Greece 2017. Archives Research: Kalamata

My research trips are super-intensive. This is due in part to my personality, and in part to the limited working hours at Greek repositories. Archives and libraries’ hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and unlike shops, they do not reopen after 6:30. None are open on Saturdays, not even the Central Library of Sparta.

So, my weekday work schedule looks like this:
7:00 – wake up
8:00 – be at the repository
2:30 – leave (or get kicked out)
2:30-6:00 – go someplace that is open: a cemetery, an archaeological or historical site, or take a drive through a village. It’s beastly hot in mid-afternoon in July, but I won’t waste three precious hours.
6:00-midnight – change clothes, visit family or friends for dinner which usually begins around 9:00

Honestly, I came home more tired than when I left. But I also came home with tons of new information.

I was anxious to return to the Archives in Kalamata. During my visit of July 2016, the office was moving to a new location and everything was packed in boxes, which made research impossible. I was thrilled to see its new home: a stunning neoclassical building constructed in the 1880’s and rebuilt after the earthquake of 1986.

General Archives of Greece, Kalamata, Messinia

I am ever grateful for the help and kindness of my friend, Giota Siora, who met me in Kalamata and escorted me to the Archives. Giota knows the archivist, Anastasia Milioni, who was eager to assist us in any way possible. My goal was to search for information about two families with possible early ties to the Kalamata region: Eftaxias (prior to relocating to Mystras) and Zaharakis (prior to relocating to Theologos).

GAK, Kalamata: Giota Siora; Anastasia Milioni, Archivist; Carol Kostakos Petranek, July 2017

In 2016, Mrs. Milioni had given me a print-out of contracts with the Eftaxias name. There were three for Georgios Eftaxias who was in Kalamata in 1859.

Eftaxias contracts, 1859. General Archives of Greece, Kalamata, Messinia

After the contracts were retrieved, Giota amazed me with her ability to read the documents. They were not written in typical old Greek script, but in a specific type of calligraphy used by lawyers and high government officials in the 1800’s.

Below are page one and the signature page of Contract 727 for Georgios Eftaxias, along with a synopsis by Giota.

Eftaxias, Georgios; Contract 727 p.1. Kalamata, Messinia. July 2017

Eftaxias, Georgios; Contract 727 p.3 – signatures.. Kalamata, Messinia. July 2017

Contract 727 Georgios Eftaxias in Kalamata 1859
Final payment on land purchase
Georgios Eftaxias bought a field at Mavria (on the border of Messinia and Laconia). He paid 60 drachmas on the balance due. He bought the land from Michail Koumoutsas who was a lime maker. One of the owners of land bordering his is Haralambos Eftaxias.

With three contracts for Georgios Eftaxias, I now have proof that a family was in Kalamata. But is this my family? Possibly yes, possibly no.

  • I have an Eftaxias “DNA cousin,” Peter, who was born in a village adjacent to Mystras. His father said that their Eftaxias family came from Kalamata. This is definitely his family. Since we have a genetic connection, this is one point on the “yes” side.
  • The very name, Eftaxias, has ecclesiastical connotations. Gregory Kontos sent me this definition: the one that is in charge of the good order of the church:   good=ευ order=τάξη. So, this could be an example of families who had worked in a church and adopted the position title as a surname. This is one point on the “no” side.

Another twist:  the Election Lists of 1875 show a Michalis Eftaxias who was born around 1800, fought in the Revolution, and lived in Lagia. That is 117 km from Kalamata, a 39-hour walk! Is it possible these two families are related? Not impossible, but perhaps improbable. This could be an example of the second bullet–someone working in a church, taking the ευταξη title as a surname.

So, the definite answer to my question is, “I don’t know.”

Lagia to Kalamata is 117 kilometers

The Archives in Kalamata has a one-of-a-kind collection created by Μίμη Iλ. Φερέτος (Dimitris or Mimi Il. Feretos).  Giannis Michalakakos described Mr. Feretos as a journalist and writer who gathered information on fighters of the 1821 Revolution. In the early 1900’s, he interviewed people who had fought (or whose relatives fought) in the War of Independence. Mr. Feretos created a surname index which include brief notes and reference sources to find the original documentation. The GAK in Kalamata has a bookcase filled with Mr. Feretos’ notebooks. They are arranged in alphabetical order, and Giota easily found the Eftaxias and Zaharakis surnames.

