General Tips for “Crossing the Pond”

My friend, Cheri Hudson Passey, invited me to submit an article with a few genealogy tips for her blog, Carolina Girl Genealogy. I was honored to be asked, and decided to share some suggestions for people who are embarking on research in a foreign country. I wrote the article to apply to a general audience.

It begins as follows:

Today’s tips come from Carol Kostakos Petranek of the Spartan Roots Blog. Although her research takes her to Greece, her tips will help those trying to locate ancestors in their native countries. 

My research is focused on a not-so-common area of the world: Sparta, Greece. However, as I made my way “across the pond,” I found that many of the steps I undertook are applicable to anyone researching in a foreign country. To be successful, you MUST know the original surname and village/place of birth. This means a thorough research process in the U.S. to find any and all documents that could possibly exist for your immigrant ancestor and his immediate family. Without these two pieces of information, your overseas research will not be successful.

  1. Connect with other researchers via social media.
  2. Conduct Google searches using the google country domain address for the foreign country, and typing the query using that country’s language.
  3. Explore U.S. record sets that may be especially helpful (and often overlooked).
  4. Use the White Pages on the Internet to find living people in the village where your ancestors originated.
  5. Learn the general history of your country of interest to understand where records may be.

The full article, with links and details, can be found here:  Carolina Girl Genealogy:  Tuesday’s Tip, Getting By With Help from Our Friends.

Navigating the GAK Archive to Locate Election Lists

The Greek War of Independence (1821-1829) resulted in liberation after 400 years of Turkish rule. During the War and immediately after, a series of elections were held to form assemblies and draft constitutions. The Kingdom of Greece was officially established by Bavarian King Otto in 1832; however, an autocracy, not a democracy, ruled the new nation. It was not until 1844 that a the Greek Constitution was passed, a constitutional monarchy was formed, and elections were held for the first regular parliament.

This table shows that parliamentary legislative elections were thereafter held on a regular basis: (the full table can be accessed at Wikipedia here).

Wikipedia: Parliamentary Elections in Greece















Fortunately for historians and genealogists, the General Archives of Greece has published online digitized copies of some Election Lists. The lists are organized by location and contain the names and ages of men over the age of 25, who were eligible to vote. Some lists include the name of the voter’s father as well as the voter’s occupation. As some of the earliest available documents from the formation of the country, these are valuable genealogical resources.

Georgia Stryker Keilman, founder of the website, Hellenic Genealogy Geek and its companion Facebook page, has been translating the Vlachogiannis collection into English. Her monumental work is ongoing, and the translations can be accessed on her website by clicking on the following links for the Index to Greece Historic Election List Archives:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Three collections of Electoral Registers are available on the GAK website as follows (click on each name to access the collection):
1.  Vlachogiannis Collection – covers 1864-1925; mostly 1871-2, and 1875. This is the only collection that is typewritten.
2.  Collection of the Parliament – covers 1844-1893 & 1915; mostly 1870,1880,1890 (handwritten – difficult to read)
3.  Ladas Collection – covers 1843-1873; most records are 1843-1862 .(handwritten – difficult to read)

This is an example from the Vlachogiannis collection, File 25:

1872 Election List, Sparta Vlachogiannis collection (Image 25_393)


This is an example from the Parliament collection, File 26:

1844 Election List, Parliament Collection,, Oinountos (Image 26_421)


This is an example from the Ladas collection, File 22:

1843-44 Election List, Sparta, Ladas Collection, (Image 53)

Accessing information on the GAK website is not intuitive, and can be rather challenging. I have written step-by-step instructions in a pdf file, which can be downloaded here.

Remember also, that help is available from the HellenicGenealogyGeek Facebook page. Our 12,456 members are supportive and helpful, and are happy to answer questions.

We can hope that in the future, more digitized records will be forthcoming. For now, we must work with what we have!

