Dowry Contracts: Pictures of the Past

We have pictures of the past, but not the full image. When I first heard Giannis Michalakakos make this comment, I accepted its veracity–but with reluctance. I want the full image of my ancestors’ lives! A Male Register, Town Register, or Election List may provide a birth year and an occupation. But a Contract reveals so much more. Who purchased land, and from whom and where? Who borrowed money, and from whom and why? Who was the bride, and whom did she marry? What did her family provide for her dowry?

On 11 July 1864, four men gathered at the office of Konstandinos Dimopoulos, notary of Sparta, to execute a dowry contract: Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos of Sikaraki (groom), Panagiotis Kavvouris of Agios Ioannis (father of Marigo, the bride), Georgios Stathopoulos of Magoula (witness) and Ilias Kalogerakos of Parori (witness). These men were engaging in an honored tradition that was instituted in ancient times and not officially rescinded in Greece until 1983.

My maternal grandparents, Ilias Papagiannakos and Aggeliki Eftaxias, 1914, New York

A  marriage dowry (prika) was a custom adapted from Eastern cultures. Created by economic need, it was prevalent an era when the roles of men and women were defined by a patriarchal society. Especially in mainland Greece, families generally were poor. Men were farmers, landowners, shepherds; or worked in handcrafts such making baskets, ropes, or leather items. Women were homemakers.

When a new union was formed, both were expected to contribute items needed to establish the home. The bride’s dowry provided household or clothing items, property or animals. The groom provided a house and income for the family. Thus, both bequeathed what they could to secure a foundation for their new marriage.

The Kavvouris-Kanakakos contract is translated below. It is a fascinating picture which helps us better understand the image of life in mid-1800’s Sparta. Commentary and historical information is added with footnotes or brackets, and photographs are representations of the types of items the dowry contains.

Page 1 of 4, Dowry Contract 463. Panagiotis Kavvouris and Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos, Sparta, Greece. July 11, 1864. Source: General Archives of Greece: http://arxeiomnimon.gak.gr/browse/resource.html?tab=tab02&id=197332

Contract 463, 11.7.1864, Dowry and Notary Deed
On this day, 11 July, Saturday, at 12:00 noon of year 1864, came before me, Konstandinos Dimopoulos, notary and citizen of Sparta, to my home and office, being east of the Church of Evangelismo of Theotokos,1  Panagiotis Kavvouris, estate owner and farmer of Agios Ioannis of Sparta on one hand, and on the other Nikolaos Athanasiou Kanakakos, farmer and citizen of the neighborhood, Sikaraki, of Agios Ioannis of the municipality of Sparta; both are familiar to me and of legal status. In my presence and the witnesses, they sign this dowry contract after my explanation of the laws.

Panagioti Kavvouris makes an agreement with Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos to give Nikolaos his daughter, Marigo, as his legal wife according to the holy rules of the Orthodox Church. The groom takes from the maternal and paternal legacy: 

1.  Two tall fezes (kind of traditional hat)
2.  Gemenia – women’s head cover
3.  
Three basinas – a bowl for cooking
4.  
Three sets of kreponia – women’s clothing, dark in color
5.  
Twelve madilia – women’s head cover
6.  
One pair of vergetes– earrings, expensive
7.  
One silver cross
8.  
Three silver rings
9.  
One pair of crystal dessert plates
10. 
Six dessert spoons
11. 
One serving dish
12.  
Two men’s vests, decorated with fur

Man’s vest with fur

13. Ten women’s skirts
14. 
Two dresses
15. 
Twenty-five shirts
16. 
Twelve sets of underwear
17. 
Two men’s fustanella 

Traditional fustanella; Flickr Creative Commons

18. Two disakia (small packages to hold items)
19.  Two paploma, bed comforters
20.  
Ten soaps
21.  
Two makatia. decorative sofa covers
22.  
Eleven big pillows
23.  
Four small pillows
24.  
Two andromedes (unknown)
25.  
One peskidi (a nice throw cover for the sofa)
26.  T
wo table scarfs/covers for the dining room table
27.  
Two nice scarfs/covers for chair backs and arm rests
28.  
Six fakiolia, small women’s head covers
29.  
Eight mpoiles, a kind of towel
30.  
Twelve spoons, knives and forks
31.  
Twelve plates
32.  
Seven mpouxades, wool cloth which hold liquids when making cheese
33.  
Eight vrakozones, traditional men’s clothing worn below the waist
34.  T
wo casellas, similar to a hope chest which hold clothing and linens
35.  
Two kapaki, cooking pots with covers

