Greece 2017. Archives Research: Kalamata

My research trips are super-intensive. This is due in part to my personality, and in part to the limited working hours at Greek repositories. Archives and libraries’ hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and unlike shops, they do not reopen after 6:30. None are open on Saturdays, not even the Central Library of Sparta.

So, my weekday work schedule looks like this:
7:00 – wake up
8:00 – be at the repository
2:30 – leave (or get kicked out)
2:30-6:00 – go someplace that is open: a cemetery, an archaeological or historical site, or take a drive through a village. It’s beastly hot in mid-afternoon in July, but I won’t waste three precious hours.
6:00-midnight – change clothes, visit family or friends for dinner which usually begins around 9:00

Honestly, I came home more tired than when I left. But I also came home with tons of new information.

I was anxious to return to the Archives in Kalamata. During my visit of July 2016, the office was moving to a new location and everything was packed in boxes, which made research impossible. I was thrilled to see its new home: a stunning neoclassical building constructed in the 1880’s and rebuilt after the earthquake of 1986.

General Archives of Greece, Kalamata, Messinia

I am ever grateful for the help and kindness of my friend, Giota Siora, who met me in Kalamata and escorted me to the Archives. Giota knows the archivist, Anastasia Milioni, who was eager to assist us in any way possible. My goal was to search for information about two families with possible early ties to the Kalamata region: Eftaxias (prior to relocating to Mystras) and Zaharakis (prior to relocating to Theologos).

GAK, Kalamata: Giota Siora; Anastasia Milioni, Archivist; Carol Kostakos Petranek, July 2017

In 2016, Mrs. Milioni had given me a print-out of contracts with the Eftaxias name. There were three for Georgios Eftaxias who was in Kalamata in 1859.

Eftaxias contracts, 1859. General Archives of Greece, Kalamata, Messinia

After the contracts were retrieved, Giota amazed me with her ability to read the documents. They were not written in typical old Greek script, but in a specific type of calligraphy used by lawyers and high government officials in the 1800’s.

Below are page one and the signature page of Contract 727 for Georgios Eftaxias, along with a synopsis by Giota.

Eftaxias, Georgios; Contract 727 p.1. Kalamata, Messinia. July 2017

Eftaxias, Georgios; Contract 727 p.3 – signatures.. Kalamata, Messinia. July 2017

Contract 727 Georgios Eftaxias in Kalamata 1859
Final payment on land purchase
Georgios Eftaxias bought a field at Mavria (on the border of Messinia and Laconia). He paid 60 drachmas on the balance due. He bought the land from Michail Koumoutsas who was a lime maker. One of the owners of land bordering his is Haralambos Eftaxias.

With three contracts for Georgios Eftaxias, I now have proof that a family was in Kalamata. But is this my family? Possibly yes, possibly no.

  • I have an Eftaxias “DNA cousin,” Peter, who was born in a village adjacent to Mystras. His father said that their Eftaxias family came from Kalamata. This is definitely his family. Since we have a genetic connection, this is one point on the “yes” side.
  • The very name, Eftaxias, has ecclesiastical connotations. Gregory Kontos sent me this definition: the one that is in charge of the good order of the church:   good=ευ order=τάξη. So, this could be an example of families who had worked in a church and adopted the position title as a surname. This is one point on the “no” side.

Another twist:  the Election Lists of 1875 show a Michalis Eftaxias who was born around 1800, fought in the Revolution, and lived in Lagia. That is 117 km from Kalamata, a 39-hour walk! Is it possible these two families are related? Not impossible, but perhaps improbable. This could be an example of the second bullet–someone working in a church, taking the ευταξη title as a surname.

So, the definite answer to my question is, “I don’t know.”

Lagia to Kalamata is 117 kilometers

The Archives in Kalamata has a one-of-a-kind collection created by Μίμη Iλ. Φερέτος (Dimitris or Mimi Il. Feretos).  Giannis Michalakakos described Mr. Feretos as a journalist and writer who gathered information on fighters of the 1821 Revolution. In the early 1900’s, he interviewed people who had fought (or whose relatives fought) in the War of Independence. Mr. Feretos created a surname index which include brief notes and reference sources to find the original documentation. The GAK in Kalamata has a bookcase filled with Mr. Feretos’ notebooks. They are arranged in alphabetical order, and Giota easily found the Eftaxias and Zaharakis surnames.

