Dowry Contracts: Pictures of the Past

We have pictures of the past, but not the full image. When I first heard Giannis Michalakakos make this comment, I accepted its veracity–but with reluctance. I want the full image of my ancestors’ lives! A Male Register, Town Register, or Election List may provide a birth year and an occupation. But a Contract reveals so much more. Who purchased land, and from whom and where? Who borrowed money, and from whom and why? Who was the bride, and whom did she marry? What did her family provide for her dowry?

On 11 July 1864, four men gathered at the office of Konstandinos Dimopoulos, notary of Sparta, to execute a dowry contract: Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos of Sikaraki (groom), Panagiotis Kavvouris of Agios Ioannis (father of Marigo, the bride), Georgios Stathopoulos of Magoula (witness) and Ilias Kalogerakos of Parori (witness). These men were engaging in an honored tradition that was instituted in ancient times and not officially rescinded in Greece until 1983.

My maternal grandparents, Ilias Papagiannakos and Aggeliki Eftaxias, 1914, New York

A  marriage dowry (prika) was a custom adapted from Eastern cultures. Created by economic need, it was prevalent an era when the roles of men and women were defined by a patriarchal society. Especially in mainland Greece, families generally were poor. Men were farmers, landowners, shepherds; or worked in handcrafts such making baskets, ropes, or leather items. Women were homemakers.

When a new union was formed, both were expected to contribute items needed to establish the home. The bride’s dowry provided household or clothing items, property or animals. The groom provided a house and income for the family. Thus, both bequeathed what they could to secure a foundation for their new marriage.

The Kavvouris-Kanakakos contract is translated below. It is a fascinating picture which helps us better understand the image of life in mid-1800’s Sparta. Commentary and historical information is added with footnotes or brackets, and photographs are representations of the types of items the dowry contains.

Page 1 of 4, Dowry Contract 463. Panagiotis Kavvouris and Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos, Sparta, Greece. July 11, 1864. Source: General Archives of Greece: http://arxeiomnimon.gak.gr/browse/resource.html?tab=tab02&id=197332

Contract 463, 11.7.1864, Dowry and Notary Deed
On this day, 11 July, Saturday, at 12:00 noon of year 1864, came before me, Konstandinos Dimopoulos, notary and citizen of Sparta, to my home and office, being east of the Church of Evangelismo of Theotokos,1  Panagiotis Kavvouris, estate owner and farmer of Agios Ioannis of Sparta on one hand, and on the other Nikolaos Athanasiou Kanakakos, farmer and citizen of the neighborhood, Sikaraki, of Agios Ioannis of the municipality of Sparta; both are familiar to me and of legal status. In my presence and the witnesses, they sign this dowry contract after my explanation of the laws.

Panagioti Kavvouris makes an agreement with Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos to give Nikolaos his daughter, Marigo, as his legal wife according to the holy rules of the Orthodox Church. The groom takes from the maternal and paternal legacy: 

1.  Two tall fezes (kind of traditional hat)
2.  Gemenia – women’s head cover
3.  
Three basinas – a bowl for cooking
4.  
Three sets of kreponia – women’s clothing, dark in color
5.  
Twelve madilia – women’s head cover
6.  
One pair of vergetes– earrings, expensive
7.  
One silver cross
8.  
Three silver rings
9.  
One pair of crystal dessert plates
10. 
Six dessert spoons
11. 
One serving dish
12.  
Two men’s vests, decorated with fur

Man’s vest with fur

13. Ten women’s skirts
14. 
Two dresses
15. 
Twenty-five shirts
16. 
Twelve sets of underwear
17. 
Two men’s fustanella 

Traditional fustanella; Flickr Creative Commons

18. Two disakia (small packages to hold items)
19.  Two paploma, bed comforters
20.  
Ten soaps
21.  
Two makatia. decorative sofa covers
22.  
Eleven big pillows
23.  
Four small pillows
24.  
Two andromedes (unknown)
25.  
One peskidi (a nice throw cover for the sofa)
26.  T
wo table scarfs/covers for the dining room table
27.  
Two nice scarfs/covers for chair backs and arm rests
28.  
Six fakiolia, small women’s head covers
29.  
Eight mpoiles, a kind of towel
30.  
Twelve spoons, knives and forks
31.  
Twelve plates
32.  
Seven mpouxades, wool cloth which hold liquids when making cheese
33.  
Eight vrakozones, traditional men’s clothing worn below the waist
34.  T
wo casellas, similar to a hope chest which hold clothing and linens
35.  
Two kapaki, cooking pots with covers

Kapaki, cooking pans with covers


36.  One 
tapsi, circular metal roasting pan used in ovens

Woman holding a circular tapsi; on the right is a vethoura

37. One harani – metal bucket that can hold one okres (a unit of measure)
38. Two siderostia – iron tripods to hang pots over an open fire
39. One pan

Kitchen items, mid-1800’s, Greece

40. One stremma [unit of measure] with 14 olive trees located in the borders of Agios Ioannis, Sparta. The land is bordered:  on the east with a national estate [land which belongs to the municipality], on the west with Panagioti Kamarados, on the north with Giannis Giannos, in the south with Georgios Bakopoulos.