Kapaki, cooking pans with covers


36.  One 
tapsi, circular metal roasting pan used in ovens

Woman holding a circular tapsi; on the right is a vethoura

37. One harani – metal bucket that can hold one okres (a unit of measure)
38. Two siderostia – iron tripods to hang pots over an open fire
39. One pan

Kitchen items, mid-1800’s, Greece

40. One stremma [unit of measure] with 14 olive trees located in the borders of Agios Ioannis, Sparta. The land is bordered:  on the east with a national estate [land which belongs to the municipality], on the west with Panagioti Kamarados, on the north with Giannis Giannos, in the south with Georgios Bakopoulos.

41. One individual estate, a small field, two stremmata with all it contains [perhaps a small hut] and 7 small trees located in the location Sourakaki of Agios Ioannis, Sparta; it borders:  on the east with a road, on the west with church fields, on the north with the national estate, and on the south with Pangiotis Pachigiannis.

42. Some trees that were planted in the national field in the location Kefalari of Agios Ioannis, Sparta; and borders on the east with Saltafilda [probably a neighborhood or other location], on the west with the road, on the north with Panagiotis Kavvouris and on the south with a road.8

43. Twenty barrels containing orange trees that the groom took a few days ago to replant them in his own land.

The total of the dowry and property (moved and unmoveable) is 1,463 drachmas.4

The groom, Nikolaos Athanasios Kanakakos,5 expresses that he accepts Marigo as his legal wife and the dowry given by her father. He understands exactly the dowry that was previously reported and offered to him by Marigo. He also offers Marigo 500 drachmas [bridewealth].6

The two sides additionally, with me the contract maker, evaluate the total value of all things as 1,963 drachmas plus the postcard [the notary’s fee].

To verify this contract and this dowry, the two sides listened to the dowry spoken aloud and clearly, and agreed to it.

Called as witnesses: Georgios Stathopoulos, estate owner and citizen of Magoula and Ilia Kalogerakos, farmer and citizen of Parori of the municipality of Sparta. They are familiar to me, they are Greek citizens without any legal exceptions, and they verify this contact because because neither of the two sides can sign their names.7

Maniate men in Sparta. Many people from the Mani region, like the Kanakakos family, moved north to Sparta after the Revolution.

I initially became acquainted–and fascinated–with contracts during my first trip to the Sparta Archives in 2014, when I went with Gregory Kontos. This 2015 post describes a contract, translated by Gregory, for the purchase of land by Panagiotis Iliopoulos of Machmoutbei. Each succeeding research trip has yielded new information, as documented recently in Research in the Archives of Sparta.

Contracts are challenging: not many are digitized or online, paper copies are difficult for Archivists to obtain, and the handwriting is akin to hieroglyphics. But with good luck and good friends, they can be accessed and interpreted, enlightening our understanding and giving us a fuller (albeit not full) picture of our ancestors’ lives.

Important note: This post would not have been possible without the assistance of Giannis Michalakakos, teacher, historian, and author of Maniatika blog. Giannis completed all translations, found the photos, and provided the historical content to explain the customs of this era. I am grateful for his friendship and expertise.

____________

1  This exact description of the location of the Dimopoulos home and office is given because Sparta in the mid-1800s had few roads and no street addresses.

Many of descriptive words come from the Ottoman period and are unrecognizable in today’s language; they may be a hybrid mix of Greek, Ottoman and Venetian vocabulary and are no longer in use.

When a meal is prepared using a tapsi, it is also served from it; the family would sit around and eat out of it together. A vethoura, the double pot on the right, is where sheeps’ milk is stored.

This is a sizeable dowry, indicating that the bride’s family had financial means.

5Kanakakos is a big family in Mani; members were officers in the Army and heroes in the Revolution of 1821.

6 As a bride brings a dowry, sometimes, a groom will offer a sum of money or property to the bride’s parents to help establish the new home.

7 Normally, there would be five signatures: the groom, the bride’s father, the two witnesses and the notary. In this contract, only the witnesses and notary signed as the groom and bride’s father were unable to write their names.

