Papou’s “Pistopoitiko”

A pistopoitiko (πιστοποιητικό) is a document issued by an authorized agent attesting to the proof of a fact. In Greece, these are predominantly used to certify birth (πιστοποιητικό γεννήσεως), marriage ( πιστοποιητικό γάμου) or death (πιστοποιητικό θανάτου). Thus, it is likely that a genealogist will encounter this document at some point in the research process.

For anyone seeking Greek citizenship, the pistopoitiko of birth for a parent or grandparent is mandatory. It certifies that the ancestor is registered as a citizen in Greece and proves the applicant’s Greek heritage. Knowing that it is an important genealogical record and could be of future value to my family, I went to the KEP (Citizen’s Service Center) in Sparta to obtain a pistopoitiko for my paternal grandfather, John Andrew Kostakos (Ioannis Andreas Kostakos – Ιωάννης Ανδρέας Κωστάκος).

KEP Office, Sparta, Greece

Before a pistopoitiko of birth can be issued, a copy of the Male Register (Μιτρώοv Αρρένον ) listing the ancestor must be procured. These can usually be found at a regional office of the General State Archives of Greece. If the Archive office does not have the Male Register for your ancestor’s village, it will be at the Mayor’s office (Dimarheion), the Civil Registry Office (Lixarheion) or the KEP.

One of the first documents I obtained in Greece years ago was the Mitroo Arrenon for my papou Kostakos. He was born in 1879 in Agios Ioannis, and his name is on line 6 below.

Mitroon Arrenon, village of Agios Ioannis, year 1879

I brought a copy of this to Greece with me, and I’m glad I did. It made the process very easy because I did not have to locate it at the Archives or the KEP office.

At the KEP, the first question asked was:  “for what purpose do you need a pistopoitiko?” I replied “for Greek citizenship,” because I knew that was an acceptable response whereas “genealogical research” may not be. I was then asked the name, birth year and village of my grandfather so that a search for his Male Register could commence. This is when I took out the copy and handed it to the clerk. She asked if I obtained the copy from the KEP, and I said no, that it was from the Archive office. She examined it carefully and looked at me several times; I wondered if it was an acceptable copy. Without a word, she turned to her computer and began typing. This is what she handed me:

Pistopoitiko of Birth, John Andrew Kostakos. Obtained at the Sparta KEP office, July 2019.

Translation:
Certification that:  Kostakos, Ioannis of Andreas is written in the Mitroo Arrenon of the village of Agios Ioannnis of the Municipality of Mystra of the Dimos Sparta, Nomos Lakonias, with the birth year of 1879 and serial number 6. He was born in Agios Ioannis and is of Greek nationality by birth. His name was deleted from the Mitroo Arrenon with A.N. 10393/9-11-1982. This pistopoitiko is issued for legal use. The document is signed by an official, and also by the mayor, Kyriakos D. Diamantakos.

Being in Sparta, having the Mitroon Arrenon, and going in person to the KEP made the acquisition of this document an easy process. From a remote location, one could obtain the Mitroo through the regional archive, then contact the KEP office in the area of one’s ancestral village, send the Mitroo, and request a pistopoitiko. Alternatively, the entire process of obtaining both the Mitroo and the pistopoitiko can be done solely through the KEP. The issue is always, will the KEP office respond in a timely manner.

My recommendation is:  if you will be in Greece and you want a pistopoitiko of birth, marriage, or death, plan time in your visit to obtain this in person. Having such a document in your possession may someday be important to you or a member of your family. I am thrilled to have this certification of birth for my papou.

John Andrew Kostakos; my grandfather’s photo from his naturalization papers, 1931

 

 

Greece 2019 – Kataskynoseis Taygeti, the Bishop’s Summer Camp

High in the Taygetos mountains — way above the Mystras castle — happy sounds cascade down the steep, green slopes: shouts, laughter and the occasional blowing of a whistle. There are 100 youth at the Kataskynoseis Taygeti, the summer camp sponsored by the Holy Metropolis of Sparta and Monemvasia and under the direction of Bishop Efstathios. For ten days, they enjoy the freedom of loosely structured time, away from home yet carefully supervised under the watchful care of Father Seraphim and other priests.

