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 These men were engaging in an honored tradition that was instituted in ancient times and not officially rescinded in Greece until 1983.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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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.

Andreas Kostakos: Hiding in Plain Sight

How many years does one search to find a record–any record–that proves the existence of a great-grandfather? At what point does a  “reasonable” researcher give up?

As a researcher (the reasonable part is questionable) and an eternal optimist, my answer is: never! Never, never, never give up. Newly found and newly digitized records are becoming available continuously; social media is bringing together people who collaborate and help each other; DNA is expanding the “cousin” pool.

All of these stars aligned in the sky to bring forth documentation for my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos.

Andreas, I have now learned, was born in 1809 in Agios Ioannis (St. Johns), Sparta, Laconia, Greece. Andreas had two wives, Anastasia–by which he had perhaps six sons, only one of whose descendants we know; and Poletimi Christakos–by which he had five additional children including my grandfather, Ioannis (John). This is the only family photo of my grandfather, Ioannis with my grandmother, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and their children. My father, Andrew, was the oldest.

l-r standing: Frieda, Andrew, Pauline, Georgia. Seated: Hariklia, Alice, John

Family of Ioannis Andreas Kostakos, about 1930, Brooklyn, New York. l-r standing: Frieda, Andrew (my father), Pauline, Georgia. Seated: Hariklia, Alice, Ioannis.

For years, I have looked for records for Andreas in Agios Ioannis and surrounding villages of Sparta. I sent letters to the Archives in Sparta (excellent support but no Andreas Kostakos found) and the Mayor’s office (no response). Three years ago, my friend and research companion, Gregory Kontos, introduced me to the Election Registers online at the Digital Collection of the Greek Archives. These Registers were created in every village to record the names of men who were at least 21 years old and eligible to vote. The Registers from 1872 are typewritten and easy to read. The older ones, which can date back to 1844, are handwritten and almost indecipherable to a non-native reader.

That collection was my first initiation into trying to read old Greek handwriting. This is not for the faint-hearted, but it is possible. Over the years, I have learned to read some modern Greek writing but the older script is downright intimidating. I never went back to look at the Ladas collection. Until yesterday.

My friend and historian/researcher, Giannis Michalakakos, was working on a genealogy case for a client whose roots were from a village near Sparta. While reviewing the Lada Election Lists for 1844, he saw an entry that he knew was my family. Imagine my shock – joy – disbelief when he called and said that he found the name “Kostakos, And” in Agios Ioannis! My hands were actually trembling when I clicked on this link that took me to the page for file 22, image 99, line 1205: http://arxeiomnimon.gak.gr/browse/resource.html?tab=tab02&id=13499&start=80

General Archives of Greece, Election Material from the Collection of Lada (1844), File 22 - village of Agios Ioannis File 22, Image 99; Line 1205, Year of Record: 1844, Last name: Kostakos; First name: And.; Male; Age 35; How long lived in the village/resident: αυτόχθων aftochon (indigenous) is from Agios Ioannis; Has money or property? Yes; Occupation: landowner.

General Archives of Greece, Election Material from the Collection of Lada (1844), File 22 – village of Agios Ioannis.  File 22, Image 99; Line 1205, Year of Record: 1844, Last name: Kostakos; First name: And.; Male; Age 35; How long lived in the village/resident: αυτόχθων aftochon (indigenous) is from Agios Ioannis; Has money or property? Yes; Occupation: landowner.

On line 1205 is the entry for “And. Kostakos,” age 35:

File 22, Image 99, Line 1205

File 22, Image 99, Line 1205

Giannis and I agreed that “And” was the abbreviation for “Andrew.” His age is listed as 35 in 1844, which puts his birth year at 1809–within two years of a “guess-timate” I had calculated years ago. The 6th column records the length of time the individual was a resident of the village. Andreas is listed as being αυτόχθοω (aftochon) which means “indigenous.” Giannis explained that Andreas, as indigenous, was in Agios Ioannis from the beginning of the existence of the state, i.e., since Greece became an independent nation after the Revolution of 1821.