8 After marriage, land named in the dowry belongs to the bride’s husband. The property was given by her father to establish her new home. In 1800s Sparta, divorce was unheard of; and men were responsible for providing and maintaining financial security of the family.

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Greece 2017. Part Four: Sparta – Ancient & Modern

Dimos Sparta

Spending three full weeks in Sparta presented numerous opportunities to explore and savor this region of my heritage. In both ancient and modern times, Sparta has been integral to the history of the Peloponnese, although its role as the major political and cultural center has fluctuated.

My home base was the Menelaion Hotel, situated on the main street (Konstantinou Palaiologou) in the center of town. Contemporary Sparta is vibrant and engaging. During my three-week stay, everything I needed was easily accessible.

Fresh food and baked goods enticed me and kept me fed daily, July 2017

 

My favorite sign!

One of my the most beautiful stores in Sparta is owned by my cousin, Dimitris Papagiannakos. He keeps it stocked with items both beautiful and practical. I love to visit with him and share news of our families. I never leave without buying lovely treasures that delight my family.

Papagiannakos Home Goods Store, Sparta. Dimitris Papagiannakos and Carol Kostakos Petranek, July 2017

Like much in Sparta, the buildings are a mix of old and new. The main street is wide and lined with towering palm trees. Despite the parking spaces on both sides and in the center, people double and triple park, making it difficult to navigate. On the side streets, cars are parked on the sidewalk with all four wheels off the road. If they can do it, so can I, but…I left two wheels on the road because I panicked at trying to maneuver the entire car onto the sidewalk. I awoke the last morning in the city to find a parking ticket on the windshield. I was fined 40 euros for blocking traffic. Even worse, the police removed the license tags from the front and back of my rental car, thus ensuring that any violator pays the fine!

Sparta, July 2017

The Dimarheion, or Town Hall, and its platea is the hub of the city. By day or by night, people congregate at outdoor tables to dine, visit, listen to concerts and even watch soccer matches. With Greek night life in full swing at 9:00, where else would you find a concert that begins at 10:00 p.m.? I love the sociality of the city; you don’t ever have to be alone!

Dimarheion, July 2017

Life at 10:00 p.m. – a concert at the platea; men watching soccer game; others chatting in a cafe

The Ancient Sparta archaeological site is within walking distance at the edge of the city. On the way, I passed the imposing statue of Leonidas, king of the city-state of Sparta from 490 to 480 B.C.; immortalized when he and his 300 soldiers were killed by the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae.

King Leonidas and me! July 2017

I visited the ruins in the middle of the afternoon–3:00–when locals were sleeping and other tourists were smart enough to rest in their air conditioned hotels.

As I walked the paths around the ruins, the modern city was visible; a constant reminder of old and new.

Sparta, old and new, July 2017

I tried to imagine life in the old city. Peoples’ everyday lives were very different from ours in substance, but not in human experience: birthing, growing, learning, loving, laughing, mourning, dying–are we not all the same?

History captured in stone, July 2017

Panorama, July 2017

Walkways and structures, July 2017

If these edifices could talk…. July 2017

 

Leaving Sparta was hard. What I miss:

  • Family
  • Friends who are like family
  • Dry air
  • Plateas
  • Sidewalk dining and outdoor living
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice
  • Fresh veggies from my cousins’ gardens
  • History
  • Churches everywhere
  • Taygetos mountains
  • 10:00 pm concerts on the platea
  • Philoxenia

What I do not miss:

  • No traffic lights
  • Driving in the city
  • Parking on the sidewalk
  • Motorcyclists
  • Limited store hours
  • Graffiti
  • Disrepair

Till next time!!❤

 

Village History Books in the Library of Sparta

The paper record trail has stopped, and you are stumped. Where to go now? You’ve obtained any and all documents available from the Archives (local and online), the Town Hall (Dimarheion), the village churches and the Greek Orthodox Mitropolis. You’ve taken a DNA test and are wading through the results, but you and your matches can’t go back far enough to find your common ancestor.

You are tempted to give up, but it’s not yet time to close the books on your research — in fact, it’s time to open them. The library awaits.

Central Library of Sparta

If you are researching in the Sparta region, there is a resource you have not yet tapped. The Central Library of Sparta has an impressive collection of village history books. These have been researched and written by schoolteachers, historians, or simply people with a deep love of their ancestral home. They have labored for years to document stories and compile family trees. Their goal is to preserve the history and pass on the legacy of their village, whether large or small, historically relevant or not. They do not want the past to be lost to time.

