About Spartan Roots

I am of Greek ancestry with roots in villages near Sparta. My paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather were born in Agios Ioannis (St. Johns), and my maternal grandmother was born in Mystras. I love family history research and have been tracing my roots for many years. I was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in a predominantly Greek neighborhood close to extended family. I live in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and work as a volunteer Co-Director of the Washington, D.C. Family History Center and a genealogy aide/project aide at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. I am always updating and adding new information. Please contact me - I would love to hear from you!

Greek Genealogy Conferences – A Place for Learning

Nick Kampoulis with the Greek Reporter newspaper, interviewed me last week regarding the assistance that can be received at Greek genealogy conferences. The article begins:

More and more people from Greek Communities around the world are becoming increasingly interested in finding ways to explore their past, so that they will eventually be able to find their roots and their ancestors who left Greece to start a completely new life in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK or elsewhere.

What was the main reason they left Greece? Was it war? Poverty? The hope of a better life? What were the living conditions in their villages back in late 1800’s and early 1900’s?

These are some of the questions the Hellenic Genealogy Conferences try to give answers to.

The full article can be read here.

Please join us in Philadelphia on October 13! A link to the conference registration is here.


Conference Time!

Hellenic Genealogy Conferences are fabulous events. Participants have the opportunity to learn how to begin or progress in their research skills, and to network with each other.

It is no secret that Greek genealogy is not easy–there are issues regarding language translation, lack of digital records, and missing/incomplete record collections in Greece.

However, it CAN be done! Our Hellenic Genealogy Geek Facebook page has 19,300 members as of today! That’s a huge group! There are thousands of people who are diligently seeking their Hellenic roots, and we work together to help each other.

In October, there are two all-day conferences which will focus on teaching Greek genealogy research skills:  one in Baltimore, and one in Philadelphia. Details are below. Please join us, and share this post with others who would like to learn more.

Saturday, October 6:  Baltimore
Sponsor: Hellenic Heritage Museum of Maryland
Where: Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, 24 West Preston Street, Baltimore MD 21201
Time:  9:30-5:00
Cost:  $40 which includes lunch
Contact:  Harry Maistros at harry.maistros@comcast.net

Getting Started: Research Strategies, Greek Genealogy Toolkit, Research Help

Using U.S. Records to Prepare for Research in Greece: learn which records can
help you find your original surname and village of origin

Passenger Ship, Naturalization and Alien Registration Records

Civil and Church Records in Greece:  what is available? what information do they
contain? how to access?

Putting It All Together:  Organizing and sharing your research

Carol Kostakos Petranek
Antigoni Ladd

Saturday, October 13:  Philadelphia
Sponsor:  St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Where:  St. George Cathedral, 256 South 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Time:  9:00 – 5:00
Cost:  $20
Contact:  Barbara Lyngarkos, Event Coordinator


Website with information and registration:



Introduction to Greek Genealogy

How to Use U.S. Records to Prepare for Research in Greece {Census – Marriage – Passenger Ship-Naturalization (very brief; full discussion in separate section) – Social Security Applications – World War I and II Draft Registration Cards – Death Certificates – Obituaries – Cemetery Records / Tombstones – Personal Letters, Documents – Photographs)

Locating and Using Passenger Ship, Naturalization & Alien Registration Records

Ancestry DNA – Testing

Ancestry DNA – Analysis

Research in Greece – Civil Records (Male Registers – Town Registers – Election Lists – Contracts and Dowries)

Research in Greece – Church Records (Records in local churches – Records in Mitropolis offices)

Planning a Research Trip and Wrap-Up

Carol Kostakos Petranek
Georgia Stryker Keilman
Nicole Zizos Gulledge 


Full Circle

Spending two months in Sparta and Agios Ioannis this summer has turned my heart more deeply to this land. I love the vitality of the city and the peaceful nature of the village. This is where it all began for me, as it is the birthplace of my four grandparents. It continues to be the residence of my cousins, and my “home away from home.”

Dimos Mystra – Municipal District – Agiou Ioannou

I enjoyed many happy evenings in Agios Ioannis, visiting with family and absorbing the spirit that permeates the stone homes and verdant orchards. Agios Ioannis is nestled in the plains of Sparta, under the towering Taygetos mountains. What appears to be a ribbon across the mountain is actually the road to the village of Anavryti, situated at the very top on the right.

Road into Agios Ioannis, from Sparta

My Kostakos, Aridas and Papagiannakos grandparents hail from Agios Ioannis. These families have had a profound influenced in the village. Some remained and served; others emigrated yet “gave back,” never forgetting their origins.

The Aridas family owned and operated the regional bus line. My granduncle, Aristedes Georgios Aridas, was the proprietor who provided a vital service for the town’s residents. Aristedes lived in Agios Ioannis his entire life, and his descendants continue to live in the beautiful home which he had built.

Aristedes Georgios Aridas, 1905-1992

My second cousin, Grigorios Georgios Kostakos, also remained in Agios Ioannis and did not emigrate. He was very active in village affairs and held positions on the town council. He constructed the municipal building which now has many uses, including a preschool which his Kostakos cousins attend today.

Grigorios Georgios Kostakos, 1927-2001

This is the Agios Ioannis municipal building which Grigorios had constructed, and which has served the community for many years.

Agios Ioannis Municipal Building

This room in the municipal building is now used as a preschool, and where the children of Georgios’ extended family now attend.

