Six Dots to Marriage

Do you have a family tree that looks like this?

If you were in Greece and planning to marry a person who had the same last name and  who was from the same village, this diagram might be on your marriage license. It represents the abbreviated pedigree charts of the engaged couple and would indicate whether their marriage could be performed by the Orthodox Church.

Marriages are not permitted between people who are closer than  six dots to each other (approximately third cousins). To simplify understanding the relationship, the village priest could create this chart which would show the couple’s connection to each other, back to their common ancestor.

This is how we would read the chart:  count the number of dots between the groom and the bride, including their common ancestor. If the groom was the second generation dot and the bride was the second generation dot, the 5-dot connection meant that no marriage could occur.

If the groom was the second generation dot and the bride was the third generation dot, a marriage could occur because the couple has a 6-dot connection.

This is the document which revealed this interesting and important rule.

Sparta Marriage Record #199, year 1930

In this letter requesting permission for marriage, the bride, Anastasia, is a 4th generation dot (left side) and the groom, Vaselios, is a 3rd generation dot (right side). Counting up the triangle to the common ancestor and down, there is a 7 dot connection. This meets the minimum of 6 and the marriage can be performed.

I love that the priest put an arched row of tiny dots to ensure that the chart could not be misread. Documents like this are a reason why I love digging into old records!



Arxontiko Taygeti: A Haven and A Cousin

Some time ago, I had identified one of my paternal great-grandfathers as Panagiotis Lerikos of Agios Ioannis, Sparta. Recently, I found his marriage record and discovered his wife’s name–Eleni Dimitrakakis of Mystras. That piece of genealogical information has turned a friendship into a “cousinship.”

Joanne Dimis-Dimitrakakis and I met virtually on Facebook as we were each researching our family history. We met in person in July 2016, when she invited me to her guest house, Arxontiko Taygeti, during my stay in Sparta. It had just been completely renovated and opened for visitors.

Arxontiko Guest House

A beautiful retreat from the heat and noise of Sparta, Arxontiko is situated near the top of the Taygetos mountains overlooking the city of Mystras.

 On the road to Arxontiko overlooking Mystras

Arxontiko was originally built by Joanne’s great-grandfather (and most likely one of my relatives), Kyriakos Dimitrakakis in the mid-1800’s. Situated in the mountain village of Taygeti, the view from several balconies overlooks the Byzantine castle of Mystras and the entire valley of Evrotas.

The Byzantine Castle of Mystras as seen from the balcony of Arxontiko

Although Joanne and I visit frequently in Mystras, I love to be in her guest house. It is beautifully decorated and boasts every modern convenience, including fast wifi (sometimes hard to access in Sparta).The architectural details make each apartment cozy and inviting.

Cozy and lovely!

Joanne welcomes visitors from all over the world who enjoy the hiking, the fresh (and cool!) mountain air, the lovely home and her warm and joyful hospitality. “An amazing guest house with exceptional views, warm hospitality and an outstanding hostess,” recently commented a guest.  So true!

Truly a “warm” welcome!

This evening, Joanne and I met in Arxontiko to have dinner and discuss our Dimitrakakis family connection. Over time, I had collected documents from Mystras and its surrounding small villages, and shared them with her. In turn, she gave me a book written about the families of Taygeti (formerly known as Barsinikos). She explained that Barsinikos was the Ottoman name for the village near the top of the  mountains, and in 1955, the Greek government ordered that Turkish village names be abolished and renamed. Thus, Taygeti was established.

The Dimitrakakis connection with Joanne reinforces my almost insatiable desire to gather documentation, books, and historical records about the villages immediately surrounding Sparta–and not just my ancestral towns. People from neighboring settlements married, and you never know who will be your next new cousin!

Cool Documents in Marriage Records

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!

Faneromeni Monastery: A Treasure in Stone

The southern Peloponnese is a study of construction by stone.The hardy people of this region took the least of God’s creations and formed uniquely beautiful edifices: churches, homes, buildings, wells, towers. Boxy and square, tall and narrow, the stone buildings of this region belie what may be inside. A perfect example is the Faneromeni Monastery, the first stop on a tour of Mani led by Papa Georgiou of Sparta last Saturday.