In July 2014, Gregory Kontos and I met such a dedicated historian. His name was Nikolaos Ath. Bagiokos, a schoolteacher in Anavryti who dedicated twenty years to researching and writing the history of Anavryti and its families.  During summers when school was out, he painstakingly located any and all extant records as well as previously written histories of Anavryti. He compiled this information into his life’s work, Anavryti Taygetos. As we visited with him in his home, he expressed joy that a woman from America would travel across the ocean to learn about her roots and seek out those who could teach her. I asked him, “Why did you spend 20 years to research and write this book?” His response was simple but firmly spoken:  “I wanted to write the book so people in future can know about their families.”

When I was in Sparta this past July, I learned that Mr. Bagiokos, lovingly referred to as Ο Δάσκαλος (the teacher), passed away shortly after I met him in 2014. However, he will be remembered and honored by all who read his book and learn the stories of their families which will not be found in vital records.

Nikolaos Ath. Bagiokos with his book, Anavryti Taygetos

These village history books are priceless. They provide a glimpse into everyday life in the village as well as customs, folklore, songs, poetry. Some contain biographical sketches of prominent families or earliest settlers. All shed new light on the world of our ancestors.

I know personally of their worth:  in July 2016, my research into my Christakos family of Xirokambi skyrocketed to a new level when a friend introduced me to the book, Koumousta of Lacedaimonos. It was through this book that I learned the genesis of the family — information that the authors gleaned through oral histories and painstaking research, not to be duplicated anywhere else.

Because these books are so valuable to a researcher, I made an inventory of the ones kept at Library of Sparta during my visit there in July 2017. I took a photo of every book cover, its title page and index (if there was one). Unfortunately, only a few books included indexes, which makes it necessary to review every page to see if specific surnames are mentioned. As I perused each volume, I found that all have names of families. Thus, if there is a book from your village, it is worth the effort to obtain a copy. If the book cannot be purchased, you can view it and digitize it at the Library.

My inventory captures the books on the shelves, but it is not the entire collection. There is a catalog, somewhat outdated (2007) which lists additional books kept elsewhere in the library.

Laconia History Section, Central Library of Sparta

Below is a list of titles and authors of books kept on the shelves as shown in the photo above. Most of these books are out of print. However, you may be able to contact the author or publisher to obtain a copy.

If you would like to see the title page and publishing information on any of these books, click this link to open a Dropbox folder. The books are in alphabetical order by title; most books will have 2-3 images; e.g., there is one book on the village of Agoriani but it has three images of its cover and title pages:  Agoriani (1), Agoriari (2), Agoriari (3).

Remember — having names and dates will fill a pedigree chart, but having stories of your ancestors will fill your heart.