This is a copy of one of the Feretos pages for Zaharakis. I found it fascinating to see how Mr. Feretos compiled and annotated information, long before the computer age.

Zaharakis surname, notes from the files of Mimis Il. Feretos, GAK Kalamata, July 2017

A simple translation of this document, with my thanks to Giannis: M. Zaharakis, born in Sitsova [now known as Alagonia on the border of Messinia and Laconia]. He fought in the Revolution under George Vasilakos, in the main battles until 1823. Afterwards, he fought in the war under the Giatrakos family. In some documents, he is referred to as Zaharopoulos.

This document reveals two important things: first, M. Zaharakis is not my family; he was born in a region far from Theologos at a time when my Zaharakis are found in documents in Theologos. Second, M. Zaharakis was also known as Zaharopoulos. This is a critical piece of information because there is a long-standing (and frustrating!) pattern of Greeks changing their names. Having written proof that Zaharakis and Zaharopoulos in Kalamata are the same family, saves years and tears for the serious researcher.

For anyone researching in Messinia, the Archives in Kalamata is an essential repository. The staff is actively digitizing as much of its collection as possible. They are friendly, helpful and supportive in every way.

Digitization underway at the Messinia Archives in Kalamata

Here are links to access the Archives website; its online digital collections; and its YouTube channel.This link is especially helpful, as it shows the collections in the Archives.

Was my research trip to Kalamata a success? Yes! I did not find the definitive information I was seeking to link my families in Laconia to the ones in Kalamata. However, I explored a new Archive, discovered the Feretos collection, found documentation to prove (and disprove) some of my theories. I visited the Kalamata Museum, filled with incredible antiquities and artifacts. Most importantly, I spent a delightful day with Giota, who inspires me with her continual desire to help and teach. Thank you, my friend!

 

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Greece 2017. Part Six: Theologos

This is my maternal great-grandmother, Stathoula Zaharakis, of Theologos. How I wish I could have met her. Her eyes pierce my soul and her look of strength and determination inspire me.

I have written previously in this blog about my search for her and the Zaharakis family of Theologos. One of my biggest research “to do” items this summer was to visit Theologos and learn more about the family. Much to my delight, this has happened in a way that was beyond my wildest dreams.

The seeds for success began with Facebook. I had found a Zaharakis family in the U.S. with roots in Theologos. Georgia Zaharakis of Sparta actively commented on the posts, and I “friended” her. The moment we met in Sparta, there was an instant connection.

Within 48 hours of meeting face-to-face, I was driving with Georgia and her mother to Theologos to celebrate the saint day of Agia Paraskevi. To reach the village, we drove for five kilometers up a narrow one-lane road with hairpin turns until we arrived at the very top of the mountain, a breathtaking sight overlooking the village.

View from the mountain top, overlooking Theologos. July 2017

The church of Agia Paraskevi was built in the late 1800’s at the pinnacle of the mountain. It is very small but the interior is beautiful. Liturgies are chanted there only once a year for the festival of its patron saint, or at the request of a family. The original church bell hangs on a nearby tree. Its clapper is missing and to hear it ring, children hit it with pine cones.

Agia Paraskevi icon and church; church bell. Theologos, Laconia. July 2017

After the liturgy, villagers gathered for coffee and sweets outside the church. As I walked the grounds, my mind wandered back 150 years and I envisioned Stathoula also celebrating this feast day at this very place. At that moment, I felt so very close to her.

Coffee time, Agia Paraskevi Church, Theologos, July 2017

Georgia had told me that there were many members of the Zaharakis family living in Theologos. Imagine my thrill when she began introducing me to new cousins!

l-r: me, Georgia Zaharakis, Kanella Zaharaki Koutrobi, Pavlos Zaharakis

As one cousin introduced me to another, I was embraced with the warmth and affection that permeates Greek families. Georgia proposed having a Zaharakis family reunion, and all agreed to meet at the platea the following Monday evening. I arrived early to visit the cemetery and the Zaharakis gravestones. The sign indicated that the cemetery was dated 1893. It is likely that Stathoula’s parents would have been buried there, but by now, any old graves are long gone.

Cemetery, Theologos, Laconia. July 2017

The Zaharakis family reunion was a joy beyond description. Young and old arrived at the platea, chatting animatedly and excited to be together. I had printed out Family Group Sheets in Greek, and people clustered around Georgia to relate their family information. We have yet to sort out all the information, but for a family historian, this was a thrilling sight to behold.