Without a road sign, one would never imagine that this unassuming building was a monastery.

Faneromenis Monastery, Mani

An inscription reveals that it was built in 1079 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was  subsequently renovated in 1322-23 by Emperor Andronicus Palaeologus (Andronikos II Palaiologos). After the renovation, additional alterations were made which formed the building as it is seen today. The monastery was inhabited by nuns; the last one died a few years ago.

The interior of the church is stunning; the frescoes are captivating.

Interior of monastery church

The frescoes have been preserved from three different periods: 11th century, 1322-23 and early 17th century.

Papa Georgiou, accompanied by Father Konstandinos of Aeropolis, chanted a full liturgy service. Their voices sounded even more poignant when surrounded by the archaic faces on the walls.

Bread and wine at the conclusion of the liturgy

Having never been inside a monastery, I was curious and explored both inside and out. There is a central courtyard, a kitchen, dining area, and rooms for sleeping.

Looking down into the courtyard

This is the building where the nuns lived. As expected, the interior was “spartan.” But there was a corner cabinet which housed unexpected worldly treasures.

Living quarters, exterior

Sleeping area, interior

Worldly treasures

To me, the most amazing surprise of Faneromeni was its cave, situated to the left of the monastery, down a flight of stone steps.

Following the curve of the hill, I saw the opening, stepped inside and was stunned at what I saw–a mini-sanctuary complete with icons, candles and all required to hold an Orthodox service.

Church cave entrance

I marvel at the ingenuity and faith that created this sacred place! I stood inside for a long time, with so many questions and so many thoughts. It was the Orthodox Church which sustained the Greek peoples through 400 years of Ottoman rule. The astounding number of churches and monasteries in Greece is a testament to this fact.

The monastery grounds overlook the sea and provide a setting of tranquil beauty. It is easy to understand why this particular spot was chosen to house a building dedicated to God.



Cooking with Eleni

Greek food is the absolute best. Using the freshest of ingredients, locally-grown products, aromatic herbs and tangy spices, there is nothing that compares to this harbinger of the Mediterranean diet. Every Greek woman has her own way of making traditional recipes–those “secret” tips that make her cuisine unique.

And this especially applies to my cousin, Eleni Koniditsiotis Kostakos, born in Amykles and now residing in Agios Ioannis. Because I offered to help one afternoon as she was preparing dinner, I finally, finally learned her secret to making meatballs that are soft yet firm.

The secret ingredient? Olive oil in the meat. It provides the “glue” to hold the meat, bread crumbs and other ingredients together and to keep the meatballs from falling apart.

Making the mixture; notice the puree of red onion and garlic

In this bowl are (no measurements): ground beef, dry bread crumbs as well as stale bread which has been rolled between our hands to make crumbs, a puree of garlic and red onions (this prevents chunks which cause the meatballs to crack), eggs, salt, pepper, basil and cumin. I was surprised that there was no oregano, but I might try adding some. And of course, olive oil. Lots of it! Squish everything together and start rolling the meatballs. I was surprised at how smooth they were, and that’s the secret to keep them from falling apart while cooking.

Next step: fry in lots of extra-virgin Greek olive oil! They are delicious served as-is, or in a homemade tomato sauce.

Speaking of olive oil, there is nothing like fresh-pressed oil found in every Greek home. Eleni’s family, like most in Sparta, have olive trees. The olives are beginning to grow now, and are harvested in early winter, November-December.

Baby olives

The harvest is a task that is done by hand, not machine, and the entire family works together. Preparation begins early. Last week, Eleni washed the nets which are spread under the trees to catch the fruit. She then stretched them out to dry.

Washing the olive nets


Drying the olive nets

Every village has a processing plant where the oil is extracted; smaller settlements will bring their olives to the closest one. Families keep enough for their own use and may sell their surplus. I love Eleni’s olives. Unlike those sold in stores, hers are not kept in brine, but are packed in oil which makes them sweet, not bitter.

Eleni’s olives and oil. You can tell by the dark green color that this oil is the first-press, or extra virgin.

Now I have to figure out how to get bottles like these home!