Agoriani Papadogiannis, Dimitrios Ath.
Agoriani and Voreia Vergadou, Georgios Ath.
Amykles Antonakos, Sarantos
Amykles Anagnostopoulos, Georgios D.
Anavryti Pikoula, G.
Anavryti, Taygetos Bagiokos, Nikolaos Ath.
Ano Glykovrvrysi, The Roots of Our Village Papapostolos, Chysafo
Anogeia Lambrakos, Ilias G.
Apidea Kalodimas, Nikolaos E.
Arcadia Zaharopoulos, Ioan. Z.
Ardouvista, Androuvista of Exo Mani Vagiakos, Dikaios V.
Arna Prokopidis, Harilaos Ant.
Asimi Georgouli, Polychroni B.
Barsinikos Moutoulas, Pantelis
Chrysafa Lambrinakos, Giannis
Dafni Milonakos, Stavros L.
Dimitsanas Giannaropoulos, Ioannas K.
Elafonisi Mentis, Konstandinos S.
Falanthou, Villages of Gritsopoulos, Tasos Ath.
Georgitsi and Georgitsiani, A Village, A History Koutsis, Giannis A.
Georgitsi, the Beautiful Koutsis, Giannis A.
Geraki Moutsopoulos, N.K. and Dimitrokallis, G.
Geraki, Album none
Geraki, Byzantine LaFontaine, Jacqueline
Geraki, Excursion Palaiologos, Pavlos et al
Geraki, History Gritsopoulos, Tasos Ath.
Geraki, History and Memories Poulitsa, Panagiotis I.
Geraki, The Oils of Poulitsa, Panagiotis Il.
Geraki, Woven in none
Gkiotsali and Agios Dimitrios Batsakis, Kon. S. and Pragalos, Dim. A.
Goranus Plagianni, Kosta Styl.
Haraka Skagkos, Nektarios I.
Kalamata Anaplioti, Gianni
Karyes Machairas, Panos Styl.
Karyes – Arachova Pitsiou, Kosta M.
Kastania Konroa, IoNNIA f.
Kavo Malia Arvanitis, Takis
Kerasias, Arcadia Stafanos, Anast. G.
Kokkinorrachi Athanasoulis, Dimitrios C.
Krokees Rozakos, Nikos I.
Krokees, Carnival Women’s Syllogos of Krokees
Krokees, Levetsova Liakakos, Petros
Kynouria Geronta, Rania
Kythira Kalligeros, Emmanouel P.
Leukoma of Molaois Moschovakos, Ioannis Sot.
Logkanikos by Georgakaki Georgakaki, Stavros Pan.
Logkanikos by Souchleris Souchleris, Leonidas
Lukia Avloulos, Stavros
Megali Vrysi of the Past Grigori, Chari Ath.
Melitinis Mihalou, Georgios
Metamorfosi Koutsogiannopoulos, G. D.
Molaoi Moschovakos, Ioannis Sot.
Palaiopanagia, Anogeia & Xirokambi Katsafanas, Dimitris G.
Paliomonastiro Stathaki, Stathi D.
Patrida Kountouri, Petros G.
Pellana, Ancient Smyrios, Athanasios G.
Pellana, In the Footsteps of Menelaous and Helen
Petrina Poulimenakos, Aris
Plytra & Karavvostasi Vlahaki-Proia, Matina
Sellasias, Administrative, Population Kapetanakis-Stathopoulos, Dimitra
Sellasias, Emigrants to Ellis Island Kapetanakis-Stathopoulos, Dimitra
Stemnitsa Theofili, Georgios Ant.
Tainaro Koutsilieri, Anargyros
Trapezontis, Kabourakiou History and Folklore Vasilakos, Vasileios et al
Tripolitsas Gritsopoulos, Tasos Ath.
Tsakona Tsakona, Stratis G.
Tsintzina (2 versions) Moutoulas, Pantelis
Tsouni Grigoris, Charis Ath.
Vardonia & the Turko-Vardouniotes Kapsali, Gerasimos
Varvitsa and Skoura Poumelioti, Poth. Georg.
Varvitsa and surrounding villages Mathaios, Nikos L.
Varvitsa by Bortsos Bortsos, Dimitrios Petros
Vassara Theofilis, Giagkos
Vatika Arvanitis, Takis
Vatika, My Homeland Kasouli-Simeonoglou, Aspasia
Vatika, The Fossil Forest Alevizou, Stavroula
Veroia Koufos, Nikolaos I.
Voia Arvanitis, Takis Chr.
Voutiani Trikilis, Takis
Voutiani, Sparta Tzannetos, Ioannis Konstantinos
Vresthena Spiliakou, Spiliou P.
Vrontamas Drepania, Manolis
Vrontamas, The Holocaust of Drepania, Manolis
When I Was a Child, 1939-1945 Diamantakos, Nikos
Xirokambi Laskaris, Dimitrios G.
Zaraka, Folklore Poumeliotis, Panagiotis Georg.
Zarax Petroleka, Konst.
Zarnatas, Messinia Tsilivi, Nikos Ath.

Return to Greece, 2016. Part Six: It’s All About Family

This is the sixth 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.

Open arms with tight hugs. Kisses on both cheeks. Happy smiles and joyful reunions. This is how my family greets me when I return to Sparta. There are so many places to explore and discover; but for me this is the bottom line:  it’s all about family. Prior to my visits to Greece, the names and places on my pedigree chart were simply long names and dots on a map. Now, they are attached to real people who have become a vibrant and important part of my extended family.

Joy is sharing what you love with whom you love. For me, joy is introducing my family to their roots — touring our villages and meeting our relatives. Kathy’s paternal grandparents are Kallianes from Kastania (now Kastoreion) and Linardakis from Vordonia. Although we don’t know of family now living there, we so enjoyed exploring the towns, peering into shops, watching chickens, dogs and cats roam their yards, and looking at stone and stucco houses that have sheltered countless families through countless years.

