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. 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.