Economics and Occupations of the Citizens of Koumousta


As I wandered through villages in Laconia last summer, I tried to imagine the everyday lives of my ancestors. I knew their hours were labor intensive from dawn to dusk, with hardly a break except for holidays and feast days — but even these special occasions demanded additional work from the women. Thanks to the writings of Theodore Katsoulakos and Panagiotis Stoumbos in their book, Koumousta of Lacedaimonos, I now understand much more. My special gratitude to Giannis Michalakakos for translating the text and patiently explaining cultural and lifestyle patterns of the past.

Without a shred of doubt, the head of the household was the father whom everyone obeyed without question. If he was not there, perhaps due to sickness or death, the mother presided. During the evenings, they discussed the next day’s work, and at dawn, each child knew exactly what his or her tasks would be. There was work for everyone, big or small, boy or girl. “Small help, great savior,” the children were reminded.

Although I do not know the occupation of my great-great grandfather, Nikolaos Christakos of Xirokambi, his fellow villagers were shepherds, farmers, woodworkers, silk producers. During 400 years of Ottoman and/or Venetian occupation, wool, cheese, silk and leather products were produced by the villagers and sold abroad. However, financial circumstances prior to 1900 were difficult. People herded their animals over towering mountains and difficult terrain to be sold in the city of Kalamata; but if demand was low, the animals accompanied their shepherds on the return trek home.

From Xirokambi to Kalamata


Because Koumousta is situated in a higher elevation, the climate and soil are not suitable for growing olive or citrus trees. However, hardwood and nut trees are plentiful. People planted various seeds to grow corn, beans, wheat, malt, tomatoes. Potato cultivation was introduced by Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of Greece, during the transitional period after the Revolution. The first crops In Koumousta were cultivated around 1850. With plentiful water and rich soil, the potato plants thrived and production reached as high as 15 tons. Villagers became proficient growers and were known as “πατατάδες” (potato men). Pear trees were planted “from Koumousta to Penteli.” Mulberries were plentiful and aided in silk making, an important occupation of the people. Oral tradition relates that this business began with a man named Chatzi, who used the humid climate within a small cave to grow silkworms. There were only two or three beekeepers, and “old Giannos Orfanakos had around 150 honeycombs. During good years, he could produce 1,000 okades [1].” His supply was augmented when shepherds and wood collectors would find nests of wild bees and collect the honey. 

Stone grain mill

Half of the citizens were farmers with flocks of sheep and goats. These animals numbered over 7,000. Lias Mandrapilias related that two pens of his family were filled with 1,000 goats. Those who did not keep goats had sheep and oxen. Until 1940, there were 150 oxen in Koumousta.

Koumousta is surrounded by forests; therefore, wood was plentiful and woodworking was an important occupation. Oral tradition states that people created small crafts and their goods were sold in Mani and in Mystras. “Old George Mandrapilias” won first prize for one of his pots that was on display at an exhibition. Woodworkers made boxes to store cheese, butter, and seeds; they made a variety of tools, baskets, barrels for water and wine, washtubs, and kettles to hold goats’ milk. Among the most important tools were looms, used by women to weave wool into fabric. People would say, “we have oxen and so let the tools break” (meaning, their animals were more important because they could easily make new tools). Even small boys learned the art of using an ax. From a young age when they grazed their animals in the mountains, the boys passed woodcutters who told them stories such as: “Once there were two brothers who were shepherds, and they managed to make a pine tree fall down. But when they tried to chop the tree, the ax would not cut. One of them said that the ax wanted wine and food. The boys slaughtered a goat, brought the wine and again tried using the ax, but nothing happened. The ax needed not only to be strong, but also to have someone who knew how to cut.”

Although the poverty level was high, the people of Koumousta compensated by being economical. Old ladies did not leave one kernel of grain on the threshing floor. Animal dung was collected and used as fertilizer. Sheep’s wool was made into clothing. Old men patched their shoes with nails to avoid the expenses of the tsagaris (shoemaker). Interest levels on loans were very high — 30%, and it was said that people worked for the usurers. Those who owned land in the mountains had to work especially hard to repay their loan, as their land was not as fertile or yielding as that in the plains. And when money was low, families with single young women faced a difficult situation:  how would they provide a dowry? To cope with these difficulties, some people emigrated to America and sent money back to assist their families.