41. One individual estate, a small field, two stremmata with all it contains [perhaps a small hut] and 7 small trees located in the location Sourakaki of Agios Ioannis, Sparta; it borders:  on the east with a road, on the west with church fields, on the north with the national estate, and on the south with Pangiotis Pachigiannis.

42. Some trees that were planted in the national field in the location Kefalari of Agios Ioannis, Sparta; and borders on the east with Saltafilda [probably a neighborhood or other location], on the west with the road, on the north with Panagiotis Kavvouris and on the south with a road.8

43. Twenty barrels containing orange trees that the groom took a few days ago to replant them in his own land.

The total of the dowry and property (moved and unmoveable) is 1,463 drachmas.4

The groom, Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos,5 expresses that he accepts Marigo as his legal wife and the dowry given by her father. He understands exactly the dowry that was previously reported and offered to him by Marigo. He also offers Marigo 500 drachmas [bridewealth].6

The two sides additionally, with me the contract maker, evaluate the total value of all things as 1,963 drachmas plus the postcard [the notary’s fee].

To verify this contract and this dowry, the two sides listened to the dowry spoken aloud and clearly, and agreed to it.

Called as witnesses: Georgios Stathopoulos, estate owner and citizen of Magoula and Ilia Kalogerakos, farmer and citizen of Parori of the municipality of Sparta. They are familiar to me, they are Greek citizens without any legal exceptions, and they verify this contact because because neither of the two sides can sign their names.7

Maniate men in Sparta. Many people from the Mani region, like the Kanakakos family, moved north to Sparta after the Revolution.

I initially became acquainted–and fascinated–with contracts during my first trip to the Sparta Archives in 2014, when I went with Gregory Kontos. This 2015 post describes a contract, translated by Gregory, for the purchase of land by Panagiotis Iliopoulos of Machmoutbei. Each succeeding research trip has yielded new information, as documented recently in Research in the Archives of Sparta.

Contracts are challenging: not many are digitized or online, paper copies are difficult for Archivists to obtain, and the handwriting is akin to hieroglyphics. But with good luck and good friends, they can be accessed and interpreted, enlightening our understanding and giving us a fuller (albeit not full) picture of our ancestors’ lives.

Important note: This post would not have been possible without the assistance of Giannis Michalakakos, teacher, historian, and author of Maniatika blog. Giannis completed all translations, found the photos, and provided the historical content to explain the customs of this era. I am grateful for his friendship and expertise.

____________

1  This exact description of the location of the Dimopoulos home and office is given because Sparta in the mid-1800s had few roads and no street addresses.

Many of descriptive words come from the Ottoman period and are unrecognizable in today’s language; they may be a hybrid mix of Greek, Ottoman and Venetian vocabulary and are no longer in use.

When a meal is prepared using a tapsi, it is also served from it; the family would sit around and eat out of it together. A vethoura, the double pot on the right, is where sheeps’ milk is stored.

This is a sizeable dowry, indicating that the bride’s family had financial means.

5Kanakakos is a big family in Mani; members were officers in the Army and heroes in the Revolution of 1821.

6 As a bride brings a dowry, sometimes, a groom will offer a sum of money or property to the bride’s parents to help establish the new home.

7 Normally, there would be five signatures: the groom, the bride’s father, the two witnesses and the notary. In this contract, only the witnesses and notary signed as the groom and bride’s father were unable to write their names.

8 After marriage, land named in the dowry belongs to the bride’s husband. The property was given by her father to establish her new home. In 1800s Sparta, divorce was unheard of; and men were responsible for providing and maintaining financial security of the family.

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Greece 2017. Archives Research: Sparta

Sparta–the nexus of my family. Wouldn’t you think that three weeks would be ample for research? I worked hard, but I ran out of time. And my “next trip” list continues to grow.

My home base was the General Archives of Greece, Sparta office. Pepi Gavala, Archivist, and her staff, Michalis and Electra, are friends. They welcomed me with much hospitality, patiently answered endless questions and fulfilled requests for many records.

Sparta office of the General Archives of Greece, July 2017

While searching Dimotologion (Town Records), I worked at a computer as these records have been digitized (accessibility is strictly at the Archives, not online). While searching books and documents, I piled records onto the conference room table and spread out as needed.

