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.