Videos: Using U.S. Records to Find Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Original Surname and Village of Origin

As descendants of immigrant ancestors, it is simply a matter of time before our U.S. research ends and we must continue our quest in our ancestral homeland. For people of Greek descent, it is impossible to research successfully in “the old country” if you do not know your original ancestral surname and village of origin. This information is absolutely necessary as records are kept by locality and of course, names are written with the original Greek spelling. There are a plethora of U.S. documents which will give the researcher this information.

Of my most frequently requested lectures is How to Use U.S. Records to Find Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Original Surname and Village of Origin.  This lecture is a general overview of many record collections, and there are several additional lectures which discuss specific record groups.  At the request of my colleague, Gregory Kontos, I am dividing this topic into three “mini-segments” which I will share in this post, and on YouTube at GreekAncestry  and Spartan Roots.

This first presentation will explore using Immigration, Naturalization, and Alien Registration files. Please note that each of these topics is a one-hour lecture, but I have condensed these into a 24-minute overview in the following video. Additional videos will be added soon and will also appear in this post below this one.

 

Greek Genealogy Live Webinars begin this Saturday, April 25

The first in a series of live, free Greek genealogy webinars, hosted by Gregory Kontos, founder of GreekAncestry.net, will be held this Saturday, April 25, at at noon (PST), 1pm (MST), 2pm (CST) 3pm (EST). The live will be done through Greek Ancestry Facebook page, so don’t forget to follow it here.  The topic of discussion will be Greek voter lists.

The presentation will last 15minutes with a question and answer period. More webinars and educational videos will follow.

Gregory has prepared a brief video explaining what is needed to begin your Greek research:

 

 

Beyond the Basics: 1831 Shepherds’ Tax Registration

In Spartan villages of the 1800’s, the predominant occupations were shepherds, landowners and farmers. A quick look at the Voter Lists of 1872corroborate that the majority of men spent their days planting and harvesting fields, and tending sheep and goats. This is certainly true for my great-grandparents.

One of my favorite genealogy treasures is a contract between my 2nd great grandfather, Ioannis Eftaxias of Mystras, and Panagiotis Sampatis. Dated December 23, 1863, it documents this transaction:

Panagiotis Sampatis declared that from this day he gives Ioannis Eftaxias 30 valued and already given to him sheep worth of 240 drachmas. They all have the following age: a sheep, two sheep 10 months old, four sheep 8 months old, four sheep 6 months old, three sheep 4 months old, four sheep, seven female sheep,  and a big ram: in total thirty (30). Ioannis Eftaxias will have them and will be taking care of them and will be protecting and using them as of his own from today until three years later, when the agreement will be annulled.  Ioannis Eftaxias has to give Panagiotis Sampatis fifty (50) okas from the cheese producted, ten (10) okas of wool and two (2) sheep from his pasture until year 1864. In the other two following years, 1865 and 1866, [Ioannis Eftaxias has to give Panagiotis] sixty (60) okas of cheese, ten (10) okas of wool and three (3) sheep per year. Also, if Ioannis Eftaxias fails to give Panagiotis the above mentioned in time, he will have to reimburse Panagiotis for the current pasture at the marketplace of Sparta. At the end of the agreement, in December 1866, he (Ioannis) has to return the mentioned sheep in the same quality and at the same age he was given them unless a great godsend catastrophe happens. And if Ioannis Eftaxias fails to return all the sheep he was given, he’ll have to pay eight (8) drachmas for each one of them, in total 240 drachmas; also, at the same time, he’ll pay Panagiotis for the deficit created by the sheep’s delayed return. Ioannis Eftaxias stated that he accepts the agreement above, after getting the mentioned sheep today, and promises to give Panagiotis Sampatis his share[ in time and to fully satisfy his obligations without any excuses.2

Contract, page one:  Panagiotis Sampatis and Ioannis Eftaxias of Mystras, 12/23/1863. Source: General State Archives of Greece, Sparta Office, accessed and translated by Gregory Kontos, July 2014.

(The full contract and translation can be accessed here.)

Knowing that my ancestors were shepherds, I was especially interested in exploring the Shepherd’s Registration dated 1831. I learned of this collection through researcher Konstandinos Koutsodontis, Greek Genealogist, who described the purpose of this census:
Shepherds’ registrations were conducted by the Kapodistrian government for tax purposes and for the boundary delimitation of animal grazing lands. After liberation from Ottoman rule, one of the major concerns of the new government was the reconstruction of finance (Greece had taken huge loans to conduct the War of Independence and had to repay Britain, France and Russia). Taxes were a great source especially when the majority (~80%) of the Greek citizens were farmers and shepherds. Similar shepherd tax censuses were conducted some years later (1834-1840) by the king Othon.
Konstandinos conducted a search for me in 1831 Shepherd’s Registration. Although not all of my villages had these records, they did exist for three, and my ancestral family owned:
  • Theologos:  Georgakis, Nikolis and Giannis Zaharakis each owned one horse
  • Sklavohori:  Lambros Zarafonitis owned three cows
  • Machmoutbei:  Dimitrios Zarafonitis owned five cows

Zaharakis in 1831 Shepherd’s Registration: Georgakis, Nikolis, Giannis. Source: General State Archives of Greece, Archive of the Financial Committee; accessed and translated by Konstandinos Koutsodontis, March 2020

Konstandinos explained that having a horse or a large number of goats or sheep was an indication of relative financial status. This helps me further understand and respect the standing of my family within their communities.

Because I had assembled the Zaharakis family tree (see post here), I knew exactly who these three men were in 1831. Understanding that most 1800’s villages were small in size, it is not difficult to construct family trees if you have the basic resources:  Voter Lists, Male Registers (Mitroon Arrenon), Town Registers (Dimotologion), Church birth, marriage, death records, school records.