During my trip to Sparta in 2014, Gregory and I had visited the Greek Orthodox Church Mitropolis of Sparta to research in marriage records. Amazingly, we found, in the Index Book of Marriages, the entry for Andreas and Poletimi who were married on August 20, 1860. This was the first “official” document that proved Andreas actually existed. Unfortunately, it did not give the ages of the couple; thus, the newly-found Election Register has provided definitive information on Andreas’ birth year and birth place.

Mitropolis of Sparta, Index of Marriages, Number 125, Date: August 20, 1860; Andreas Kostakos of Agios Ioannis and Poletimi, daughter of Nikolaos Christakos of Xirokambi, Faridos.

Mitropolis of Sparta, Index of Marriages, Number 125, Date: August 20, 1860; Andreas Kostakos of Agios Ioannis and Poletimi, daughter of Nikolaos Christakos of Xirokambi, Faridos.

But this new record raises a new research challenge:  years ago, my elderly aunt, a descendant of Andreas and Anastasia, told me that Andreas came to the Sparta region from “Pyrgos over the mountains” after the 1821 Revolution to find work (see prior post). That comment had shifted my research focus from Laconia to Messinia, the location of Pyrgos Lefktro–a village which is literally over the Taygetos mountains. My hunt so far has not yielded a Kostakos family; yet, even if I find one I cannot know if the Kostakos is related to me.  Kostakos is a patronymic name (Kost-akos literally means son of Kostas); many surnames evolved from patronymics; and there are untold numbers of men named Kostas/Konstandinos in the southern Peloponnese. I hope that DNA will be the next link to connect me with “lost” branches of my family.

Research results? Many years, many efforts.

Without the help of Giannis and Gregory, my research would remain stalled.

Without the digitization of the Election Lists, my research would remain stalled.

Without social media and DNA connections, my research would remain stalled.

Whenever I become frustrated in this quest, I take a step back and look at the totality of the situation: there was no “Greece” during 400 years of Turkish occupation; in the late 1800’s, a new government was being created; life was predominantly rural; people were largely illiterate; recordkeeping was, at best, rudimentary. In retrospect, it is quite amazing that any records have survived. It is encouraging that some have been digitized and are now online.

I continue to have faith that, if there is a written document to prove the existence of of one of my ancestors, at some point in time–with the help of a friend, with the discovery of a new record collection, through a DNA connection–it will find its way to me.

 

Return to Greece, 2016. Part Nine: Home Again

This is the ninth and last post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

Coming back to Sparta was like coming back home. Driving north from Mani on the Sparta-Gytheion Road, I passed Xirokambi and Amykles, two villages that have been newly placed on my ancestral map. The Taygetos mountains on the west, dotted with clusters of red-roofed homes, guided me through lush plains and to the now-familiar landmarks on the outskirts of Sparta.

On the Sparta-Gytheion Road, July 2016

On the Sparta-Gytheion Road, July 2016

My friend, Joanne Dimis-Dimitrakakis, invited me to spend the night in her newly-renovated home. Named Arxontiko Taygeti, it is a bed and breakfast situated in Barsinikos, almost at the top of a mountain overlooking Sparta and the castle of Mystras. The view is unparalleled and the home is lovely.

View from Arxontiko Taygeti, overlooking Sparta. July 2016

View from Arxontiko Taygeti, overlooking Sparta. July 2016

Arxontiko Taygeti and proud owner Joanne Dimis-Dimitrakakis, July 2016

Arxontiko Taygeti and proud owner Joanne Dimis-Dimitrakakis, July 2016

As I prepared to leave Mystras and Agios Ioannis, I drove one last time through these areas to say a silent goodbye. Their serenity and beauty are like a balm to my soul. The sociality and outdoor lifestyle is so inviting. People are not sequestered in their houses; instead, I see them sitting outside, walking, having coffee at a cafe, strolling in the plataea. This almost-communal nature of village life is sometimes good, sometimes not so good — but one is never isolated or alone.