Capturing the Zaharakis family history, Theologos, July 2017

The family told me that not only was this the first time all the Zaharakis’ met together, but it was also the very first reunion of any family held in the village! A restaurant on the platea provided endless food and drinks, and the festivities lasted into the night.

One of the tables of the Zaharakis family of Theologos, July 2017

Many Greek villages have organizations known as syllogos , which work to preserve the history and culture of the village. A new women’s syllogos for Theologos was recently formed with Georgia as the organizer and president. One of their goals is to convert an old stone schoolhouse, no longer in use, into a museum. As a descendant from this village, I joined immediately and offered to be of help to them. In this day and age, being across the ocean does not hamper collaboration!

l-r: Georgia Dounia, Georgia Zaharakis, me; Women’s Syllogos of Theologos, July 2017

Logo: Syllogos Women, Agios Ioannis Theologos, Love.

All that happened in Theologos was as a dream to me. I am now connected with the descendants of the Zaharakis family and I have many new “sisters” in the Syllogos. Online research has its place, but so many blessings come when we can visit our ancestral homeland.

Greek Microfilms at FamilySearch Now Digitized

Background
FamilySearch.org is the only genealogical website that has records from Greece. During the mid-1980’s, permission was received from the General Archives of Greece to microfilm some records. During that time, Lica Catsakis was working as a volunteer at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. She reviewed the microfilms as they arrived and compiled a comprehensive list which can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

Until recently, to access a microfilm of interest, one had to pay a small fee to order the film. It would be sent to the Family History Center (FHC) requested by the patron, where it could be viewed on a microfilm reader for about six weeks before it had to be returned. Alternately, one could travel to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. As digital technology advanced, FamilySearch embarked on an ambitious project to convert all of its microfilm (2.5 million rolls!) to digital images. This enables a researcher to easily access images online and with mobile devices, free of charge. To accomplish this, FamilySearch has renegotiated every contract with every repository which had previously given permission to microfilm its documents.

New Policy
As of today, the legal review of the new contracts for Greek microfilms has been completed. Permission has been granted for 75% of the films for Greece to be viewed in a digital format. The contractual arrangement made with Greek authorities states that the images are to be viewed at Family History Centers and affiliate libraries only; they are not available for viewing on personal computers or mobile devices. There are 4,900 Family History Centers worldwide; to find one close to you, click here.

The remaining 25% of the films are categorized as “restricted” because of privacy constraints; meaning that there is information on them for people who may still be living. The privacy rule is that records are not made public if they contain information from the current date back 100 years for birth, 75 years for marriages and 0 for death. For example, if a record has information about a person who was born in 1920, that record cannot be made public until 2020–100 years after the person’s birth. Restricted films must remain in microfilm format, and they can be viewed only at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

The good news is that researchers no long have to pay to order a microfilm nor is the viewing period limited. The 75% of Greek films digitized are now free of charge and available online permanently.

Yes, one does have to go to a local FHC or affiliate library to access the digital images, but that had to be done previously to view a microfilm that had been ordered.

Does FamilySearch have images for your area of research in Greece and if so, how can they be accessed?

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Lica Catsakis has compiled a comprehensive list: GREEK MICROFILMS, A List of Microfilms by Counties. This 157-page document enumerates and describes every microfilm in the Greek collection, and it is arranged in alphabetical order by Nomos (County). Please download this document here.

The first four pages are the Table of Contents. Scan this to find your county or collection of interest, then go to the page indicated.

Important note: When records were microfilmed in the 1980’s, only limited records in some areas in Greece were captured. If you do not see records from the Nomos you are researching, look at the category, “Greece, All Counties” which are on pages 6-11.

Greek Microfilms, Table of Contents

Let’s look at the collections found in “Greece, all counties” on pages 6-11. On page 8, I see a collection, “Jurors List,” film #1038847. I want to see if this is available in digital format.

