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.

RootsTech 2020: A Time for Greeks to Shine

RootsTech, the largest genealogy conference in the world, took center stage in my life this past week. This massive event is known for hosting 25,000+ attendees, hosting a myriad of vendors, and providing hundreds of sessions.

Although I attend every year,  this one was especially meaningful. For the first time at any major genealogical conference, a class on Greek genealogy was held. Presented by professional genealogist Kathleen Doherty Kaldis, the session focused on the essentials of beginning Greek family history research.

Kathleen Doherty Kaldis presents, “Opa! It’s All Greek to Me.”

Using the metaphor of a Greek dance where the circle begins small and gradually expands until all participate, Kathleen described the importance of utilizing all resources available and working within our Hellenic community. Her family is Scottish/Irish, but her husband’s family is from Xirokambi, Lakonia and Pyrgos, Messinia. She used examples from her Kaldis family research to demonstrate the research methodology needed for success. There was a warm feeling of community in the lecture room. We are all in the same position, seeking information as to how we can learn more about our families. It was heartwarming to see people gather at the conclusion of the lecture to compare information. Bringing our community into the national spotlight is a HUGE step forward–thank you, Kathleen 🙂

Gathering and sharing information at the end of the lecture

I was very happy to spend time with Greek friends who also came to RootsTech, as well as Dawn and Trisha who work at the Family History Library. Dawn is a volunteer on Wednesday mornings and she has roots in Argolidis. Trisha is an employee who is at the Library daily and her roots are in Chios. They provide an invaluable service of having the knowledge to help anyone who needs assistance with Greek research.

Trisha, Carol and Dawn at the Family History Library, International Section

As I visited vendors in the Expo Hall, I asked several who focused on European research if they had inquiries about Greek genealogy. The answer was yes and the majority either had a Greek grandparent or great-grandparent; or, they had taken a DNA test and found they had Greek ancestry. In both cases, they were new researchers. There is much we can do to help our beginners: provide encouragement, teach practical “first steps” and share resources.

I met with people at FamilySearch and MyHeritage to discuss ways to make more Greek records available. It is a challenging task due to the contractual negotiations required between Greek repositories and the genealogy companies, but I am confident that the increased surge of interest and the public’s sincere desire will yield positive results.

MyHeritage has launched a truly amazing photo colorization program, which will automatically colorize black and white photos. Their booth featured a magnet board where people uploaded photos which had been colorized through their process and in turn, received a magnet. I am holding a picture of “poker night” at my papou Kostakos’ home in Brooklyn (sorry, it’s upside down!).

My Heritage Photo Colorization

People who are not members of MyHeritage can colorize ten photos at no charge; members can colorize an unlimited number of photos.
Try it here: https://www.myheritage.com/incolor

There are many facets of family history research. Finding our ancestors is one, but so is capturing the memories of the ancestors that we do know, or whose stories have been passed down by our elders. This conference theme was “The Story of You,” and many sessions were held which described ways to save and record memories. One of my favorite sessions was “Five Simple Steps for Writing the Story of You” [or, a loved one]. Presenter Devon Noel Lee championed the use of photos as writing prompts. Her suggestion is to take a photo and write about it:  who is in the photo? where did the event occur? why is it significant? After doing this for a series of photos, the basis of a personal history is established and it is easy to add details. I am inspired to do this, starting with the photos from my grandparents’ album such as the one I am holding above.

I attended many sessions this week, including several on DNA. One of my favorites was a class with an important but under-discussed topic, “The Circular Flow: Researching Return Migrants.” I learned about immigrants who came to the U.S., but then returned to their homelands and perhaps back to the U.S. again. I will be writing a post about this, as there is much to share.

Conferences are an excellent way to learn and connect. I appreciate FamilySearch for sponsoring RootsTech for 10 years. Please join me in Salt Lake City next February!


A Greek at RootsTech 2018

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, DNAQuest.org, 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!


RootsTech 2017, DNA and New Cousins!

Along with 20,000 of my “closest friends,” I spent three days at the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah February 12-14. This is my fourth year attending, and I continue to be dazzled at the variety of sessions and topics offered. With the surge of interest in Greek genealogy, I attended sessions on Italian and French ancestry to learn tips for teaching ethnicity research.

Both presenters did not discuss U.S. collections but focused exclusively on the records available online and on-site in their countries. Their lectures covered:

1. the types of records found in civil and ecclesiastical collections and the date range of those collections

2. the vital importance of understanding the geographic boundaries and the country’s history to ascertain which government had control of the records at varying times;

3. the structure of other repositories (e.g., libraries, archives) and the resources found in each.

These classes were of significant value to me as I prepare for two Greek genealogy conferences this year (New York City in April; Salt Lake City in September).

At a vendor’s booth, I was thrilled to find issues of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors and Tracing Your Eastern European Ancestors. Both of these are filled with “how-to” tips such as visiting ancestral villages, strategies for successful research, locating online resources. These articles will be of tremendous help in structuring classes for Greek researchers.

Italian Genealogy

I also attended several sessions on DNA and Genetic Genealogy. This field has become a hot topic in the past two years, as more people learn how to connect with others who descend from a common ancestor. Although I have taken both an autosumnal (or Family Finder) test and a mitochondrial test, I have not followed up on contacting “matches” as my time has been spent on analyzing records I got in Sparta last summer.

But that has now dramatically changed! Thanks to an Ancestry DNA autosumnal test, I can introduce you to my new cousins, Aidin (Dini) Malaj and his sister, Disola!

Melanie and Dini Malaj, me, Disola and Auston Horst.

Melanie and Dini Malaj, me, Disola and Auston Horst.

Dini and Disola were born in Albania and came to the U.S. to study. Here, they married and are now living close together in Utah while their parents remain in their village in Albania. But Dini and Disola were not the first in their family to come to America. Their grandfather, Bexhet Mala, emigrated and lived for several years in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he worked in the mills. He returned to Albania to fight in the Balkan Wars (if I remember correctly), married and remained in his country.

Interestingly, Dini’s father has been collecting the family history predominantly through oral tradition, as many records in Albania have been destroyed over the years (sometimes by Greeks — ouch!) Now Dini has picked up this mantle and is using DNA and other contemporary resources to expand his family lines. And, happily — that extension has led to me!

It is both thrilling and paradigm-shaking to look into the eyes of newly-found cousins and to comprehend that, as different as we are, we share a common ancestor. I am Greek; my parents and grandparents are Greek; I have walked the paths in my grandparents’ villages and I know from whence they came. I have read about various migrations of Albanians into Greece and I have seen the ethnicity breakdown of my DNA test so this new dimension of my family history should not come as a surprise. But it does!

Ethnicity map

I thought I knew who I was, but my visit with Dini and Disola and a second, more critical look at my ethnicity map has awakened me to many more new and exciting ancestral possibilities!