Beyond the Basics: City Directories

Do you know if your ancestor owned a business or was considered a “professional” in his village? Now there is a way to find out. The new City Directories series on Greek Ancestry is the very first digitized and name-searchable collection available for over 5,000 towns and cities in Greece.

The City Directory of 1934-1935 is a historical portrayal of Greece’s cities and communities immediately preceeding World War II. It is organized as follows: the first section lists businesses in the cities of Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki and Patras.  The second section lists select people in Athens and Piraeus. The third section lists, in alphabetical order, each prefecture with its capital and general information, then its primary towns and communities.  Unlike other Greek records, directories provide a snapshot of an entire town–not just an individual or a family. They also include business ads, which are so very interesting!

Ad for the Grand Bretagne Hotel in Athens, 1934

These City Directories are not the same as telephone books. They do not list every household found in the village; but they do list every business and professional enterprise and include the name of its owner.

The page below gives information for the Prefecture of Lakonia. Its number of residents is 144,336 and its capital is Sparta. The first paragraph is a brief historical background which reads: The present-day prefecture of Laconia occupies the ancient country of Laconia, inhabited by the Doric people of the Lacedaemonians, who were distinguished for their heroism and fighting ability and which they succeeded for many years in Greece. The most important center of this people was the city of Sparta. Following is a geographic description of the prefecture and the names of its four districts (Gytheio, Epidavrou Limiras, Lakedaimonos, Oitylo).

Below Lakonia is the entry for Sparta. It also provides a brief history and synopsis of the city, and lists its officials, municipal offices (post office, tax office, etc.), churches and monasteries, schools, charitable institutions and cultural associations. A list of the professionals and businesses is then presented.

This is page 2, Επαγγελματίαι (Professionals) for Sparta. It documents the professionals and business owners in these industries: midwifery, silk manufacturing, machinery, hotels for sleep, timber warehouse, carpentry, wine tavern, oxygen welding, gun shop, green grocer, ice shop, inn, grocery store, farrier, hat repair, bicycle repair, sewing machines, tailor, blacksmith, typography, bank, shoemaking, hydraulic (water) works, shoe sales, fabrics, pharmacy, drug warehouse, photography, stationery, dance school, sundries. Doesn’t this provide a fascinating insight into city life in 1934?

Business information for the various Communities of Lakonia follows. Highlighted in red is my community of Agios Ioannis.

The entry reads:

  • Capital of the community: Agios Ioannis, number of residents 914
  • Villages in the community: Agia Kyriaki (Tsaousi), Varika (Chaloulou), Kozi, Tseramio and Sinampei
  • Municipal offices:  post office, elementary school, farmers’ association, syllogos (cultural association)
  • Professionals and Businesses:
    • Colonial Products (items imported from European colonies such as coffee, tea, cocoa); proprietors: Kalama, K., Tsirigioti, Ilias.
    • Bakery: Papaioannou, K.
    • Lawyer: Kyriazis, Kon.
    • Doctors: Geroulakos, Dimit., Mitrakos, Dim.
    • Cafes:  Gianopoulou, Ad., Sampatakou, Dim.
    • Hotel: Christakakou, V.
    • Grocery: Vougioukli, El., Papaioannou, Kal.
    • Pharmacy: Theodorou, Dim.

Some villages may not have resident professionals or businesses, but they are still listed in the directory with statistical data and other important information.  For example, this is the only information provided for the community of Sklavochori in 1934-35:

  • Capital of the community: Sklavochori, number of residents 607
  • Villages in the community: Amykles (Machmoutbei), Vafeion (Mpampali), Godena, Kalami, Katarou, Riza.
  • Municipal offices: post office, elementary school.

Although the information is scant, it reveals important historical data: 

  • As part of the Government reform to abolish names of Turkish, Slav or Albanian origin, thousands of Greek villages underwent name changes. In this 1934-35 directory, the community name is “Sklavochori.” Today, Sklavochori no longer exists. In 1940, that name was eliminated and the area was integrated into Amykles. Consequently, Amykles was then elevated from a village to a community (see this page and this issue of the ΦΕΚ / Government Gazette.)
  • Of significant importance, this City Directory reveals the “old” names of the villages which had been part of Sklavochori in 1934-35: Machmoutbei and Mpampali. Although those names no longer exist, they do exist in records created at the time the village bore that name. This explains why researchers are stumped when they cannot find, on today’s map, a village that had been listed in an early Voter List or a Male Register.

Tracking a Greek family’s change of residence be challenging. Greece does not have accessible census records which place people in a specific location for a specific time at specific intervals. Just as we relocate, so did our ancestors–especially upon marriage and for business opportunities.

By exploring City Directories, a researcher can see which villages have families with a surname of interest. I look at this map of Sparta and then search for ancestral names in surrounding villages.  However, I am super careful not to make assumptions. Patronymic naming conventions absolutely guarantee that all Apstolakos (son of Apostolos) families are not related. And, directories list only businesses and not households.

Despite these precautions, I have found many interesting patterns of family movement and new residences. I also learned which ancestor(s) were business owners or were employed in professional occupations.  

To learn more about the Greek Ancestry City Directory collection, click here: https://greekancestry.net/greek-ancestry-city-directories-collection/

To search the City Directories, click here: https://greekancestry.net/all-greece-discounted

Type a village name, then sort the list by “Prefecture” to group results in the region of interest, such as Messinia or Thessaloniki.

The City Directory Collection spans the years 1901-1947 with 200,000 names in 5,000 cities and towns. Some of these may be your villages! What relevant and historical information will you learn about your family?

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