When a parcel of land was to be sold, the villagers purchased it to keep it from being owned by “foreigners” (people from other villages). Another loan meant further hardship, but to the villagers, this was necessary to avoid problems. Once, a man from Goranus bought land in Koumousta. He did not properly restrain his animals, and they trampled his neighbor’s fields, damaging corn and potato crops. The villagers were so angry that they killed the “foreigner’s” oxen and goats; but unfortunately, they paid heavily for their retaliation with fines and prison time.

Despite their poverty, people of Koumousta took pride in being self-sufficient. They could provide for their families and even guests with their own goods. Although many households were poor, the main reason was death or sickness, not laziness. The industry, resilience, and creativity of my ancestors from Koumousta and Xirokambi continue to inspire me. I am so very proud of them.

[1] a unit of weight used in Turkey, equal to about 2.75 pounds or 1.24 kilograms; a unit of liquid measure used in Turkey, equal to about 1.3 pints or 0.75 litres.

Christakos Family of Koumousta/Xirokambi, Laconia. Part Two

Greeks embrace an expanded definition of the term “family” to include those who marry into one’s direct ancestral line, including koumbara (godparents). I take it one step further to include anyone whose origins are from the same clan. This second post (part one here) relates stories about the relatives of my great-great grandfather, Nikolaos Christakos, as written by Mr. Katsoulakos and Mr. Stoumbos in their book, Koumousta of Lacedaimonos.

One recurring theme is the importance of the local monastery of Gola.

Monastery of Gola

Monasteries were “rich” and were sources of life for the villagers. They provided steady employment for some and assistance to others. On March 1, 1828 the abbot of the monastery of Gola enumerated its holdings: vineyards and cultivated fields of berries, figs, and olive trees; cows, sheep and goats; and precious objects. People named in the Code of Gola were involved with the monastery. They may have worked as gardeners, keepers, or in the olive oil refineries, and they were paid for their labor. Monasteries often rented their land and sheep to villagers who did not have property or means to provide for themselves. The monastery also supported the local school in Koumousta; in fact, for a time during 1830, the school was located within the monastery. In the Code are these donations:  October 1829-33: 81, 150 and 114  grosia (Greek for qirsh, Ottoman currency). Vyssarion Tekosis (1827-1844), an abbot in the monastery, studied in this school.

Christakos Residents of Koumousta

Panagis is the oldest Christakos named in the book. He is not mentioned further, but we can estimate that, as the father of Kyriakos who was born about 1776, he was born in the early to mid-1700’s[1].

Kyriakos, the son of Panagis, was named in the first census taken in 1830. He was referenced in the Code of Gola in the year 1806, and additional documents indicate that his involvement with the monastery of Gola was ongoing:

  • On January 1, 1785, he signed a document as a witness that Christina Komni and her children sold a vineyard to the monastery for 38 grosia.
  • On April 25, 1796, he signed a letter requesting assistance from the Grigorakis family of Mani after Turks destroyed the monastery of Gola.
  • In 1806, he donated a field to the monastery in memory of his son, Panagis [this indicates that his son had died prior to 1806]

Thanasis is named in the Code of Gola as a laborer in the monastery, 1827-29.

Dimitris and other men from Koumousta fought in the Balkan Wars (1912-13). In the village of Koritsa (Albania) during a battle between Greeks and Turks, Dimitris was injured along with Vasilis Stoumbos, Mitsakis Mandrapilias and Christos Stoumbos. Dimitris, an artillery gun operator, totally lost his hearing and returned home, deaf. The state did not grant him a pension. His wife died, leaving him with six sons. He raised his sons and assumed the household chores of baking, cleaning, mending clothing. As the sons married and left the home, Dimitris remained alone until the end of his life.

St. B. (nickname: Kapodakis; St.B. most likely are initials for Stylianos Vasilios) died in an accident on July 21, 1943. At the end of the river Rasina is a small lake, Sgournitsa, where young men swam during hot summer days. The small cave of Komini, with green stalactites and impressive fossils, lured the bravest of them. It was there that St. B. lost his life.