Preschool room in the Agios Ioannis municipal building

Dimitrios Nikolaos Papagiannakos, (known as Jimmy Pappas) emigrated in 1914 at the age of 18 with several men (and relatives) from his village: Georgios Grigorios Kostakos, Constantinos Kolokotas, Christos Papagiannakos and Panagiotis Cavouris. Jimmy became a successful restaurateur in Brooklyn, NY. He returned regularly to Agios Ioannis, and had an earnest desire to provide children with a quality education. In 1957, he constructed the Papagiannakos School which continues to serve the needs of children in Agios Ioannis and neighboring villages.

The Papagiannakos School, built in 1957

My cousins–Jimmy’s family–attended here, as now do their children. I think Jimmy would be truly pleased to know that his contribution to the community continues, and that his dream is fulfilled.

Every village has a “war memorial,” inscribed with the names of those who died in battle, or in the Greek Civil War. It is sobering to stand in front of these, but even more so when you see your own family names. My first cousin once removed, Panos Kostakos, was killed execution-style by the Nazis in Mystras.

Panagiotis Grigorios Kostakos, 1913-1944

His is the third name from the top.

World War II War Monument

So we come “full circle,” from my grandparents to my generation, and to the ones continuing forward. Visiting an ancestral village brings me this perspective of beginnings and continuation. It is a comprehension that cannot be experienced virtually–you must go to understand.

In my last post, “Telos,” I wrote that my work of marriage record preservation in the Sparta Mitropolis this summer was part of my desire to offer service, and to “give back” in gratitude for my heritage and ancestral land. This post recognizes a few members of my family for the services they so willingly gave. They have influenced me profoundly. I recognize and honor their examples, and am proud to follow in their footsteps.



After two full months of working from 8:30-5 every day, our records preservation project in Sparta is finished! Dimitris and I have captured over 102,000 images of marriage records in the Mitropolis of Sparta, dating from 1835 to 1935–100 years of the oldest documents with precious and vital family information. It is a feat accomplished with much determination, pure love, and a sincere desire to be of service.


Determination is in my DNA, inherited from hardy and strong ancestors who lived as farmers, shepherds and workers in a land that challenged their daily existence. It came from my four grandparents who left that land to persevere in a country where they could not speak the language and where their limited skills did not stop their success in owning businesses, purchasing land, and raising honorable families.

Pure love is the feeling I have for my family, past and current. Without those from the past, I would not exist. Without me, my family line would not continue. It is a circle; beautiful and eternal. This love also extends to my countries of ancestry and birth. My four trips to Sparta in the past five years have engendered a deep affection and connectedness to that region which, quite honestly, has surprised me. Now, my patriotism and endearment straddles both sides of the Atlantic.

Service is part of who I am. It’s what I do. My daily life is comprised of volunteer work in my community. Now, that community has extended to the region of Sparta. I feel a deep and sincere responsibility to “give back” in some way. I am following the example of many people–including my own family–who return to their native villages and try to make life better. I have seen plaques on church buildings with the names of American donors. I know of a group who raised money to improve the mountain road to their village. I learned of a couple who built a lovely home for the priest of their village.

Others may donate funds for buildings and church bells; I donate my time to preserve historical documents. It is my privilege to do so.

Treasures in the Benaki Museum

After four trips to Greece in the past five years, I finally made it to the Benaki Museum!  There are actually several buildings scattered throughout Athens, including museums of modern art, Islamic art, and toys. I visited the “main” building, which houses artifacts representative of Greek culture. It totally exceeded my expectations.

Entry of the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

I spent five happy hours gazing, reading and learning about the collections spanning from the Neolithic period (6500) to the 1821 War of Independence. Although some people may tire of looking at pottery, jewelry and items unearthed during archaeological digs in Greece, I don’t. Each shard, figurine, jewel or stone is unique and fascinating. Fashioned by hands of the past, they depict a world unknown to me. They expand my imagination and add to my collective earth-life experience; for when I exit the building, I know a little more than when I arrived.

I hope that these photos and descriptive captions will help you envision the world of your Hellenic ancestors, whether they lived 3,000 or 300 years ago. If you click on the photos, they will expand in another window.

Artifacts from the Neolithic period, 6500.

Vases, 709 BC

Faience necklace beads and pottery, 1400 BC. (faience is glazed ceramic ware, in particular decorated tin-glazed earthenware)

Items from 9th century BC; in the front are gold hair rings, used to tame ringlets of hair

Figures on horses, 600 BC

Terracotta female, most likely a priestess, holding a lyre. 6th century BC

Tiny alabaster painted vases, 650 BC

Marble grave stele (monument or marker), mid-4th century BC

Terracotta female deities, 450 BC

Silver luxurious vessels, 6th-7th century

Grave markers found at Thebes which marked the location of graves, 3rd century BC

Inscribed grave stele of a farewell scene, 14 AD

Mosaic of Christ and Mary from Hagia Sofia Church, Constantinople, dated 867

Icons created on the island of Crete, 14th century

Costumes from various Greek islands

Costumes from various Greek islands

Pottery dishes, various dates

Carved wood loom from Crete, early 19th century

Reception hall from mansion on Hydra, 1800

Greek Orthodox Church censors and iconostasis, 1830

1821 War of Independence weapons and artifacts

The liberation of Greece, 32 lithographs, post-1821

Costume of an urban Greek woman and Mavromichalis, a leader of the people of Mani in the early 19th century

The core collection of the Benaki Museum comes from the holdings of  Antonios Benakis (1873-1954) a member of one of the leading families in Greece. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt  and eventually settled in Athens in 1926. His lifetime of acquisitions has educated and enlightened thousand of people. I am grateful for the time I had to explore this fascinating museum.