Digitizing Greek Orthodox Church marriage records for the past six weeks has been a huge educational opportunity for me. I am learning about history, families, traditions. During the period of the Balkan Wars (October 1912-July 1913), marriages declined dramatically. Between 1835-1900, the average number of images (not marriages) that we digitized per year was about 1,900; in 1912 there were 1,653; and in 1913 there were only 981. But something happened in 1924–the images we captured for that year spiked to 3,978!
Greek marriage records contain two required documents. One is a letter from the village priest to the bishop, requesting permission for a couple to marry; the second is a letter of approval (or denial) from the bishop. If the groom and bride are from the same village, the letter from the priest has all the information required. However, if the groom is from a different village, then a third document (Pistokoipikon) must be included. It certifies that the groom is registered in the Mitroon Arrenon (Male Register) of his village of origin and that he is eligible to be married.
These documents follow a standard format and have general information about the prospective bride and groom: their full names and father’s name; ages; village of birth/residence; number of previous marriages (if any), occupations and perhaps other information. Prior to 1929, copies of marriage documents were not sent to any government office or to the Dimos (town hall); they were kept in village church or the Mitropolis.
Although I cannot read the old Greek script, occasionally something in a document will catch my attention. I then ask Dimitris (who has worked diligently with me since day one), what it is. That’s when we discover “cool” documents! Here are a few.
The document below attests that the groom’s first wife died at age 28 of appendicitis.
1926 Sparta, marriage #164; first wife died at age 28 of appendicitis
In this document, pages 1 and 2, a mother gives permission for the bride to marry and go to America. The bride was 16; the age to marry without permission was 20.
1924 Sparta, marriage #684; permission to marry is given by the bride’s mother
1924 Sparta, marriage #684, page 2; permission to marry is given by the bride’s mother
This is an official letter from the Greek military, giving permission for a soldier to marry.
1920; military document giving permission for a soldier to marry
The unusual black seal in the middle of the following document struck me as atypical. Dimitris explained that the seal is Turkish, not Greek. The groom lived in Ioannina, Epirus which, in 1912, was under Turkish rule. (Epirus was ceded to Greece in 1913.)
1912, the black seal is Turkish
This 1902 Pistokoipikon was signed by the Patriarch of Constantinople–a highly unusual occurrence and finding it generated a lot of excitement in the Mitropolis! The Patriarch’s signature is the tall writing on the top of the page.
1902; the Patriarch of Constantinople signs this Pistokoipikon
We find many divorces which occurred both in Greece and in the United States, especially after the 1900’s. This 1918 document is a divorce decree from the state of Minnesota, and was translated into Greek.
And then, there are cases where the marriage did not take place. We have to remember that just because a license was issued, that does not mean that the nuptials occurred! In the marriage files, there are simple one-line notes, signed by the priest, that state there was no marriage.
1922 Trinasos, “no marriage”
Digging into old records is like a treasure hunt — you never know what you will find!