Georgios is not mentioned by name but his three sons are listed in the Male Register (Mitroon Arrenon) of the Dimos (prefecture) Faridos. As such, we can estimate the birth year of Georgios as about 1845:

  • Aristomenis Georgios, born 1870
  • Dimitrios Georgios, born 1872
  • Grigorios Georgios, born 1876

The family of Dimitrios Georgios born 1872 is enumerated in the Town Register (Dimotologion):
Christakos, Dimitris G., born 1872
Christakos, Konstantinos Dimitriou, born 1915
Christakos, Antonios Dimitriou, born 1918
Christakos, Pantelis Dimitriou, born 1920
Christakos, Panagiotis Dimitriou, born 1923

These four sons of Dimitrios were among 28 young men from Koumousta who fought during World War II. The authors wrote:  The village at once became joyless [because the youth were gone.] The weather this morning was as if it was going to snow. The teacher left in the night. In the fields, no one went to work. A 10-year-old child, shocked by the events around him, listened to his mother’s voice, “Your sister is going to your uncle’s goats and you to ours” (children must now do the work since the men are off to war). From this time, the child was doomed to become a shepherd. He took bread and ran quickly to the point between the mountains. He wanted to see the men who had left to fight. He saw them when they reached Γλυστρωπές Πέτρες (slippery rocks). He shouted to tell them something he had heard early in his life, “come back victorious.” But they were far away and could not hear him.

The family of Konstandinos Dimitrios born 1915 (named above) is also in the Town Register:
Christakou, Antonia wife of Konstantinou 1922
Christakou, Pitsa (Panagiota) Konstantinou 1943
Christakos, Dimitrios Konstantinou 1946
Christakou, Stratigoula Konstantinou 1948
Christakou, Dimitra Konstantinou 1951
(Note: –ou ending denotes the feminine)

Konstandinos Dimitrios and Perikles D. are named in the School Register of 1921-22. The school archive was destroyed during the German occupation of WWII and the ensuing Civil War. Only two student lists were saved. The older list is from the school year 1921/22, indicating that there were 31 students in four classes, with the teacher Peter Dimitrakeas.

  • Konstandinos Dimitrios is referenced in an incident which occurred in Koumousta during the Greek Civil War (1946-49). A skirmish arose between rebels and paramilitary forces (Xites). The Xites accused Kosta of being a communist and threatened to execute him, but the situation dissipated and he was spared.
  • Konstandinos’ wife, Antonia Stavrogiannis Christakos, found the decapitated body of her brother, Dinakis, in the town square of Xirokambi (late 1940’s). There authors tell the story as follows: Dinakis Stavrogiannis lived in Paleochori. He was small in body but strong and quick. After some military operations of the army, a small stronghold of military police with help of local army men settled in the area. One night in Paliochori, Dinakis killed a military policeman who was guarding Sotiri Kakiousi and he fled. From this point, the future of Dinakis Stavrogiannis was written in black. The guards increased, and the control was extremely oppressive. In the middle of September below the Koumousta River , Dinakis fell into an ambush. Heavily injured, he tried to release a grenade but blew himself up. The next day the police cut off his head and took it into  Xirokambi where they put it on public view. Among the people of Koumousta who went there to collect nuts was his sister, Antonia Christakos who in front of this disgusting view screamed, “My brother.” However, she found the courage to go to and weep at the headless body of her brother.

  • Konstandinos Dimitrios and his family left Koumousta after World War II, but there is no additional information regarding their final destination. The authors explained: The war and misery that followed, along with many other social reasons, forced people from Koumousta to abandon their village and take the road abroad. 

Xirokambi, river bed, July 2016

The men of Koumousta were tough. As they left their village to defend their country, their eyes were as brutal as slayers. They gathered in Megali Vrysi and departed, singing an old klepht song:  How many mountains I passed, I will tell them. Mountains, don’t get snow–fields, don’t get dusty. The meaning is deep and poignant: as mean leave their village, they send a message to the mountains and the fields–may the winter not be harsh, may the fields be well watered and produce a good harvest. My family will be alone and I will not be there to take care of them.



