Church Records in Greek Villages

Civil records are the first collections perused by researchers. They are (relatively) easy to access at the Archive offices and Town Halls (Dimarheion): Male Registers, Town Registers, School Records. Election Registers (lists of men eligible to vote in the late 1800’s) are online. I am grateful that so many have survived invasions, occupations, natural disasters and civil war.

Fortunately, these records do exist.  Unfortunately, they primarily enumerate males. Daughters, wives and sisters are almost invisible. Young girls may be found in school records (only if they attended), and Town Registers which list entire families.

There is one compendium, however, that is an “equal opportunity” collection: church records. Women as well as men were baptized, married, and died. Their footprints are in tandem with men’s as they walked the path of life. Thus, records in churches hold priceless information and that will fill in the gaps of a family structure.

Interior of church at Charisio, Laconia

Village Churches

During my trip to Sparta this July, I was finally — after three previous attempts — able to access and view the Birth, Marriage and Death books in churches of three villages. The doors were opened in various ways:

  1. a friend, who is a psaltis (cantor) in one church introduced me to the priest, explained what I was seeking and why, and arranged a meeting
  2. a newly-found cousin was friends with the priest of another church and made an a appointment for us to meet;
  3. one priest whom I had visited called another and asked him to allow me to view his church books.

Local people are the key to obtaining access to village church records!

A stranger who walks into a church and asks to look at old books may be dismissed with the wave of a hand and the words, “we do not have any.” They were [pick one] burned, or destroyed by the Nazis, or lost in a flood, etc. Priests are very protective of these records and rightly so — they have information about the living as well as the dead, and it is their responsibility to ensure that their parishioners and their families are not compromised in any way. However, that does not mean that you cannot access them. It does mean that you need someone to pave the way for you — someone whom the priest knows and trusts.

Every village in Greece has at least one church. When villages were settled, the first building erected was the church, as it is the focal point of every community. Most villages, even the smallest ones, have several churches; my ancestral village of Agios Ioannis, Sparta, has eight! However, only one or two are used for Sunday worship. Others were constructed to honor a patron saint, or as family chapels. A village priest will officiate at all the churches in his parish, holding services in each on alternate Sundays or on a rotating basis.

To commemorate a Saint’s Day, a special liturgy is held in a church that bears that Saint’s name. For example, on July 26, I attended a service in honor of Agia Paraskevi in the church which bears that name, located in Theologos, Laconia. This Saint’s Day is the only time that services are held in the Agia Paraskevi Church.

Agia Paraskevi, Theologos, Laconia, July 26, 2017. Interior of church, Saint Paraskevi, a delightful visit with my Zaharakis cousins of Theologos.

What Can You Expect to Find? Examples of Village Church Books

Each church is different. There is no uniform date of genesis for any records. In the books I examined, most started in the early 1900’s; however, one baptismal book had a few entries from 1868! Generally, people will be able to find records for their grandparents’ or possibly great-grandparents’ generation.

This book of baptisms begins in 1913; column headings are date of baptism, name of infant, name of father, maiden name of mother; name of godfather and residence; place of baptism; name of priest.

Baptismal Record

 

This book of marriages begins in 1913; column headings are date of marriage; name, age and residence of groom and his father’s name; name, age residence of bride and her father’s name; name and residence of best man/bridesmaid; name of priest.

Marriage Book

This book of deaths also begins in 1912; columns include the date of funeral; name, age, residence and occupation of deceased; name of priest.

Book of Deaths

The priests whom I visited allowed me to look at the church books and take digital images of some pages where my family name appeared. This meant that I had to be able to read my surnames in old Greek script!

How to Prepare for a Visit

This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit your ancestral village and be able to view church records. Be prepared! Priests may be busy and your time may be limited.