Finding additional “beyond the basics” records entails hiring a professional who can locate and translate the documents. (Even if I knew where to find these documents, there’s no way I could have ever read the Zaharakis names above!) To me, it is well worth the small expense. These additional records add more details to my people and make these long-ago ancestors more “real” to me.
__________

1My sincere gratitude to Georgia Stryker Keilman for translating many 1872 voter lists and posting them on her blog, Hellenic Genealogy Geek.  Lists for Sparta and other villages of Lakedaimona can be found by scrolling to File #25 here.

2My deepest appreciation to Gregory Kontos of GreekAncestry.net for finding this document at the Sparta GAK in 2014, and translating it for me.

Celebrating Ten Years of Greek Genealogy

This post was written by my colleague, Gregory Kontos, founder of GreekAncestry.net. I am both proud and honored to be part of this 10-year movement in Greek genealogy. It is the capstone of my life to honor my ancestors, participate in Greek record preservation, and to help others.

Gregory Kontos and me, preparing to digitize Lakonia village church books at the Metropolis of Sparta, 2019

Below is a list of some of the events highlighted. Please read the full article here.

Ten years Hellenic Genealogy Geek:
An assessment of last ten-year developments

In a few days, on April 16th, Hellenic Genealogy Geek celebrates its anniversary. When it was created ten years ago, in 2010, no one would have imagined the developments that were to follow in the field of Greek genealogy. Feeling blessed to have participated in some of them, I decided to list those which I consider the most emblematic and add my own testimony. It is a story of people sharing their passion and joining forces to advance Greek genealogy.

  • April 2010 – Foundation of the Hellenic Genealogy Geek
  • 2011 – The Family Trees of Southern Parnon
  • November 2014 – “Ancient Roots”, the Greek episode of “Finding your Roots”
  • April 2015 – The First National Hellenic American Genealogy Conference
  • September 2015 –A Hellenic Genealogy Conference in Salt Lake City
  • December 2016 – MyHeritage gets interested in Greece
  • 2020 is the year of triple success: Greek genealogy session at RootsTech; launch of GreekAncestry; forthcoming release of MyHeritage Greek records collection

In the final paragraph, Gregory invites us all to join in this exciting and groundbreaking movement:  Co-operations are deemed necessary, and, for this reason, as Greek Ancestry’s founder, I would like to make an open call to whoever is interested in the advancement of the field.

You can read the full article here.

Beyond the Basics: Aristeia Awards, 1821 Revolution

March 25 is a day of celebration and pride for Hellenes throughout the world, as we celebrate the commencement of the War of Independence from 400 hundred years of Ottoman rule. Men throughout Greece banded as brothers to battle for the freedom of their homeland. Those who fought with exemplary actions and bravery were awarded an aristeia (αριστείο). The word άριστος (aristos) means excellence; and the award is one of great prestige and distinction.* Men who received an aristeia displayed exceptional bravery in battle and were considered heroes.

There are three levels of Aristeia awards: silver, iron, and bronze. These are on display at the War Museum in Athens, which I visited in 2017 with my friend and guide, Giannis Mihalakakos. (Take a virtual tour of the museum here.)

War of Independence Awards, display of Aristeia awards

Many fighters of the Revolution received aristeia awards from the Government of Greece. Among them are members of my extended family. In a previous post, I wrote about Ioannis Zaharakis, born circa 1798 in Theologos, who received an Aristeia for his service. I have since learned of others, and on this commemorative day, I recognize these men of my family with honor and pride:

  • Mihail Aridakos / Aridas of Agios Ioannis
  • Efstratios and Dimitrios Iliopoulos of Agios Ioannis
  • Christos Kostakos of Anavryti
  • Georgios Christakos of Agios Ioannis
  • Christos Lerikos of Agios Ioannis
  • Dimitrios, Vasileios and Nikolaos Maltziniotis of Agios Ioannis
  • Kalogeros Papagiannakos of Agios Ioannis
  • Ioannis Zaharakis of Sellasia/Theologos
  • Dimitrios, Ioannis and Georgios Zarafonitis of Sklavohori

This image shows recipients Kalogeros Papagiannakos (line 42) and Georgios Christakos (line 51) of Agios Ioannis who received the Iron Medal.

Aristeia Awards, Line 42: Kalogeros Pappagiannakis; Line 51: Georgios Christakos, both of Agios Ioannis, Sparta. Research by Konstandinos Koutsodontis, 2020

The General State Archives of Greece is the repository for Aristeia Records. It has thousands of lists, each filled with thousands of names. There are files online at the GAK , but working through them to locate villages and names is beyond my ability. Researching in this collection is best left to Greek genealogy professionals. Those who have examined these archives for me are: Gregory Kontos of GreekAncestry.net, Konstandinos Koutsodontis of Greek Genealogist, and Giannis Mihalakakos of Maniatika. I am grateful to each of them, my colleagues and friends. 🙂

Next year on March 25, 2021, and throughout the year, the 200th anniversary of the Revolution will be celebrated. Konstandinos, Gregory and Giannis will be writing about the men who freed Greece from captivity. Use their resources to find the heroes in your family, and contact them for research help. Gregory Kontos’ “Tracing Freedom: 1821” collection has just launched with searchable lists of captives from Lakonia.

Your ancestors fought and secured the freedom of Greece, thus securing a sovereign nation for the birth of your family. They deserve to be recognized and honored.

*A Hellenic historian shared the following: Aristeia is an ancient Greek word meaning “prize for excellence, prowess, the best and the bravest.”