From Agios Ioannis:

Andrew Soper and neighbors in Agios Ioannis, July 2016

Andrew Soper and neighbors in Agios Ioannis, July 2016

Agios Ioannis, July 2016

Agios Ioannis, July 2016

Agios Ioannis, July 2016

Agios Ioannis, July 2016

From Mystras:

Statue of Konstantine Palailologos, last Byzantine emporer; Mystras, July 2016

Statue of Konstantine Palailologos, last Byzantine emper0r; Mystras, July 2016

Relaxing at the plataea, Mystras, July 2016

Relaxing at the plataea, Mystras, July 2016

mystras-1-collage

Buildings around the plataea, Mystras, July 2016

Arriving in Athens the day prior to my flight, I also stopped by Giannis’ apartment to say goodbye to his family. At one point during our meal, I put my head down on the table and said that I was very, very sad to leave. I departed with a heavy heart and drove to the airport. Mentally and physically spent, I frittered away the evening and went to sleep early. I knew I was exhausted when I spent the flight home watching three movies and sleeping for a while. Plane time is usually catch-up time for writing, journaling, or reading. But not at the end of this trip.

When I landed at Dulles Airport in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, it felt so odd to be home. I was struck with the marked distinction between the way life is lived in America and in the Peloponnese. One is not better than the other — they are just different, and each speaks to a distinct part of who I am. I left one half of me in Greece. I can’t wait to go back.

Greek Orthodox Church, as seen from the water approaching Piraeus, July 2016

Greek Orthodox Church, as seen from the water approaching Piraeus, July 2016

 

 

 

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Return to Greece, 2016. Part Seven: Digging Deeper

This is the seventh post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

The most important lesson I learned when traveling in Greece is:  never arrive anywhere between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. That rule makes scheduling easy — repositories in the morning; solo time in the afternoon; family time in the evening; dinner at 9 or 10:00 p.m. I had to tweak this a bit to squeeze in all I needed to do.

General Archives of Greece, Sparta office, July 2016

General Archives of Greece, Sparta office, July 2016

Archives in the mornings — there’s no better way to start the day! The Sparta Office is a treasure chest filled with nuggets of genealogical gems:  documents, books, records. When I arrive, I learn that my archivist friends are on overload: Mrs. Pepi Gavala and her assistants, Michail Sovolos and Maria Stellakou. They explained that many government offices are now closing or consolidating, and sending their records to the Archives. Boxes lined the hallway, waiting for these good people to catalog and store them. Mindful of their workload, I settled in the main room and begin to dig for gold.

Research room, Sparta Office of the General Archives of Greece, July 2016

Research room, Sparta Office of the General Archives of Greece, July 2016

During my visit in 2014, I had obtained digital copies of the basic records for my family:  Male Registers (Mitroon Arrenon) and Family Registers (Dimotologion). I dug into these collections again for my newly-found surnames, and then for a few friends who had requested lookups. I asked Michalis for School Records from Agios Ioannis, and he brought me several books. I was very surprised to see that some of them had only girls’ names! As a Greek researcher quickly learns, there are few official records naming women. These truly are a treasure, as I can now begin to construct entire families, not just males. The school records for Agios Ioannis range from around 1900-1940; the exact tmeframe I need for my grandparents’ era. I stayed until 3:00 closing time, digitizing pages that listed my surnames. What a great find!

School Record Books, Agios Ioannis, Sparta Archives office, July 2016

School Record Books, Sparta Archives office, July 2016

Example of a School Record for Agios Ioannis, GAK Sparta Office, July 2016

Example of a School Record for Agios Ioannis, GAK Sparta Office, July 2016

Gregory Kontos arrived in the early afternoon to join me for three days of research. It was hot, hot, hot! And every repository was closed, closed, closed. So we filled the empty 1:00-4:00 p.m. timeframe by going to a place that never closes — the cemetery. Up and down the rows we walked, Gregory reading surnames off the headstones while I snapped photos of the ones that were a “yes.” The sun was scorching this July mid-day and there was no breeze, but we persevered until every name on every grave was read. Then it was time to enter the osteofilakio (οστεοφυλάκιο), the ossuary building.

One of two cemeteries in Agios Ioannis, Sparta, July 2016

One of two cemeteries in Agios Ioannis, Sparta, July 2016

There is limited cemetery space in Greece; therefore, families “rent” a burial plot for three years after which the bones are exhumed and placed in an ossuary. Walking into the osteofilakio is an almost sacred experience. Boxes on shelves line the walls; each inscribed with a family name and holding the bones of the deceased. Icons, photos, flowers, candles and small bottles of oil are carefully arranged around the boxes. A spirit of peace permeates the building. This is holy ground.

