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.

 

Advertisements

Πανηγύρι (Panegyri) – It’s Time for Village Festivals

Music, dancing, food and friends–the perfect combination for a festive summer evening. This is panegyri  time and posters announcing village festivals are found everywhere.

Agios Ioannis, July 14, 2018

Each village has a church, and each church is named after a saint. Thus, each village holds its panegyri at the time of the church saint’s nameday or, if the nameday falls during a colder month, the festival is held in spring or summer. I attended panegyris in Amykles, Theologos and Agios Ioannis–three ancestral villages.

The photos and videos below depict the pure enjoyment of these festivities.

AGIOS IOANNIS (Sparta)

This is my “home village” — birthplace of three of my grandparents: Andreas  Kostakos, Hariklia Aridas, and Ilias Papagiannakos. I attended its panegyri with my cousins, Eleni and Panorea Kostakos. Eleni was anxious to arrive early as she was concerned that we would not get a table. When we walked into the platea (town square) at 8:00, I thought her worries were not valid as the area was empty. That is, until I saw that people had “reserved” their places by scrawling their names across the paper tablecloths!

The Georgiades family has marked its spot!

Eleni (left) and Panorea Kostakos are holding our table; I wrote our surname on the cloth

Food vendors worked throughout the evening. The tantalizing smell of souvlaki, roasted corn, smoked ham and Greek desserts enticed long lines of hungry partygoers.

Souvlaki, the staple of Spartan diets

Roasted and smoked ham

Panorea in the dessert line

Live music, singers and dancing brought villagers together to celebrate their heritage and their village.

Traditional Greek music enhances the festivities

And of course, there is dancing!

The platea quickly filled to capacity as families and friends table-hopped. The decibel level of voice and music increased significantly as the night progressed.

The platea is filled

THEOLOGOS

This is the village of my great-grandmother, Stathoula Zaharakis, daughter of Dimitrios Zaharakis of Theologos and Giannoula Zarafonitis of Amykles. Situated 6 km straight up a mountain, it is quaint and beautiful.

Theologos nestled in the mountains

Me, under the sprawling tree of the Theologos platea.

Last year, my cousin, Georgia Zaharakis, organized a Women’s Syllogos of Theologos to preserve and maintain the culture and heritage of the village and I joined their sisterhood. On July 8, the syllogos held a panegyri.  I offered to help and was given the job of working with the tech crew. Being part of this was great fun, even though I scrambled to keep up with instructions given in rapid-fire Greek.

The technical crew, going over last minute details: l-r: Vassilis, Dimitra, Georgia.

The theme was centered on the grain harvest and making of bread. Video, literary readings and bread-making demonstrations brought the “feast of wheat” to life.

Village women demonstrate bread making

Over 300 people attended; the platea filled throughout the night

Women in traditional costumes, led by Vassilis Andronis, performed dances from all over the country.

And of course, the entire village also joined in!

The news media picked up this story; video and photos can be found here.

AMYKLES

The ancient and historic village of Amykles was the home of my great-grandmother, Giannoula Zarafonitis. I visited Amykles early in my trip and wrote a post here. The syllogos of Amykles held a festival on June 3 to raise money to help the poor.

Invitation to Amykles festival, June 3, 2018

Under the shadow of the church, people congregated. A choir sang, and costumed men and women danced.

Amykles Panegyri

Amykles choir

Men and women engage in traditional dance

These panegyris are an important part of the social fabric of Greece. Villagers are extremely proud of their Laconian heritage and the traditions of their village. As I joined these festivals, I remembered that I was participating in the same rituals as my grandparents and great-grandparents. Doing so is one of the joys of “going home.”

