Greek Genealogy Webinar, April 11 & 18

I am honored to have presented a two-part webinar on Greek Genealogy, hosted by professional genealogist and my friend, DearMYRTLE. Please join me as we explore ways to further your family history research in Greece.

Session 1 was held on Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Topic: Finding Your Original Surname & Village of Origin
The link to the archived webinar can be accessed on YouTube here.

Session 2 was held on Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Topic: Church and Civil Records in Greece.
The link to the archived webinar and supplementary links can be accessed here.

There are handouts and supplementary materials for both sessions which are captured on a Google spreadsheet. That link can be found here. I suggest that you download the spreadsheet so you can have access to the many resources contained therein.

I hope these webinars will be of help to you!



In Memorium: John N. Pouletsos

John Nicholas Pouletsos, 1950-2018

My cousin, John Pouletsos, was laid to rest on April 3, 2018 in a manner befitting an Ex-Chief of the Terryville, New York Fire Department. Felled by an apparent heart attack last Thursday morning, his family and colleagues gathered by the hundreds to honor his life and his service to the community of Port Jefferson.

John had served the Fire Department for nearly 50 years in Companies One, Two and Three, and as Fire Chief during 1988-1989. He also served as a Commissioner. After retirement, John continued as a member of Company Five.

John was eulogized by the Terryville fire chief as a man whose gregarious laugh, jovial personality and almost 50 years of service in the Fire Department brightened the day of all who associated with him. As we met and spoke with his colleagues and citizens, we knew that he was dearly loved by them as he was by us.

John’s funeral was held with dignity and sobriety. Every possible courtesy and mark of respect was evident:  the fire truck parked outside the funeral home, the honor guard at the viewing, his casket transported on the back of a fire truck, the fire and police escort through the town, the solemn honor displayed at the Terryville Fire Department. These photos depict the distinction and tribute accorded to John as a person, and to his legacy.

Honor guard at the funeral home

Draped in black and purple bunting, the hook and ladder stands guard at the funeral home

Waiting to honor their fallen ex-chief at the Terryville Fire Department

The casket, carried by a fire truck, arrives at the fire department

Hook and ladder trucks hoist a huge flag. The entire town is alerted to John’s passing.

Police block intersections for the funeral procession as official vehicles lead the motorcade.

Standing watch over the casket of their ex-chief, these firemen ride in the open truck throughout the procession

A special platform is used to lower the casket at the cemetery

One last salute; one final goodbye

For John’s wife, Cheryl, and his daughter, Cara, life is now unalterably and devastatingly changed. This is Cara’s high school graduation year–a time of great anticipation and new beginnings. And a new chapter of life was opening for Cheryl and John as they launched their daughter into adulthood.

A sweet memory from Cara’s communion, 2008.

For John’s brother, Louie and sister in law, Debbie, a hole of sadness and emptiness has now opened in their immediate family circle. Louie and John were extraordinarily close–building homes one block apart from each other and seeing each other daily before Louie’s relocation to Delaware five years ago.

John and Cheryl’s home, built by the Pouletsos family, 1991

The proud couple in front of their completed home

For my cousins and me, the shock of the first loss of our generation is overwhelming. I am speechless and cannot find the words to express my emptiness and sadness. Since the passing of all of our parents, we cousins have gathered yearly to stay close and to remember and honor our family. While we will continue this special tradition, it will be now marked with sadness.

2017 Pappas Cousins’ Reunion held at the home of John and Cheryl

John and I are first cousins — his mother Bertha, and my mother Catherine, were sisters. We grew up together in Hillsdale, New Jersey and have shared a lifetime of happy memories. Although John is now with our family in heaven, we will treasure the time we had with him and know that he will be waiting for us “on the other side” and will greet us with his hearty laugh and with arms of love.

Easter, 1954. John Poulesos, Carol Kostakos, John Kostakos. Hillsdale, New Jersey

John, I love you and will miss you. Till we meet again.

Dear Cousin, With Love

A Greek at RootsTech

RootsTech–the largest genealogy conference in the world–provides researchers with a myriad of classes and resources to enhance their skills, and four full days to connect within the genea-universe. It is exhilarating, energizing and exhausting!  Over 13,000 attendees overran the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Exterior of the Salt Palace Convention Center, with quirky ying-and-yang signs

Salt Lake City is the center of the genea-universe, with the massive Family History Library just one block from the Salt Palace Convention Center. I spent several hours at the International Floor, where I digitized some Greek reference books and microfilms. The Library is in the process of digitizing all of its 2.5 million microfilms and hundreds of thousands of books, and millions of these images are uploaded weekly to the FamilySearch website.