This is a copy of one of the Feretos pages for Zaharakis. I found it fascinating to see how Mr. Feretos compiled and annotated information, long before the computer age.

Zaharakis surname, notes from the files of Mimis Il. Feretos, GAK Kalamata, July 2017

A simple translation of this document, with my thanks to Giannis: M. Zaharakis, born in Sitsova [now known as Alagonia on the border of Messinia and Laconia]. He fought in the Revolution under George Vasilakos, in the main battles until 1823. Afterwards, he fought in the war under the Giatrakos family. In some documents, he is referred to as Zaharopoulos.

This document reveals two important things: first, M. Zaharakis is not my family; he was born in a region far from Theologos at a time when my Zaharakis are found in documents in Theologos. Second, M. Zaharakis was also known as Zaharopoulos. This is a critical piece of information because there is a long-standing (and frustrating!) pattern of Greeks changing their names. Having written proof that Zaharakis and Zaharopoulos in Kalamata are the same family, saves years and tears for the serious researcher.

For anyone researching in Messinia, the Archives in Kalamata is an essential repository. The staff is actively digitizing as much of its collection as possible. They are friendly, helpful and supportive in every way.

Digitization underway at the Messinia Archives in Kalamata

Here are links to access the Archives website; its online digital collections; and its YouTube channel.This link is especially helpful, as it shows the collections in the Archives.

Was my research trip to Kalamata a success? Yes! I did not find the definitive information I was seeking to link my families in Laconia to the ones in Kalamata. However, I explored a new Archive, discovered the Feretos collection, found documentation to prove (and disprove) some of my theories. I visited the Kalamata Museum, filled with incredible antiquities and artifacts. Most importantly, I spent a delightful day with Giota, who inspires me with her continual desire to help and teach. Thank you, my friend!

 

Return to Greece, 2016. Part 8: Meandering in Mani

This is the eighth 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.

Mani. There’s something about this land that speaks to my soul. From the moment I left two years ago, I couldn’t wait to return. The forbidding mountains, expansive plains, and impenetrable stone structures exemplify resilience, fortitude, and never giving up. It is the land of some of my ancestral families. On my first trip to Greece years ago, a man at the Archives looked at my surnames and exclaimed, “Oh, your families are from Mani!” Then he looked at my husband and said without any humor, “Watch out! She’s a Maniot. She  comes from tough people.”

Since then, I have learned so much about these “tough people.” There’s a reason they are so strong and self-reliant. They have weathered the elements and tamed the forbidding soil. They repelled any potential invaders by using rustic, yet effective methods. The Turks never penetrated or conquered the Mani. Neither did the Nazis. The people hid in caves in the hills until danger passed, then returned to their villages and their simple lives. Although the spirit of independence from Ottoman rule had been simmering for years throughout Greece, the spark that ignited the Revolution was in Mani on March 17, 1821.

By al-Qamar - File:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36370154

By al-Qamar – File:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36370154

There are three regions in Mani:  “exo” or outer; “kato” or lower; “mesa” or inner. As the map clearly shows, the entire region is mountainous and sustains little vegetation except wild olive trees, cactus, and brush. Goats scrape by on the sparse grasses, and an occasional flat valley may support orange trees. Wild herbs such as sage and oregano fill the air with a tantalizing scent. Even during hot summers, cool breezes sweep the mountains.

I fulfilled a dream by driving the beautiful, winding road from Kalamata to Areopoli. My GPS estimated the driving time at 1-1/2 hours, but it took me seven. All I did was stop, take photos, and savor every unique site and beautiful view. Being alone, I was able to absorb the atmosphere and revel in the rugged beauty of the land. I felt so peaceful and happy as I drove. I feel like I belong here.