Sparta office, General Archives of Greece

After three visits (2014, 2016, 2017), how much more can I find there? A lot–and I’m not finished.

As my research expands into collateral lines, I desire to learn about the families that merged with mine. Some days, I spent a full 6-hours finding “new” families in the same Town Registers that I had searched in previous years. My work has expanded into School Records, which are critical in finding the names of girls which may not be found in other records.

And this year, I branched into Contracts. These were written and certified by notaries and include dowries, powers of attorney, deeds, debts and other legal matters. Michalis explained that there are 60 files of contracts, but only two have been digitized and uploaded to the Archives of Laconia page of the GAK website. The others must be pulled from paper files.

The staff have painstakingly compiled name indexes of some of the notary files. These  indexes are kept in notebooks, organized by the name of the notary. Here is a sample page from the notebook for the notary, Konstandinos Dimopoulos.

How to Access Dimopoulos Notarial Records Online

Let’s use the page above as an example.  Note: each step below is hyperlinked (blue text) to the corresponding page on the website.

  1. Find the name of interest: surname, first name, middle initial.  I found Zarafonitis, Ilias of Sklavachori, 2nd from the bottom (red arrow on left)
  2. Look at the reference number (green arrow on right). Write down that number, which is 362/2.5.1864. This means:  the contract number is #362; and the date is 2 March 1864.
  3. Click on this link
  4. This is the page that will appear. The red arrow points to the name of Konstandinos Dimopoulos, so you are on the correct webpage.

Web page for the records of notary, Konstandinos Dimopoulos

Click on the Contents tab.

The following page will appear. Within the red box, we see that there are 26 Files. This screen shot shows Files #001-005.

The Dimopoulos web page contains 26 files

Each of the 26 files has between 200-300 contracts within. There is a total of 7,611 contracts in this collection This is a list of the contract numbers within each file:
File #:   Contract #
File 1: 1-350
File 2: 351-550
File 3: 551-850
File 4: 851-1150
File 5: 1151-1450
File 6: 1451-1760
File 7: 1761-2060
File 8: 2061-2360
File 9: 2361-2650
File 10: 2651-2950
File 11: 2951-3280
File 12: 3281- 3580
File 13: 3581- 3900
File 14: 3901-4200
File 15: 4201-4550
File 16: 4551-4850
File 17: 4851-5150
File 18: 5151-5400
File 19: 5401-5700
File 20: 5701-6000
File 21: 6001-6300
File 22: 6301-6600
File 23: 6601-6900
File 24: 6901-7200
File 25: 7201-7400
File 26: 7401-7611

Now, let’s navigate the website to find documents for the example of Ilias Zarafonitis, reference number 362/2.5.1864. The list above shows that contract number 362 is found under File 2.

On the website, first click on File 2, then click the tab, Contents. This is the page that appears. The Item numbers are the contracts found under File 2 (#351 – #550):

File 2 includes contract numbers 351-550

Scroll down to Item #362; click on the words Item #362, then the tab, Contents. The page below appears. Next, click on the Reproductions tab that is highlighted by the red box.

Description of Item 2, Contract #362

It is under this Reproductions tab that the digitized documents appear: Take_001 is page one, and Take_002 is page two of the Ilias Zarafonitis contract #362/2.5.1864. To view the images, click on each one; they can be downloaded.

Pages 1 and 2 of Contract #362 for Ilias Zarafonitis

Contract: Ilias Zarafonitis and Spyros Economidis, page 1

Contract: Ilias Zarafonitis and Spyros Economidis, page 2

 

This is a contract between Ilias Zarafonitis of Sklavachori and Spyros Economidis of Sklavachori. Ilias has purchased 1/3 of a dwelling and 1/3 of its field from Spyros, for the amount of 362 drachmas. The witnesses are Ioannis Athanasopoulos of Sklavachori and Anagnostis Ilias Zografos of Sparta. The contract is dated 2 March 1864.

This document places these four men in their respective villages in 1864, an era with minimal documents. It also raises some questions: why would Ilias purchase only 1/3 of a dwelling and field? What relationship does he have with Spyros, if Spyros owns the remaining 2/3? How much is 362 drachmas worth in today’s money?

I am excited to step into the world of Contracts, but I cannot do so alone. My language skills are minimal, and my ability to read these documents is impossible. When I reach this impasse, I call upon Giannis Michalakakos (who translated this document) and Gregory Kontos. Their friendship is precious and their help is immeasurable.

Future posts will explore some of the Contracts I am accessing.

Previous posts have explained what I have learned about Male Registers, Town Registers, and School Registers in the Sparta Archives:

Archives of Sparta: Mitroon Arrenon (Male Registers)

Archives of Sparta: Dimotologion (Town Register) Records

School Records from Sparta: Finding Your Ancestors as Children