The International Floor of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City

With over 300 genealogy-related classes, there was something for everyone…but, many of the sessions were geared towards beginners. I opted for intermediate-advanced classes to improve my research and writing skills, such as:  DNA Chromosome Mapping (I was lost); Netherlands Research (it’s always good to learn research skills in other countries and see what types of records are available); Tips and Tricks for International Research; Choosing Details: The Secret to Compelling Stories (a fabulous session); Town Hall meetings with FamilySearch executives; Battlefield Stories: Writing About Your World War II Ancestors, and others.

The halls were overrun with eager participants; at times it was almost impossible to walk against the crowd.

Jammed in the Salt Palace — over 13,000 attendees!

Several hundred vendors filled the Expo Hall. Attendees could talk with company reps, get hands-on assistance with software, take mini-classes, and browse the newest offerings of techie-tools. I was delighted to see booths featuring Chinese, Ukrainian, African-American, Jewish, German, Canadian and other ethnic groups. Someday there will be a Greek genealogy booth! ❤

RootsTech 2018 Expo Hall

Who Is My Relative?
People were huddled around apps on their phones, not only to keep up with RootsTech tweets and comments, or to decide on the next class to attend, but also to find relatives at the conference. But…these were relatives that they did not know. The FamilySearch Tree app, “Relatives Around Me,” was utilized by attendees to discover how many new cousins were lurking in the same classroom, ballroom, or hallway. Even the keynote speakers had fun with this app, offering a prize to the first cousin who found him/her on the app. One of my genea-blogger friends had 361 cousins in one session!

I had none. Not one. Any Greeks who attended RootsTech were not related to me 😦

A fellow genea-blogger, originally from New Zealand, also had 0 on his app, so we designated ourselves as conference cousins. No one wants to feel left out!

MyHeritage is Rocking!
Executives at MyHeritage made a major announcements which could be life-changing for adoptees. They launched a new website,, with the goal of helping adoptees reunite with their biological families. As a pro-bono initiative, MyHeritage is giving away 15,000 DNA kits to those who qualify, through April 30, 2018. Further information is on the DNAQuest website.

New record collections have been added, and a new feature for users of the FamilySearch FamilyTree allows synchronization with MyHeritage to find hints for new records.

And…there is the annual party, held on Friday evening when everyone needs cerebral “RnR.” A band, food, games and prizes make this event fun-fun-fun!

MyHeritage RootsTech Party, 2018

Did I learn anything pertinent to Greek genealogy research? No.

Did I meet any new Greek friends? Yes–one, whose grandfather is from Crete. We are now in touch and hopefully I can get her connected with people who can help her.

Do Greeks belong at RootsTech? Yes! Absolutely! Acquiring sound research skills, understanding DNA and its place in genealogy, learning about new software and websites are all critical components of starting off on solid ground. A large portion of our research begins in the U.S. or our home country, searching records to document our family units in their “new country,” organizing our findings, and determining our original ancestral surname and village of origin. This search begins in U.S. records and must be complete and accurate before we can access records in Greece.

Will I attend RootsTech next year? Of course–please join me!


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.

Amykles Book, Excerpt: St. Nikon

This is the final post of excerpts from the book, Amykles, by Sarantos P. Antonakos.

“With the Ottoman conquest, the Greeks could only preserve their identity by remaining steadfastly faithful to the Orthodox Church.”  Steven Runciman[1]

Runciman’s observation answered a question I had long pondered:  how did my ancestors ever survive four hundred years of Ottoman rule–a period of harsh military invasion and grim Muslim occupation? To these enslaved people, their Orthodox faith was far more than a religion.For twenty generations, Hellenes endured the unendurable by clinging tightly to their Christian beliefs and trusting in God for deliverance.

For this, they can thank St. Nikon.

St. Nikon,the Metanoeite. Wikipedia.

Nikon, the Metanoeite (preacher of repentance) re-introduced Christianity to parts of Greece. Born about 930 A.D. in Paphlagonia (an area in Asia Minor, currently northeast Turkey) he became a Byzantine monk and was sent abroad by his abbott to preach the gospel and teach the Bible. He began in Crete in 961, re-christianizing the citizens whose religion had lapsed under Muslim rule.

He then preached in Athens and Thebes, eventually arriving in the Peloponnese. His ministry extended from Naplion and Corinth to Laconia. His impact in Sparta was so profound that Antonakos describes his work and influence in a chapter titled, St. Nikon and Amykles, translated[2] excerpts below.

“After St. Nikon came to the area of Lacaedaimon, he beheld the Byzantine state ‘and these barbarian Christians.’ He built two churches: one in Sklavochori and one in Parori. The choice of these villages were not random. He built churches to fight the pagan influences. In Sklavochori was the ancient Temple of Apollo–a pagan center. Parori was occupied by Slavs who believed in other gods.

Throne of Apollo in Amykles; photo from The Amykles Research Project

“Sparta became his second motherland and the base from which he taught the Holy Book throughout the whole Peloponnese. In Sparta and Lacedaimon (as it was well known back then), St. Nikon met great difficulties–first, from the reactions of the Jews and many corrupted people of Sparta; and on the other hand, he had difficulties spreading the Holy Book because of the Slavic influence in the western borders of Mani. St. Nikon was help by the bishop of Sparta, Theopemptos, and the great general of the Peloponnese, Vasileios Apokaukos.