  1. Make a list of every surname in your family who was born, married, or died in the village.
  2. Ask someone to write these surnames in Greek script — then to write them again in “sloppy” handwriting. You need to be able to recognize the names you are seeking.
  3. If you know a relative in the village, advise him/her of the dates you will be visiting and request that they contact the priest in advance to ask his permission for you to view the books, and to give him the exact day you will be there.
  4. If you do not have a relative in the village, find one when you arrive. It’s easy! Greeks are very communal and everyone knows everybody else in the village. Just go to the platea (village square) and ask the locals where the “Papageorgakos” family lives. If you ask in a kind manner, someone may offer to take you to the house and even introduce you. Be sure you have candy or cookies to bring — a sweet offering that will touch the hearts of your relatives.
  5. Bring a letter of introduction from your local priest. It will open doors for you. My cousin, Father Eugene Pappas, is the Priest at Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn, New York. He wrote a letter on official church stationary, introducing me, explaining that he and I were working together on our family history, and asking permission to view the books. I brought several copies of this letter, and gave one to every priest. Each of them read it carefully (sometimes twice!) and they asked to keep a copy for their Archives. After reviewing the letter, they had no hesitation in showing me the books.

Letter of Introduction, Father Eugene Pappas

I understand that accessing village church records is not easy. There is a trip to take, connections to make, a language barrier to overcome, and luck to be had. However, it is doable. I wrote above that I had tried three times to gain access to these books but, until this year, I had been unsuccessful. The keys to success are preparation and persistence, and–you must have a local contact who can introduce you to the priest.

The rewards are worth the effort. Seeing the baptismal record for your grandparent, or the marriage record of your great-grandparents, will leave you speechless. You will be ever grateful, and your confidence level will soar. If you can do this, you can do anything!

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Archives of Sparta: Mitroon Arrenon (Male Registers)

After the Revolution of 1821 when the land of Hellas victoriously overthrew 400 years of Ottoman Rule, the “new” country of Greece began to form a central government. As a means of enumerating males who would pay taxes and serve in the military, the Mitroon Arrenon or Male Register was instituted. Every village was required to maintain a list of male births, the year and place of birth, father’s name and father’s occupation. Over time, these official government registers have also substituted as official birth records.

They are a most valuable and very important genealogical resource.

Mitroon Arrenon, Agios Ioannis, Sparta: 1844-1847

 

Mitroon Arrenon can be found in the Dimarheion (Town Hall) of the municipality in which the village is located. Some regional offices of the General Archives of Greece may also have copies for villages in their area of jurisdiction. If you are taking a research trip, you must locate these records because, except for rare cases, they are not digitized or found online in the regional Archive offices mentioned above, or at the Dimarheion websites.

My previous post, Reading a Town Register and a Male Register, gives further information on how to read a Male Register.

The Sparta office of the General Archives of Greece has some Mitroon Arrenon in their collection. They can be contacted at:  mail@gak.lak.sch.gr. The staff can read and speak English. Be sure that you include an approximate birth year of your male ancestor, along with his original surname and exact village of birth. Remember that records are created in specific villages, as shown by the list below.

Mitroon Arrenon Records in the Sparta Archive Office
(Note: smaller villages, hamlets and neighborhoods will be found in the record of the larger, closest town)
Anavryti:  1839-1923
Agios Ioannis: 1835-1930
Alepochori, Geronthon: 1830-1950
Alikon, Messi: 1845-1915
Ano Volarion: 1865-early 1900’s
Aeropoli: 1837-1915
Archontikou, Melitinis: 1844-1915
Vatheia, Messi: 1836-1914
Vachou, Laconia: 1839-1915
Vresthena: 1831-1924 and 1925-1939
Geraki, Geronthron: 1826-1914
Germas, Teos: 1836-1915
Gerolimenos, Teos: 1845-1914
Gytheio: 1836-1915
Dafni: 1837-1935
Exo Nyfi: 1841-1915
Karitsa, Geronthron: 1841-1914
Karvela, Teos: 1814-1913
Kelefas, Teos: 1830-1915
Konakion, Teos: 1829-1914
Kotronos: 1831-1914
Kittas, Messi: 1845-1913
Kounou, Teos: 1831-1915
Kryoneriou, Oitylo: 1846-1913
Mystra: 1824-1915
Pyrgos, Oitylo: 1845-1914
Lymperdou, Malevriou: 1842-1915
Minas, Oitylo: 1845-1915
Neo Oitylo: 1834-1915
Neohori, Gytheio: 1840-1915
Dritsis: 1865-1901
Oitylo: 1840-1915
Sidokastron: 1845-1915
Skamnaki: 1825-1915
Sparta: currently not available
Trachilas: 1830-1915
Tzerovas: 1839-1912

If you need a village that is not on this list, or a different year range for a village that is on this list, you will need to visit the Dimarheion (Town Hall) that houses the records for that village.

