Shifting Gears

My last post about our family reunion caused me to reconsider my perspective on family history research. I write a monthly genealogy column, “Turning Hearts” for Meridian Magazine online, and used my last post as the basis for an article published October 18, 2013, which is reproduced below.

Last weekend, my “East Coast” cousins gathered for a joyous occasion – the baptism of the newest member of our family, Megan Ryan, at St. Andrews Catholic Church in Westwood, New Jersey. We are the grandchildren of Louis Pappas (Ilias Papagiannakos) and Angelina Eftaxias Pappas.

Family gatherings were central to the lives of our grandparents. As immigrants from Sparta in the early 1900’s, they settled in Hoboken, New Jersey. They traveled regularly to Brooklyn, New York, to be with family and friends from their homeland. These associations  brought them a sense of comfort and security in their new and very different country.

Our parents – Catherine, Bertha, William, and Nicholas – also treasured “family time.” All four families lived in neighboring towns in northern New Jersey. We cousins grew up together until the scattering began. Job opportunities took our fathers to Long Island, California, and Maryland. Only Uncle Bill remained in Westwood. There were occasional visits, but as cousins married and children arrived, we spun into differing orbits.

Except for Aunt Pauline, Bill’s wife who just turned 90, our parents have passed into a new realm of family relationships in the spirit world, unencumbered by worldly travails and earthly distances. This has engendered a new realization into all of us: We are now our parents’ generation; we are the ones to keep family traditions and maintain family ties. Our first reunion in July 2012 reinforced our longings to be together. The more we meet, the more precious these events become. We miss our  four “West Coast” cousins in California, the children of Nick, and we hope to be together with them soon.

Our renewed cousin reunions have changed my perspective on family history work. I have spent untold hours reading obscure documents from Greece with the hopes of finding one of my surnames. Although I now have a spreadsheet with several hundred names, I can’t go back far enough to find a common ancestor and to determine how these people are related to me (I know they are, as they hail from my grandparents’ ancestral villages). At times I become frustrated and am tempted to “throw in the towel” and wait for the Millenium to continue my research. But in my heart, I know that is not right. I must do what I can with what I have.

Our cousins reunions have caused me to pause and reconsider that I should reallocate some of my time from searching for the dead to reconnecting with the living. There are photos of my living relatives to be obtained and attached to our online tree. There are stories to gather from my cousins, so our collective family memories can be memorialized for future generations. There is research to be done on our parents’ cousins who came to the U.S., but whom we never had the opportunity to meet.

Shifting gears is not easy, as I am driven to probe deeper into my pedigree line. But it is essential to do so:  someday, our children will be us. If we do not capture our own family stories – and those of our parents and grandparents – we will leave them an empty legacy.





A Joyful Family Reunion

On October 12, 2013, the “East Coast” descendants of my grandparents, Louis Pappas (Ilias Papagiannakos) and Angelina Eftaxias Pappas, gathered in Westwood, New Jersey to celebrate the baptism of Megan Sophia Ryan, the great-granddaughter of Louis and Angelina, and daughter of Lois (Pappas) and Bobby Ryan.

Group with caption

Our grandparents had four children: Catherine, Bertha, William and Nicholas. Those of us in the photo above are the families of Catherine (Carol Petranek & John Kostakos), Bertha (Louis & John Pouletsos), and William (Lois Ryan & Pam Bergonzoni). Pauline Pappas, center front in wheelchair, is the wife of William and the only one of our parents who is living. She turned 90 years old in July and was thrilled to be with her family. We miss our “West Coast” California cousins who descend from Nicholas:  Louis, Nick, Paula and Vincent. We hope that someday soon, all of us can be together.

I am sure that our parents were smiling down at us as we gathered for such a happy event. Family activities were such an important part of their lives, and I am happy to say, they are for us as well.