 

 

 

How Do They Call You? Πως σε λένε;

My dive into the bewildering world of ever-evolving Greek surnames started in October 2008, when I received this Town Register from the Sparta Archives office:

Agios Ioannis, Dimotologion (Town Register) Family #6, Aridas, page 1 of 2

The first entry, family #6, is the household of Michail Chistos Aridas of Agios Ioannis, relatives of my paternal grandmother, Harikleia Aridas Kostakos:

Aridas, Michail; father: Christos, mother: Gkolfo, born 1867
Aridas, Eleni; father: Dimitrios Liakakos, born 1866
Aridas, Christos, born 1900
Aridas, Eleni; father: Vasileos Karteroulis, born 1877
Aridas, Vasileios, born 1905
Aridas, Panagiotis, born 1910
Michalakakos, Konstandinos, born 1912
Aridas, Anastasia, born 1918

I was surprised to see that  Michail had two wives: Eleni Liakakos and Eleni Karteroulis, with their respective children listed under the name of their birth mother. But I was stunned to see the name Konstandinos Michalakakos. Who is he, and why is he in this family? My first thought was that he is a cousin, an uncle, or even a friend living in Michail’s household.

Wrong! He is Michail’s son.

My first lead came from an Aridas relative whose mother visited Agios Ioannis in the 1950s. She was told that Michalakakos was the original name and Aridas had begun as a nickname or paratsoukli (παρατσόυκλι) for an ancestor who had long legs. The Collins Greek-English dictionary verified the translation, with definition (b) leg.

Last summer in Agios Ioannis, one of my Aridas cousins verified that the names were used interchangeably. However, he was certain that Aridas was the original name and Michalakakos (son of Michail) was a spin-off; and that Konstandinos chose to use Michalakakos because that name was “more professional and respectful” in his work as a theologian in Athens.

And there is yet another derivative of the name– “Aridakos” (son of Arida) as shown in this 1875 Male Register: line 3318: Konstandinos Aridakos, son of Christos, and line 3320: Anastasios Aridakos, son of Efthymios.

Mitroon Arrenon, 1875, Sparta, Greece.

Question: which name is correct?
Answer: all of them!

And how can that be? Giannis Michalakakos (no relation) remarked: “In Greece, we ask: πως σε λένε; how do they call you?”  Those words — πως σε λένε — struck me powerfully, as my mind processed that people are generally asked, “how do they call you?” NOT “what is your name?”

So, a person can reply any way he chooses: call me the son of Michael (Michalakakos), or call me the son of Aridas (Aridakos) or simply, call me Aridas.

Following the paper trail of Michail Christos proves that this practice was customary. He is named Aridas in the Town Register above, in his Male Register, and on his passenger ship record. But in his marriage record of 1903 he designates himself as Michail Michalakakos.

Sparta Mitropolis Marriage Index Book; Sparta: Oct 1899-Sept 1907; page 174; #478: 9 November 1903; Michail Michalakakos and Eleni Vaseleios Karteroulis; second marriage for him; first marriage for her; both from Agios Ioannis, Sparta.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, some of Michail’s children followed his pattern of using whichever name they wanted, whenever they chose.

Aikaterini: (not in the above Town Register): her 1913 passenger ship record uses Aridas; her marriage record uses Mihalakakou and lists her father as Mike Mihalakakon.

Gkolfo:  her 1921 passenger ship record uses Aridas; her marriage record uses Mihalakakos and lists her father as Mihael Mihalakakos.

Konstandinos:  Male Register uses Michalakakos with a notation regarding a surname change; Agios Ioannis school records use Aridas; Town Register uses Aridas.

Anastasia: Town Register uses Aridas; school records use Michalakakos.

Efrosyni:  consistently used the Aridas surname, but this news article reveals that as late as 1950, Michail was known as both Aridas and Michalakakos. (Efrosyni married Nikolaos Revelos):

Efrosyni Aridas Revelos visit to her Michalakakos family in Agios Ioannis

Digging deeper into all members of the Aridas family produced many documents, both Greek and U.S., which verify the interchangeable use of the three names.