Kastoreion, Laconia. July 2016

Kastoreion, Laconia. ancestral village of the Kallianes family, July 2016

Vordonia, Laconia, July 2016

Andrew, Ben and Kathy at the Linardakis village of Vordonia, Laconia, July 2016

I love the monuments erected in every town that memorialize those who died in military service. My heart skips whenever I find an ancestral name etched in marble. Even if I cannot connect that individual to my line, I know that in these small villages, people with the same surname are almost certain to be related. While driving in Vordonia, we turned into a back street and unexpectedly were confronted by the village monument. stopping to examine it, I became emotional when I showed Ben and Andrew several men with the Linardakis surname.

Finding the Linardakis surname; Vordonia, July 2016

Finding the Linardakis surname; Vordonia, July 2016

Visiting our Aridas and Kostakos familes in Agios Ioannis has endeared my grandchildren to their Spartan relatives and grounded them to the land of their ancestors. Bridging the Atlantic and meeting kin has widened their concept of family. Eating a meal in a house built by their ancestor in the mid-1800’s has brought them a sense of “rootedness” that is unparalleled. And best of all, they were warmly embraced and loved immediately by all who met them.

These are photos of my Kostakos and Aridas family in Agios Ioannis, Sparta. They are on my father’s side — my grandparents were John Andrew (Ioannis Andreas) Kostakos and Hariklia Aridas, both born in Agios Ioannis. On the Kostakos side, our common ancestor is Andreas Kostakos who was married twice: first to Anastasia, then to Poletimi Christakos. These two Kostakos families are descended from Andreas and Anastasia; I am descended from Andreas and Poletimi. On the Aridas line, our common ancestor is Michail Aridas and his wife, Stamatina.

Ioanna Kostakos Family, with Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Peggy and Vassilis Vlachogiannis, Agios Ioannis, July 2016

Family of Ioanna Kostakos of Agios Ioannis. With Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Peggy and Vassilis Vachaviolis, and Ioanna Kostakos, July 2016

family-kostakos-eleni-group-07-13

Family of Eleni Kostakos of Agios Ioannis. Natasa, Panos, Eleni, Eleni, Panorea, Carol Kostakos Petranek, July 2016

Family of George Aridas, Agios Ioannis. George, Roula, Adamandia Aridas; George's sister, Afroditi. July 2016

Family of George Aridas, Agios Ioannis. George, Roula, Adamandia Aridas; George’s sister, Afroditi. July 2016

This is the Chelidonis Family of Athens. Nikos is my second cousin on my mother’s line. His mother was Tasia Eftaxia from Mystras; our common ancestor is Ioannis Eftaxias, born 1809. My grandmother, Angelina Eftaxias Papagiannakos, was Tasia’s aunt. Panagiotis found me on Facebook three years ago, and we met in person during my trip in 2014. We were so excited to connect our families, as neither of us knew that the other existed!

Family if Nikos Chelidonis, Athens. Viki, Nikos, Panagiotis. July 2016

Family if Nikos Chelidonis, Athens. Viki, Nikos, Panagiotis. July 2016

The Eftaxias family of Mystras has long roots in Mystras. My grandmother, Angelina Eftaxias is the aunt of Andreas (photo on left). Andreas’ son, Lewnidas, is a master stone mason and works on churches and other buildings throughout southern Laconia.

Andreas Eftaxias, his son. Lewnidas ad Afroditi. Mystras, July 2016

Andreas Eftaxias, his son. Lewnidas ad Afroditi. Mystras, July 2016

Lewnidas and Andreas told me that our first Eftaxias ancestor escaped from Constantinople during the Ottoman conquest in 1453! He and three friends fled together and settled in Mystras. Lewnidas showed me a bronze medallion that was brought by this ancestor and kept by the family for generations. I posted this photo on our HellenicGenealogyGeek Facebook page and knowledgeable friends there described the medallion: l-r: Christ on the cross; Byzantine cross with words, ” Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά”; the Holy Mother, Mary; and the Holy Trinity, possibly based on Rublev‘s painting of the same name.