[1]  Kyriakos was an adult, probably in his 30’s, when he is mentioned in the Code in 1806. Doing the math, his approximate birth year would be around 1776; if we use the estimation of 25 years to separate generations, then an approximate birth year for Panagis would be 1751 at the earliest.


The Rizos Clan of Koumousta, Laconia: Christakos, Koumoustiotis, Kyriakakos

Part One: History


July 11, 2016, was a hot but fateful day in Athens. My friend, Giannis Michalakakos, had rearranged his work schedule to take me to the National Library to research my Iliopoulos ancestors who had received Aristeia awards for their valiant service in the 1821 Revolution. To our dismay, the Library was closed for a staff meeting. We deliberated briefly, devised a Plan B, and headed to a university library to find what would become a research bonanza, the book, Koumousta of Lakedaimonos, written by Theodore S. Katsoulakos and Panagiotis X. Stoumbos:

Koumasta of Lakedaimonos, Theodore E. Katsoulakos and Panagiotis X. Stoumbos, published 2012

Koumousta of Lakedaimonos, Theodore S. Katsoulakos and Panagiotis X. Stoumbos, published 2012

The geographical area of Koumousta, 24 km south of Sparta, is comprised of many villages, both large and small. In modern Greece, the biggest village is Xirokambi with a population of about 1,000 people. The region has four monasteries: Gola and Zerbitsa; and slightly north of Koumousta,  Koubari and Katafigiotissa.  Xirokambi is the birthplace of my paternal great-grandmother, Poletimi Christakos, (father, Nikolaos) who married Andreas Kostakos. In this book is found the history of her family!

It all began with Christos Rizos. On page 202, we read:

Koumousta of Lakedaimonos, page 203. Used with permission from Dimitris Katsoulakos.

Koumousta of Lakedaimonos, page 203. Used with permission from Dimitris Katsoulakos.

“The family Christakou is old. The first name was Rizos. Christos Rizos is referenced in the Code of Gola in 1761.  From this emerged the Christakos surname, while the real name as a nickname survived as Rizeas, which name is old.1

On the following page, 203, we read:  “The families Koumoustiotis and Kyriakakos are branches of the family Christakos2.”

Following the references, we are led to articles in the journal, Faris, Issue 9 (1994), page 9, and the following excerpt from Issue 39 (2005), page 10.

Faris, Issue 39, July 2005, page 10.

Faris, Issue 39, July 2005, page 10.

Origin of the families (I),  by D. V. Christakos

“My family originally comes from Koumousta. My oldest ancestor was Christos Rizos who is referenced in the Code of Gola in 1761. ‘He donated two fields, one in Kofinidou and the other in Itia in order that Giorgakis, Panagiotis, Christos and Margarita will be remembered.’ From the first name Christos comes the surname Christakos and the name Rizos remains as a nickname. It is sure that chieftain Antonios Koumoustiotis comes from the same family [Rizos] like the family Kyriakakos.”

It took Mr. Katsoulakos and Mr. Stoumbos twenty years of research to write this book. They accessed documents in the monasteries, archives and local sources. The Stoumbos family was among the first in Koumousta, and because of oral tradition, Mr. Stoumbos knew the long histories of the earliest settlers. Because of their dedicated efforts, I now know this part of my history:  from Christos & Margarita Rizos and their children, Giorgios and Panagiotis evolved three branches: Christakos, Koumoustiotis and Kyriakakos. My great-great grandfather, Nikolaos Christakos, is among those descendants — so am I.

Giannis has been translating sections of this book that pertain to my family, and I am assisting as his scribe. With our work as a basis, I will be writing posts about the stories of this area and its indefatigable people. They faced Turkish occupation, wars, and unimaginable hardships of life. They endured and triumphed over it all. With their blood coursing through my veins, so can I.

I am most grateful to Dimitris Katsoulakos for permission to cite passages from this book, and to Giannis Michalakakos for his tireless work of translation.