  1. Click on this link to go to the FamilySearch catalog
  2. Click on “Search for Film/Fiche”, then type in: 1038847 (the film number)
  3. Click on the blue button, Search.
    1. This is the page that you will see. We will look at Items 6-8, Juror’s Lists.
      This page gives us a more detailed description of the film. Notice the camera icon on the lower right. There is a key above it. The camera indicates that this microfilm is in digital format; and the key indicates that it is only available at a Family History Center or affiliate library.
    2. When you click on the camera image, you will get this message:
    3. Clicking on either of those links will produce a worldwide map where you can search for a Center or Library near you. There are 4,900 Family History Centers worldwide, and many affiliate libraries.
    4. Click on the green tree icon for a pop-up message with location name, address, hours, and contact information.

FamilySearch has a Help Desk which is manned 24/7. Call 1-866-406-1830 to speak with a representative, or you can live chat or send a message from the Contact Page.

Let’s hope that in coming months, Greek authorities will allow genealogy companies to digitize more records, ensuring that they are preserved and made available to the worldwide diaspora. Digitization by large genealogy companies is done at no cost to the repository; the contract expressly states that the work will be done free of charge and the repository receives a hard disk with the digital images. In exchange, the repository gives the company permission to make the digital images available.

It’s a win-win for everyone.

Greece 2017. Part Five: Researching in Greek Cemeteries

Sparta. Siesta. Nothing to do between 3:00-6:00 p.m. in July, when the thermometer hits 40 celsius (104 fahrenheit) and every shop and business is closed. A smart traveler seeks a cool oasis in an air conditioned hotel; but a fanatic researcher will not waste three precious hours. That’s when I visited the cemeteries.

Entrance to Amykles cemetery, 2017

Greek cemeteries are fascinating to explore. In modern times, they have become memorials to the deceased. Photos, flowers, icons, candles and personal items decorate the gravestones, making each unique. They become a sanctuary of mourning for the bereaved.

The first thing a visitor notices is that all of the gravestones are constructed of white marble and sit atop the ground.

Sikaraki, Laconia. July 2017

This gravestone for Panagiotis G. Koniditsiotis in Amykles is unusual, because the marble slab on the top has been replaced with grass. It exudes an oasis-like feel under the hot July sun.

Panagiotis G. Koniditsiotis, 7-7-1938 – 16-6-2013, Amykles, Laconia, July 2017

Invariably, the headstones face east. My research indicates that this is a common Christian tradition, based on the belief that when Jesus returns it will be from the east; thus, the deceased will rise from the grave to face Him.

Lysandros K. Giannakopoulos, Died 20-3-1999; age 87. Theologos, Laconia cemetery, July 2017.

As the photo above shows, these east-facing gravestones posed a serious problem when taking photos in mid-afternoon: shadows. As the sun moved west towards the Taygetos mountains, it shone over the top of the headstones, casting silhouettes on the engravings of the marble slabs. Also, it shone directly into my eyes, making it almost impossible to see the image I was photographing. It was pure luck that I was able to get decent pictures.

Many families have purchased cemetery plots, and the gravestone becomes a memorial for the entire family. Information about parents and their children are inscribed. It is especially helpful to find a married daughter buried with her parents, as her “new” surname will be etched in the marble. When photos are included, one has a visual mini-snapshot of the family structure. In the picture below, notice that Spyridon’s middle name was “Char” (Charalambos),  the name of his father. This takes the researcher back one more generation.

Tsakonas family grave, Agios Ioannis, Sparta. July 2017. Spyridon Char. Tsakonas, born 1884, died 26-2-1965; Sarantos Sp. Tsakonas, born 1934, died 10-10-1943; Aggeliki Sp. Tsakona, born 1907; died 28-7-1995; Lygeri Tsakona Skouli, born 11-14-1937, died 6-10-2010.

The older gravestones are especially poignant. Some are in disrepair and have suffered neglect. Others are empty holes but the names are still inscribed on crosses–an eerie reminder of a Greek custom described below. This grave in Sikaraki, Laconia, especially touched my heart.

Georgia A. Chelioti, Sikaraki, Laconia, July 2017

Georgia A. Chelioti died 21-11-89 , age 85, Christian martyr of Jehovah. The inscription is taken from the New Testament, John 6:40:  And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life and I will raise him up at the last day.

Georgia A. Chelioti, Sikaraki, Laconia, July 2017

An empty hole is indicative of a long-standing custom in Greece to bury a person for only 3–5 years, after which the remains are exhumed, the bones are cleaned, and then placed in an ossuary box. This is a sacred religious ritual, performed by a priest and attended by family. The ossuary box is placed in a building on the cemetery grounds known as an osteofylakeion. The candles, photos and other memorabilia that had been on the gravestone are transferred to the ossuary box kept in the building. I was hesitant at first to step into an osteofylakeion. I thought I would feel creepy; but to my surprise, I felt like I was standing on holy ground.