Medallion dating to 1453, belonging to Eftaxias family; Mystras, July 2016

Medallion dating to 1453, belonging to Eftaxias family; Mystras, July 2016

I was so thrilled to extend my family further on this trip. My new-found cousin, Dimitrios Papagiannakos, and his wife, Georgia, own a beautiful home goods store in Sparta which sells a myriad of items from cooking utensils to beautiful crystal. I think I gave Dimitrios quite a shock when I walked into his store and introduced myself as his cousin from America! I had brought photos of his Pappas family in the U.S., including a group shot taken at our Pappas Cousin’s Reunion. Working around his customers, we managed to have a spirited and lovely conversation about our families. My only regret was that his parents were out of town and I was unable to meet them. Next trip!

papagiannakos-store-collage

Dimitrios and Georgia Papagiannakos in their lovely home goods store, Sparta, July 2016

I also traveled to Markopoulos, northeast of Athens, to meet Vassilis Papagiannakos, owner of the Papagiannakos Winery. The winery was started by his grandfather, also named Vassilis, in 1919. Now managed by the 3rd generation of Papagiannakos’, Vassilis and his wife, Antonia, have expanded the business, developed new and award-winning wines, and constructed a beautiful edifice where business events, weddings and other activities are held. Although Vassilis and I do not know how–or if– we are related, we are looking to explore our family roots together.

papagiannakos-winery-collage

Vassilis and Antonia Papagiannakos and their daughter, Aggeliki. Papagiannakos Winery, Markopoulos, July 2016

Every trip to Greece strengthens my family ties. I love these cousins. They set an example of hard work, honesty and devotion to our family and our heritage. I am ever-grateful to have the means and the opportunity to introduce them to my own descendants. Together, we carry on traditions and relationships that honor our ancestors.

Papou’s House in Sheepshead Bay

I love going to the home of my Kostakos grandparents in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Sitting on a very rare double-wide lot, it was spacious and airy inside with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens surrounding it. I have happy childhood memories of exploring all of its nooks and crannies with my cousins.

Last weekend as we were scanning my grandparents’ photos, we came across this rare treasure: a picture of my grandfather, John, standing proudly at the side of his house.

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Looking at a similar view of house today (below), I honestly think it has lost some of its grandeur. The original color was a Williamsburg blue with hardwood siding which lent an air of aristocracy, not evident in the gold cedar shake shingles pictured below.

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

We calculated that Papou and Yiayia bought their home in 1950. We all agreed with my cousin, John, who said, “it was the most beautiful house I had ever walked into.” This home had amenities not seen in the average residence. On the first floor was a large living room enhanced with a three-dimensional fresco of three horses hanging over the fireplace. The fresco was raised, and it looked as if the horses were jumping out of the wall, headed right towards you. There was a dining room with a butler’s pantry, a breakfast room, a big beautiful kitchen, and as seen on the right above, a sun porch. There was even a wine cellar in the basement. The second floor had three bedrooms – a master bedroom and two smaller ones. John said, “the one thing I couldn’t get over was that the sink and toilet were in separate rooms from the tub,” a most unusual feature in the 1950’s.

Cousin Marianne remembered that there were crawl spaces all over the house; in the attic and even in bedroom closets. One day, she found a stash of Colorforms and Gulliver’s Travels cutouts as she was exploring.

The house sat on an unheard-of double lot situated three blocks from the Sheepshead Bay waterfront. As other homes were encircled in concrete, Papou’s house was surrounded by green, manicured lawns and flower gardens. We cousins sprinted around the property playing all types of games, not realizing as youngsters what a rare treat that was in the city.

John recalled hearing that our grandfather paid $25,000 for the house in 1950, bargaining the owner down from his asking price of $30,000. Looking ahead to the time when the big house would inevitably be too much to care for, Papou built a two-family brick house on the property in 1963. Eventually, this became the home of his daughter, Alice, who cared for both of her parents throughout their lives. My cousin, John, now lives in the apartment upstairs and he watches over Alice who lives on the first level. It is the home where we gathered last weekend for our scanfest.

Sheepshead Bay House (2)

Sheepshead Bay house with 2-story home on property, 2016

This house is my grandfather’s testament of attaining the American dream. As an illiterate 17-year-old orphaned immigrant from a village outside Sparta, Papou traveled on a ship alone, coming to the new world to join his older brother, Vasileios. Papou went from push-cart vendor to Coney Island kiosk owner, to proprietor of a successful seafood restaurant in Williamsburg and owner of many properties in Brooklyn and Long Island. His is a legacy that brings continued pride and inspiration to his many loving descendants.