Driving from Kalamata to Areopoli; the mountains, July 2016

Driving from Kalamata to Areopoli – the mountains. July 2016


kalamata-to-aeropoli-9-07-16

Driving from Kalamata to Areopoli – the sea. July 2016


Kalamats to Areopoli - the buildings. July 2016

Kalamats to Areopoli – the buildings. July 2016

A major item on my Plan A was to visit the village of Pyrgos Lefktro in Messinia. I had been told by an elderly aunt that my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos, may have come to Sparta from “Pyrgos over the mountains.” This particular Pyrgos seems to be the most logical place. The village is literally at the top of the mountain. When the mountain road ended, I had to park my car and walk because the village “road” was actually a narrow cobblestone winding path, lined with what seemed like ancient stone homes. It was mid-afternoon when I arrived, so of course, not a soul was to be seen except a stray cat. I wandered all around the town, taking many pictures. I found the church, the cemetery, and even went into the osteofilakio (οστεοφυλάκιο), the ossuary building, and looked at the names on the boxes. I did not see anything that could possibly be Kostakos, but my great-grandfather would have left in the middle 1800’s. If he did come from here, there are no descendants remaining.

At the front of the village was a sign on a tree that read “500 years old”. It would have been in full leaf during my great-grandfather’s time.

500 year old tree, Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016

500 year old tree, Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016


Buildings in Pyrgos, which overlooks the sea. July 2016

Buildings in Pyrgos, which overlooks the sea. July 2016

There is a very old museum which was locked; there was no sign as to when it opens. I peered in the windows and was taken aback at the life-size figures in full costume, standing watch over the treasures of the village.

Museum in Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016

Museum in Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016

As I was leaving, I did see two elderly women sitting on a veranda. They beckoned me to join them. I asked if they had ever heard the Kostakos name in the village, but their answer was no. I wanted to ask what type of life they had led; what type of work their husbands did; how often they left the village to “go to town” (wherever that was, somewhere down the mountain). They had a hard time hearing me and my vocabulary is limited, so the conversation was limited to pleasantries. One of them blew me a kiss as I said goodbye.

Saying goodbye; Pyrgos, Messinia, July 2016

Saying goodbye; Pyrgos, Messinia, July 2016

Driving back down the mountain, I wondered if I may have come — literally — to the end of the road in trying to learn more about the origins of Andreas Kostakos. But I resolutely pushed that thought from my mind. I guess it’s the fighting Spartan and tough Maniot in me that just refuses to give up!

Continuing on the road to Areopoli, I found a settlement, Tzokeika, that is being reconstructed to portray a traditional Maniot village, including a tower, a church, individual homes and an olive press. How fascinating to walk through the buildings that are under construction! This is a living settlement, with people occupying houses. I spoke with a man who had moved in last year, and he was very enthusiastic about his new home, the beauty of the scenery, and the pleasures of living in a closely knit community.

The settlement of Tza

The settlement of Tzokeika, Messinia, July 2016


Tz

Tzokeika settlement, Messinia, July 2016

I was in Areopoli, the capital of Mani, by 7:00 p.m. It was Saturday evening and the town was filled to capacity with both locals and tourists. When I went to dinner at 11:00 p.m., I could not find an empty table. I love this village! It eneaeropoli-07-16rgizes me. The ambiance is lively, the buildings are beautifully maintained, and it is the home of a favorite bookstore, Adouloti (owned by Georgios Dimakogiannis). There are dozens of tavernas and cafes, and many unique shops. As are most Maniot villages, Areopoli is pure stone — buildings, roads, walkways. The starkness of the rock is punctuated by brilliantly colored flowers. It is a beautiful study in contrasts. Perched at the edge of the sea, the picturesque town is a visual and sensory delight.

Approaching Areopoli, a village by the sea. July 2016

Approaching Areopoli, a village by the sea. July 2016


Adouloti Mani Bookstore, Areopoli, July 2016

Adouloti Mani Bookstore, Areopoli, July 2016


Areopoli, July 2016

Areopoli, Laconia, July 2016


Areopoli, Laconia, July 2016

Areopoli, Laconia, July 2016

On the way back to Sparta, I stopped at Karavelas to see my friend, Margarita Thomakou, and visit her adopted village. Margarita and I had a delightful visit and a delicious lunch, made by her friend, Pietro. Pietro showed me a book about the history of the village. It is heartwarming to see that many villages in Laconia, even some of the smallest, have these wonderful histories.

Karvelas, Laconia, with Margarita Thomakou and Pietro, July 2016

Karvelas, Laconia, with Margarita Thomakou and Pietro, July 2016

My meanderings in Mani were almost over. The road to Sparta threaded through fertile plains, filled with orange and olive groves. Wild and lovely; fruitful and plentiful, this region of Laconia is truly the breadbasket of Greece.

On the road to Sparta, July 2016

On the road to Sparta, July 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!