Osteofylakeion building, Sikaraki cemetery, July 2017

Interior of osteofylakeion building, Sikaraki cemetery, July 2017

While exploring cemeteries in Agios Ioannis (Sparta), Amykles, Sikaraki, Mystras and Theologos, I took photos of gravestones inscribed with surnames that appear on my family tree. Many tombstones provided information that I had not found in documents procured to date. If I saw that “my people” were memorialized with photos, I felt a surprising and joyful sense of kinship. As I walked the narrow paths separating the gravestones, a sense of peace filled me. Many of these people were related by blood, by marriage, or by collateral relationships such as in-laws or godparents. Now they rested together, facing east, awaiting the resurrection promised them by their Orthodox faith.

Greece 2017. Part Four: Sparta – Ancient & Modern

Dimos Sparta

Spending three full weeks in Sparta presented numerous opportunities to explore and savor this region of my heritage. In both ancient and modern times, Sparta has been integral to the history of the Peloponnese, although its role as the major political and cultural center has fluctuated.

My home base was the Menelaion Hotel, situated on the main street (Konstantinou Palaiologou) in the center of town. Contemporary Sparta is vibrant and engaging. During my three-week stay, everything I needed was easily accessible.

Fresh food and baked goods enticed me and kept me fed daily, July 2017

 

My favorite sign!

One of my the most beautiful stores in Sparta is owned by my cousin, Dimitris Papagiannakos. He keeps it stocked with items both beautiful and practical. I love to visit with him and share news of our families. I never leave without buying lovely treasures that delight my family.

Papagiannakos Home Goods Store, Sparta. Dimitris Papagiannakos and Carol Kostakos Petranek, July 2017

Like much in Sparta, the buildings are a mix of old and new. The main street is wide and lined with towering palm trees. Despite the parking spaces on both sides and in the center, people double and triple park, making it difficult to navigate. On the side streets, cars are parked on the sidewalk with all four wheels off the road. If they can do it, so can I, but…I left two wheels on the road because I panicked at trying to maneuver the entire car onto the sidewalk. I awoke the last morning in the city to find a parking ticket on the windshield. I was fined 40 euros for blocking traffic. Even worse, the police removed the license tags from the front and back of my rental car, thus ensuring that any violator pays the fine!

Sparta, July 2017

The Dimarheion, or Town Hall, and its platea is the hub of the city. By day or by night, people congregate at outdoor tables to dine, visit, listen to concerts and even watch soccer matches. With Greek night life in full swing at 9:00, where else would you find a concert that begins at 10:00 p.m.? I love the sociality of the city; you don’t ever have to be alone!

Dimarheion, July 2017

Life at 10:00 p.m. – a concert at the platea; men watching soccer game; others chatting in a cafe

The Ancient Sparta archaeological site is within walking distance at the edge of the city. On the way, I passed the imposing statue of Leonidas, king of the city-state of Sparta from 490 to 480 B.C.; immortalized when he and his 300 soldiers were killed by the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae.

King Leonidas and me! July 2017

I visited the ruins in the middle of the afternoon–3:00–when locals were sleeping and other tourists were smart enough to rest in their air conditioned hotels.

As I walked the paths around the ruins, the modern city was visible; a constant reminder of old and new.

Sparta, old and new, July 2017

I tried to imagine life in the old city. Peoples’ everyday lives were very different from ours in substance, but not in human experience: birthing, growing, learning, loving, laughing, mourning, dying–are we not all the same?

History captured in stone, July 2017

Panorama, July 2017

Walkways and structures, July 2017

If these edifices could talk…. July 2017

 

Leaving Sparta was hard. What I miss:

  • Family
  • Friends who are like family
  • Dry air
  • Plateas
  • Sidewalk dining and outdoor living
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice
  • Fresh veggies from my cousins’ gardens
  • History
  • Churches everywhere
  • Taygetos mountains
  • 10:00 pm concerts on the platea
  • Philoxenia

What I do not miss:

  • No traffic lights
  • Driving in the city
  • Parking on the sidewalk
  • Motorcyclists
  • Limited store hours
  • Graffiti
  • Disrepair

Till next time!!❤