 

Archives of Sparta: Dimotologion (Town Register) Records

I have returned from month-long productive (and exhausting!) research trip to Sparta and there are many posts to write about the resources I have consulted and the records I have obtained.

However, I am starting with the Dimotologion (Town Register) Records that are found at the General Archives of Greece, Sparta office.

Sparta Office, General Archives of Greece

One of the most helpful record collections to help identify families are these Town Registers. They are similar to a U.S. Census record, as they list the husband, wife, and children of each family in a village, the parents’ names of the husband and wife; years and places of birth, occupation, citizenship and other information. These records were created in the mid-1950’s. I find that the birth years of the parents were in the late 1800’s, and the children’s births were in the early-mid 1900’s. If you can find your grand or great-grandparents in a Dimotologion, you will have much information to proceed on your research.

My previous post which gives examples of Dimotologion records, and explains how to read and interpret them, can be found here.

During the two week period that I spent in the Sparta Archives, I made a list of all of the Town Registers that are available in their office. These records are created and kept by village. Therefore, you must know the original name of your family and the exact village of origin.  Researchers can send a request to the Archive Office (mail@gak.lak.sch.gr) to ask if their family is found in the Dimotologion; however, do not submit a request unless you have this specific information. Oftentimes, immigrants would give the nearest large city as their place of origin when in actuality they were from a small village near the city. If you see “Sparta” as the place of origin, keep digging until you have the exact village and original surname! The list  below will help you further understand the importance of knowing the village name.

Village List of Dimotologion (Town Registers) in the Sparta Archives Office
(Note: smaller villages, hamlets and neighborhoods will be found in the record of the larger, closest town)
Aggelona
Agias Eirinis
Agios Vasileios
Agios Georgios
Agios DImitrios
Agios Ioannis Monemvasia
Agios Ioannis Sparta
Agios Konstantinos
Agios Nikolaos
Agios Anavrgiron
Agios Apostolon
Agorianis
Agrianos
Agia (Chania Koutoumous)
Alepochori
Aleirous
Alikon
Ampelochorio
Amykles
Anavryti
Ano Kastanias Voion
Ano Boularion
Anogeion
Apidias
Areopoli
Arna
Archontiko
Asteriou
Asopou
Afissiou
Chrisafo
Chosiari
Daimonias
Dafnis – Kaminion
Dafniou
Drosopigis
Drialou
Drimou
Elaias
Ellinikou Koulentia
Exo Nyfi
Foinikiou
Geraki
Germas
Gerolimena
Georgitsi
Gkoritsa
Glikorvisis
Gorani
Gouvon
Gytheion
Kareas
Karitsa
Kastoriou
Kelefas
Kefala
Kozi-Kokkinorrachi-Riviotissa, Sykaraki, Charision
Konakion
Koniditsa
Kounou
Kremasti
Krinis
Krokeion
Lagia
Lagiou
Lachiou Voion
Leimona
Leikochomatos
Logkaniko
Logkastra
Magoula
Melissas
Melitinis (Zelinas)
Metamorfosis
Minas
Molaoi
Monembasia
Myrteas
Mystras
Neapolis
Neo Oitylo
Neochori
Niaton
Nomion
Oitylo
Pakia
Palaiopanagia
Paliovrisis
Panitsas (Myrsini)
Pantanassas
Papadianiko
Parori
Pellana
Perivolion
Peristeriou (Tsasi)
Perpainis (Kaloni)
Petrina
Platana
Potamia
Prosilio
Pyrgos Dirou
Selegoudiou
Sellasias
Skamnaki
Skouras
Skoutari
Soustiani
Sparta
Spartias
Tsikalion
Vatheia
Vamvakou
Varvitsa
Vasilakiou
Vassara
Vachou
Velanidion
Velion
Vlachioti
Vordonia
Voutiani
Vresthena
Vrontama
Xirokambi