This example is a marriage record for Efthymios Michail Michalakakos who is the son of Michail Efthymios Aridas, another branch of the Aridas family in Agios Ioannis:

Mitropolis of Sparta, Marriage Index Book: Sparta, 1866-1872; Year: 1871; Entry #302
License Date: October 30, 1871; Groom: Efthymios Michalakakos; no father listed; residence: Agios Ioannis; Bride: Stamatiki Karnazakou; father: Ilias; residence: Agios Ioannis

Πως σε λένε? You get to choose!

Which name is the original family name? The jury is still out. It is understood that surnames (as are defined today) did not become standardized in Greece until after the 1900’s. Anything before then is fluid, and determined by the practices of each family and its individual members.

Πως σε λένε? I am slowly learning to think like a native Greek. Understanding the culture, the history and the language is vital. And, it lessens frustration and expands acceptation.

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.

School Records from Sparta: Finding Your Ancestors as Children

I love old photos–a moment frozen in time, an instant transport into the past. One collection that is especially endearing to me is the work of Swiss photographer, Fred Boissonnas, who traveled throughout Greece in the early 1900’s and photographed everyday life (see more photos here).

Edessa [Greece], 1908. by Frédéric Boissonnas, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16659783


Seeing his photos of children and families fills me with curiosity about the early years of my grandparents, born in the late 1800’s. Last summer, I found School Records for their village of Agios Ioannis (St. Johns, Sparta) at the General Archives of Greece, Sparta office.

Mathitologion, Agios Ioannis, Volume E.K.P. 2.1.1

With gratitude to the kind and helpful staff who encouraged me to take digital images, I now have photos of some pages where members of my ancestral family are recorded. These documents are replete with insights into the families of the village in the early 1900’s.

Mathitologion, Agios Ioannis, School Year 1908-1909; page 11; Volume E.K.P. 21.1.

In this image, page 11 lists students for the school year 1908-1909. Because my great-grandmother, Afroditi Lerikos, was born in Agios Ioannis, I was looking for members of the Lerikos family. I found one on line 103: student: Lerikos, Anastasios, father: Dimitrios; age 7; born: Alaimbey; residence: Alaimbey; religion: Orthodox; father’s occupation: worker; student in class B. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Along with information about Anastasios such as his age and place of birth, this entry verifies that his father’s name was Dimitrios whose occupation was a “worker.” It also proves that the Lerikos family lived in Alaimbey which is a neighborhood or small hamlet of Agios Ioannis. This is an important fact when I am looking for records–I should be searching first and specifically for Alaimbey, and then for Agios Ioannis.

If a child attended school for more than one year, comparing his information in each successive school record helps me verify a specific birth year. In some books, the age of the child is given in years such as this example; in others, the birth year of the child is given. Either way, an exact birth year can be ascertained.

It’s All About Location!

Records in Greece are location-specific. My colleagues and I repeat, almost as a mantra, the following to new researchers: You have to know the original surname, and you have to know the village of origin.

In school records, I have found instances where children were born in one village, but resided and went to school in another. Knowing the exact birth location is critical. If I am looking for a baptismal record, I must look for a church in the village of birth. Looking for a church in the child’s village of residence will not yield the record. For records later in the child’s life, I would search his/her village of residence.

In the 1920’s, a new column with the heading “District Registered” was added. This signifies the district where boys only are registered in the Mitroon Arrenon (Male Register). This piece of data becomes critical in locating records, because I now know in which jurisdiction to look for information about the smaller villages. For example, Alaimbey is grouped with Agios Ioannis. However, records for the neighboring village, Sikaraki, are split:  some are found in Sparta books and some in Agios Ioannis books. (Confusing, I know! But important.)

The following record for Ilias Nikolaos Panagakos shows that he was born in Parori, resided in Kalami in 1932, but is registered in Mystra. This leads me to search in three villages! (Click on image to enlarge.)