Ossuary house, Agios Ioannis Cemetery, July 2016

Ossuary house, Agios Ioannis Cemetery, July 2016

It was not until we left the cemetery and began driving towards town that we realized there are two cemeteries in Agios Ioannis. We returned the following afternoon and searched the second one. Next time I make a research plan, I have to make sure that I thoroughly vet all locations of potential resources.

Gregory and I had a full schedule for 1-1/2 days in Sparta: the Archives, two cemeteries, the Mitropolis, the Central Library, Amykles, and the Dimarheion (Town Hall). And of course, dinners with my family who have embraced him as one of us.

Prior to leaving for this trip, I had spotted a Facebook post about a newly published book about families from the village of Amykles. Since this is the birthplace of my Eliopoulos and Zarafonetis great-grandparents, I was very excited to meet Kaliopi Zarafonetis, the driving force behind this project. amykles-book-2 Gregory and I connected with Kaliopi in Amykles where she described the book’s genesis. There had been a village event which featured a display of old photographs. Everyone was surprised at the extent of the collection, but Kaliopi had the foresight to realize that these treasures would be lost if they were not preserved. Thus began her initiative to create the book. I was thrilled to see page after page of Eliopoulos and Zarafonetis families, most of which are most likely connected to mine. One of my great surprises was to learn that my cousin in Agios Ioannis had married a woman whose grandmother was a Zarafonetis from Amykles – a double connection!

Carol Kostakos Petranek and Kaliopi Zarafonetis, Amykles, July 2016

Carol Kostakos Petranek and Kaliopi Zarafonetis, Amykles, July 2016

On to the repositories. I was on the hunt for death records for specific members of my family. My cousin, an attorney for the government in Sparta, had contacted a colleague in the Town Hall and we obtained the certificate for a member of the Linardakis family of Vordonia. I was surprised to learn that death records for Agios Ioannis are in the Town Hall of Magoula, not Sparta! Unfortunately, I did not make it there but it is the first item on Plan A for the next trip.

The Sparta Dimarheion has books of Male Registers and Town or Family Registers, as seen on the shelves in the photo below. However, clerks are busy handling daily government functions and research requests are often put aside. I did pick up a form to use for future mail-in requests.

Sparta Dimarheion (Town Hall), July 2016

Sparta Dimarheion (Town Hall), July 2016

Record Request Form, Sparta Dimarheion, July 2016

Record Request Form, Sparta Dimarheion, July 2016

Our task at the Mitropolis in Sparta was to obtain specific pages of the Marriage Books for a friend. Although Gregory and I had been there in 2014, I was unsure if we would be granted access to the books again. My concerns were  unfounded. We were warmly greeted by a priest who brought us whatever we requested. When Gregory mentioned that the books were fragile and should be preserved, the priest replied that there had been discussions with the European Union about digitizing the records, but the talks had not come to fruition.

We were warmly greeted by a kind priest at the Mitropolis; Gregory Kontos and Carol Kostakos Petranek, Sparta, July 2016

A kind priest helped us at the Mitropolis; Gregory Kontos and Carol Kostakos Petranek, Sparta, July 2016

Then it was on to the Central Library of Sparta, located around the corner from the Mitropolis. This time our search was for history books of villages in Laconia, usually written by teachers during summer months. Giannis Michalakakos gave me the name of his colleague, Konstandinos Tzanetakos, who is a librarian there. We found Konstandinos in the section for Laconian history and he showed us the shelves that held many village histories.

The Laconia History section of the Central Library of Sparta; with Konstandinos Tzanetakos and Gregory Kontos; July 2016

The Laconia History section of the Central Library of Sparta; with Konstandinos Tzanetakos and Gregory Kontos; July 2016

There were books for lots of Laconian villages, but none for Agios Ioannis. Giannis explained this was because Agios Ioannis had begun as a settlement beneath the towering Mystras castle, and that any noteworthy event had occurred in Mystras and not in its valley. I had harbored a secret hope that I would find something, but my friend was right. Anyone looking for a history book can call or email the library to see if there is a book for their village and if so, obtain the name, author and publisher. Most likely, our friends at the Laconia bookstores, Laconia Odos in Skala and Adouloti in Aeropolis, can then locate the book for purchase.