“After St. Nikon established the two churches in Lacedaimon, he entered Mani, Kalamata, Methoni and others and he taught the faith of Christ. Returning to Sparta, he became sick and made a home in a cave in a location named Moros. After eight days when the Saint was good again, many people who had been there to receive his blessings became witnesses to a miracle that he did. The people were thirsty and there was no water in the area. St. Nikon, after praying, hit the land with his stick that had a cross on it and from the place he hit, much water started flowing like a spring, clean and clear and pure in taste.

St. Nikon, image from the Orthodox Church in America

“After the miracle, the Saint did not return to Sparta. He went to Amykles and people and elders came together to see him and they were inspired by him. In Amykles, St. Nikon found relief after physical exercise and spiritual testing. In this place, besides the spiritual power, we must add the love of the people of the village and their faith, something that St. Nikon was meeting very rarely in hostile areas around Sparta.The great respect of the people of Amykles towards St. Nikon can be proven from the fact that they were the first who came immediately by his invitation to help him build the temple of Sotiros at the Acropolis of Sparta. They gave him materials (limestone)–so much that some people said that it was taken from the ancient temple of Apollo in Amykles.

“A story is found in the monastery of Agios Tessarakonda in Sparta, written in the Will of this Saint:  ‘Even as I many times was building one step, the next day I found two. The next I was building two and finding four. When I had many materials, a man came from Sklavochori and promised to help me, but he was lazy and the temple was not being built. One night, St. Sotiris came to that man in a dream and told him “I am going to take your soul.” The man asked why, and St. Sotiris said, “I am Sotiris, the one that Nikon is building the Temple for Lacedaimon. You promised him materials [that you did not bring] but your house is full of blessings. For this reason, you are lazy. Bring the materials and you will have profit.” The man brought materials to St. Nikon and they worked together.

“When the Spartans heard that St. Nikon was in Amykles, they ran to him, begging him to return to Sparta and with his blessing, to save the city from starvation that had killed many people. Nikon willingly returned. He banned the Jews from Sparta and they settled in Anavryti and Tripi.[3] Later, these Jews were christianized and adapted socially with the local people.

“After the movement of the Jews from Sparta, St. Nikon with the help of Bishop Theopemptos began to build a church devoted to Sotiros, the Theotokou and St. Kyriaki. A man named Aratos, who was doing business with the Jews, was against this. Aratos got a high fever and he died. After this miracle, many people adopted Christianity. In 981, St. Nikon went to Corinth where he healed the heavily injured Apokaukos [a general of high rank and political power, mentioned above]. Upon returning to Sparta, he performed more miracles.

“St. Nikon died in 998 and according to oral tradition, he was buried in Amykles. ‘His name is known in Lacedaimon in glory for mortal people and he is a spring of miracles.’  To the people in the land of Sparta, the Saint will forever be the ‘father and guardian‘ of them.”

During the Turkish occupation, St. Nikon’s ministry in Greece was generally forgotten except in Sparta. After the Revolution of 1821, Father Daniel Georgopoulos composed a service honoring the Saint. In 1893, the Diocese of Monemvasia and Lacedaimonia recognized him as their patron saint when a church in Sparta was dedicated to him. His life is commemorated yearly on November 26.

Antonakos’ history of Amykles has captured the times, spirit and resiliency of these extraordinary people. The more I read, the more I want to learn! I have been counseled by a wise teacher that we must first know the history before we can understanding our ancestors. And, I might add, ourselves.


In 1982, Sarantos P. Antonakos published Amykles, a history book about his native village. Amykles is one of my ancestral villages, too–the birthplace of my 3rd great grandfather, Panagiotis Zarafonitis. I am beyond excited to have found this book in the Central Library of Sparta, and I copied some of the pages relevant to my family. With sincere thanks to Giannis Michalakakos for his translations and history lessons, I am learning much about this beautiful village and the lives of my ancestors. 

To read part one about the village of Sklavochori, click here.
To read part two about Machmoutbei, click here.
To read part three about the Battle of Machmoutbei, click here.

[1] Runciman, Steven. The Lost Capital of Byzantium: The History of Mistra and the Peloponnese. 2009: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 102-103.
[2] My deepest appreciation to Giannis Michalakakos for his translations.
[3] Andonakos’ perspective on this issue:  there was a Jewish presence in Mystras because the city was a commercial center. When St. Nikon began proselyting, this caused both religious and political tensions between the Jews and the Orthodox church. When sickness and starvation permeated Sparta, St. Nikon attributed that to the Jews, using this opportunity to ban them from Sparta and send them to Anavryti and Tripi.