About the Parents…

School records record the name of the student’s father (mothers are not named) and gives his occupation. These two facts are essential in being able to differentiate between “men of the same name.” Naming traditions dictate that there can be several boys, about the same age, with the same name, in the same village.

It is both helpful and revealing to compare a father’s occupational information given in school records to that found in a Dimotologion (Town Register). Following a student through several years of school records, one can see if the occupation of the father changes. It is not uncommon to see that some men have two or even three different occupations. In the agrarian society of early 1900’s Sparta, most men were workers, farmers, landowners, or shepherds. But school records have revealed innkeepers, chauffeurs, wine producers, merchants, grocers, basket makers, masons and muleteers (I had to look that one up; it is a person who drives mules). Now that I know the names and occupations of the village families, I can visualize these people buying, selling, and bargaining with each other. This brings the village to life!

There are two occupations that especially caught my attention:  “orphan” and “immigrant.”

When a father’s occupation was listed as orphan, it meant that the father of the student was deceased, but not necessarily the mother (remember, women are not named or categorized in these records; also, the column description specifically states “father’s occupation”). I have seen instances where, for example, in the school year 1908-1909 a child’s father’s occupation was landowner, but in the school year 1909-1910, the occupation was orphan. This gives me a year of death for the father, an important fact that can be difficult to find!

When a father’s occupation was listed as immigrant, this reveals that he is living overseas, most likely in the U.S. or Canada in the early 1900’s.  The records indicate which school year the father was working in the village, and which year(s) he was listed as an immigrant. This gives me a specific timeframe to look for passenger ship records, which document where he was going and whom he was “going to” on the other side of the Atlantic. Knowing this migratory pattern is critical to understanding if, or when, the family eventually left Greece.

When my paternal grandfather, John Kostakos (Ιωάννης Κωστάκος) emigrated to Brooklyn, New York, he settled near his relatives and compatriots. I was excited to find their names in the village school records. These people grew up together, went to school together, and reestablished old ties in a new land. Very often, men arranged for their sisters to marry their schoolmates from the χωριό. Their relationships, forged as children, supported them throughout life.

About the Girls

Searching for female ancestors in Greece is extremely difficult as there are few civil records where they are named. However, girls who attended school are in the school registers, and their information is just as detailed as that of the boys. Distinguishing a girl’s name is easy because of the diminutive which is used both in given names and surnames. For example, Vasileios for a male; Vasiliki for a female;  Lerikos for a male; Lerikou for a female.

Metsovo on Tap, 1913; photographer: Fred Boissonnas; http://www.lifo.gr/team/lola/34138

In the earlier school records, girls are listed together at the end of the roster so they are easy to find. As time went on their names were integrated within the roster, so looking at the diminutive is essential to correctly identify daughters and sons.

About the Family

Both boys and girls started school at age six or seven. It is interesting to see who attended for only one or two years; and who attended for several. How was it decided as to which child/children in a family went to school and which ones did not?  Girls are students, so it was not a matter of sex or preconceived assumptions that girls stayed home to work while boys received an education. It is essential to examine records of every available school year so as not to miss a child who attended sporadically or limitedly.

Scrolling through the school registers of a specific village, the number of families living in that village quickly becomes evident. As I extracted family names, I could easily put together families by looking at father’s name, child’s birth year and village. Below is an example from my spreadsheet–these children share the same surname but it is omitted for privacy.

School Record Spreadsheet

Through my searches in Male Registers, Town Registers and Election Lists, I thought that I had a fairly complete picture of my early 1900 ancestors from Agios Ioannis. However, I came across four children of the same father who was not in my database. Through school registers, I was able to discover and piece together a family that somehow had been omitted in other records.

Despite occupations, wars and tumultuous periods, children continued to go to school. School records prove that some forms of everyday live prevailed, even under a cloud of fear or foreboding. Village histories, as well as civil records, document that education–even in remote areas–was available and important. The information in school records brings a new and exciting dimension to understanding the lives of my ancestors.