Our tasks in Sparta were completed, so Gregory and I headed to the west coast of Laconia to visit the Archives in Kalamata. Why there? I was hoping to find a clue — any clue — as to whether my Kostakos or Eftaxias family may have been in the Kalamata region before they headed northeast to Spartan villages. I had been told that my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos, could have come from Pyrgos (see previous post).

This was my first visit to Kalamata, a charming city by the sea.

The city of Kalamata, Messinia, July 2016

The city of Kalamata, Messinia, July 2016

Waterfront, Kalamata, July 2016

Waterfront, Kalamata, July 2016

However, traffic in the city is a nightmare! The streets are one-way, very narrow, and very crowded. And horror of horrors — this is where I had my first car accident in Greece. It was a fender-bender at an intersection, and because we were moving so slowly, damage was minimal and no one was injured. But, I quickly realized the complexities of such a situation in a country where my language skills are not optimal. Calling the police and the car-rental agency, and talking with the other drivers could have been truly awful. Luckily, a passenger in the other car spoke perfect English and handled everything with grace and good humor. I was so grateful! Somehow I found my way back to the hotel and parked my car. I refused to let this mishap unnerve me, and I also refused to move the car until the day I left!

Accident! This is the car that hit mine in Kalamata, July 2016

Accident! This is the car that hit mine in Kalamata, July 2016

Gregory and I were very happy to meet in person our friend, Giota Siora. Giota is a Facebook friend on HellenicGenealogyGeek. Despite working full-time, she spends many hours online helping people with their research. For her devotion, she is greatly appreciated and respected.  Giota met us at the Kalamata Archives and introduced us to the Archivist, Anastasia Milioni, who also happens to be the wife of the mayor. This Archive has an extensive record collection for the Messinia Prefecture, including records of churches, land, houses, elementary schools, newspapers, military. The collection was greatly enhanced when Mrs. Milioni responded to a request from the GAK Central Office to ask local services to send their records to the Archives. Unfortunately, we were unable to do any research as the Archives is in the process of moving to a new location. Books were packed in boxes, and the office was essentially empty.

The Kalamata Archives is headed for a new home, July 2016

The Kalamata Archives is headed for a new home, July 2016

kalamata-archives-giota-siora-anastasia-milioni-archivist-carol

Giota Siora, Anastasia Milioni, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Kalamata Archives, July 216

When I inquired about possible records for the Eftaxias and Kostakos names, Mrs. Milioni did a computer search and found a few documents which look very promising. Two especially stood out:  a contract naming a Kostakos family in Anavriti, which could confirm oral tradition that the family had lived there prior to Agios Ioannis; and a contract for an Eftaxias family in Kalamata. After the office move, I will contact Mrs. Milioni and ask her to access these for me. I continue to be impressed with the kindness and professionalism of the Archivists in both Laconia and Messinia. They truly desire to be of help and will set aside whatever they are doing to be of assistance to researchers.

Giota suggested that we walk to the Dimarheion, or Town Hall, on the chance that we kalamata-dimarheion-signmight access records there. Visiting this municipal office, I was again reminded that clerks are extremely busy handling daily matters. Someone walking in and asking for records that are 150 years old are, at best, a distraction and at worst, an annoyance. This is especially true when there are six people standing in line, vying for a clerk’s attention. I was also reminded that the municipality has records only for its specific area of jurisdiction (unlike the Archives which has records for the entire prefecture).  Since I was looking for Pyrgos, a village not in the Kalamata jurisdiction, the clerk was not able to be of assistance. The lesson of that day was:  location is everything!

Dimarheion, Kalamata, July 2016

Town people waiting patiently for help on a Friday afternoon at the Dimarheion. The line stretched outside the door. Kalamata, July 2016

Every hour of my research trips are filled to the max. Sometimes “the force” is with me and I have amazing success; sometimes not, and the disappointment becomes a “learning experience.”  Nothing is lost; everything is gained. I love the ride!