for a week of sightseeing in Athens, Sparta and Patras. When they return home, the serious part of my travel begins. With my colleague, Gregory Kontos, I will journey again to Sparta where we will spend several days at the Archives and Diocese, combing through aging records of old Greek script to find my people.

Reading foreign records is a barrier to most peoples’ research, and it surely is in mine. There are limited records available from Greece. Some are found on the website of the Greek General State Archives (GAK); some have been microfilmed by FamilySearch. When I first broached these documents, panic hit. I saw familiar letters formed into unfamiliar patterns—names, places, occupations and descriptions that I could not read, despite my elementary knowledge of the language.

General Archives of Greece, 1872 & 1873 Election Rolls, Lakonia 1872- File 25, Image 433, line #1975; 1873 - File 25, Image 483, line #2146 Panagiotis Papagiannakos, age 33/34, father: Nikolaos, landowner

General Archives of Greece, 1873 Election Rolls, Lakonia
1873 – File 25, Image 483, line #2146
Panagiotis Papagiannakos, age 32, father: Nikolaos, landowner

For a brief time, I turned away and focused on tracking my immigrant family in the U.S. Until…I picked up the scriptures and read the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:

Now concerning spiritual gifts….there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit….For to one is given by the Spirit… divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues….

I felt an instant uplift as these words registered in my mind:  because the “interpretation of tongues” is a gift given by the Spirit, I can choose to accept this spiritual gift and use it in the temporal work of genealogy research.

With renewed enthusiasm, I found my old Greek language books, downloaded a Rosetta Stone app, and went to work. Soon I was able to read the names on records that are typewritten:  Election Lists, Juror’s Lists, and Military Rolls. For those that are handwritten, I needed help and I found it online. Through Facebook, blogs and websites, I have connected with the Greek community and we assist each other. Gregory is helping me by reading the handwritten records I cannot interpret. As I look at his extractions and translations, I am slowly (very slowly) learning how my surnames are composed in script. I am hopeful that by the time I go to Sparta, I will be able to recognize these names in the old records.

Eftaxias, Ioannis

General Archives of Greece, 1843-44 & 1861-62 Election Rolls, Lakonia
File 22, Image 62, Line 239, Mystras
Ioannis Eftaxias, age 35, from Mystras, owns property; gardner

There will come a day when almost every researcher will need to access foreign records. Online help, both through social media and websites, is the key. Look for blogs and Facebook pages that are country-oriented:  FamilySearch has 106 community pages on Facebook, one for every U.S. state and 56 countries. There are handwriting guides and foreign language research outlines online at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other websites.  MyHeritage.com supports 39 languages and is heavily used by people outside the U.S.

My first visit to Greece in 1996 was during the era when research was constrained by time and money. Now, the internet has brought records literally to my fingertips. As I use both temporal and spiritual resources, my family history success increases. With a combination of faith and fortitude, I am prepared for my upcoming trip in a way that was unthinkable fifteen years ago. I recognize that I have been given a spiritual gift to perform a temporal work that is important to the Lord and to my family. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Kostas – Kostakos: Is This My Family?

Many years ago, my aunt Areti Kostakos Lambrinos said that my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos, came to Agios Ioannis (a village near Sparta) “from Pyrgos, over the mountains.” That comment sent me on a hunt for records in the Pyrgos area.

I was excited when a historian and friend in southern Peloponnese sent me a map showing a trail from Pyrgos to Sparta. The Taygetus mountains are steep, treacherous and almost impassable!

Pyrgos - Agios Ioannis

This appears to be one of the only trails to get over the towering mountains that separate Pyrgos in Messinia from Sparta in Lakonia .

I have been looking at names of men who were eligible to vote in 1865, 1867, 1871.  Election Lists are digitized on the website of the General Archives of Greece. In examining surnames in the Pyrgos area, I have not found KOSTAKOS but I have found KOSTAS in the village of Βαρυμπóπι. Is this my family? It is a common practice to add a suffix to a name to indicate “son of,” such as -opoulos and -akos. Thus, a male in this Kostas family may have added -akos to his name, thus creating my KOSTAKOS surname.

So far, I have identified three Kostas families in Βαρυμπóπι: (1) father: X (Christos?) and son, Georgios X; (2) father: A (Anastasios?) and sons Georgios A. and Christos A; (3) father: G (Gregorios?) and son, Georgios G. Here is the entry for two of the families:

Lines 310 & 313.

Lines 310 & 313.

I don’t know if these are my people, but I am hopeful that I have found a clue to support the oral history given by Aunt Areti. This research is like looking for the proverbial “needle in a haystack,” but it is exciting, challenging, and rewarding!