Entrance to Kataskynoses Tayegeti, Children’s Camp

Banners of Greece, Byzantium and Orthodoxy greet us and denote culture and religion

A total of 500 youth between the ages of 10-18 will attend this summer. There are five ten-day sessions, with 100 youth per session which alternate between boys and girls. The camp has everything to meet the needs of the young people and their leaders: five cabins which sleep 25 each; a dining room and kitchen, a lovely outdoor church, administrative buildings and a medical building. Much of the food, equipment and supplies are donated by individuals and businesses.

Dining hall

Homemade pizza for dinner

Three of the five cabins for sleeping.

Cabin check every morning ensures that rooms are clean and tidy

As the schedule below depicts, the days are busy and filled with activities. The day begins with morning prayers, raising of the flag and singing the national anthem, breakfast, room check. There is one hour of group activity, one hour of team games and a variety of programs:  races, ball games, ping pong, basketball, soccer, hiking; and at the end of the day, group meetings, showers, dinner and night prayers. There are guest speakers who address topics of interest to youth such as astronomy. Groups take turns setting up the dining hall for meals.

Daily schedule — busy, busy, busy!

The ball field is the only flat surface at the camp, and is situated at the top of a mountain.

Lovely outdoor church which can also serve as a seated gathering place

Everything is here for Greek Orthodox Church services

Bishop Efstathios began summer camps in the late 1970’s at an unused monastery in Agios Anygyron. When a monk returned to reopen the monastery for religious use, the search for a new location began. During this transition time, army trailers were used and more children desired to attend. Great effort was made to find a location away from villages, where children would have plenty of room to run, play and be as noisy as they wish. In 1995, the current location was secured. It, too, has an old monastery and a church, Zoodohos Pigi (the fountain that gives life), which was built in the 1400’s!

The campus of the monastery where the earliest camps were held until construction of new cabins was completed

Zoodohos Pigi interior

Frescoes inside the church of the monastery, Zoodohos Pigi, which date to the 1400s

Supervision of the youth is undertaken by two priests who volunteer to serve, and the Bishop makes the final decision. Each group of 25 youth is led by two “captains,” or counselors; most of these are young people over age 18 who have “graduated” from camp and returned to be leaders.

In addition to Kataskynoseis Taygeti, the Metropolis sponsors a camp in the city of Neapoli for about 20 special needs children who reside in a facility also operated by the Metropolis. Other Metropolises throughout Greece also sponsor summer camps.

During the past three summers, I have had the opportunity to meet with Bishop Efstathios several times. He is a man who exemplifies the love and service which Jesus Christ gave during his ministry. He often visits the camp and sometimes has meals with the youth, as this article denotes. For almost 50 years, the youth of Laconia have been blessed by his efforts to provide them with a safe and meaningful camp experience. As the camp grows, so will the number of youth who will cherish this special time as a highlight of their summers.

Bishop Efstathios shares a meal and talks with youth, July 12, 2019. Photo from this article

Greece 2019 – If These Books Could Talk

Every one of the 715 village church books in Laconia which I digitized this summer tells a story. From the earliest books dated 1860 to those of today, a panoply of human milestones unfold. From celebratory births, baptisms and marriages to somber funerals, the vital events of many thousands of Laconians are documented and now preserved.

These extant volumes have experienced the horrors of wars, the uncertainties of occupations, and the debacles of natural disasters. Their pages have managed to withstand insect infestations, water damage, mold on covers and on pages, ink spills and human neglect. Honestly, it is a miracle that so many survived.

There was mold throughout this book

Birth-Marriage-Death Book 1913-52

Birth-Marriage-Death Book 1913-52. Flattening the pages of this book to enable digitization took hours, and was done with the assistance of my cousin, Panorea Kostakos (see photo below).

My cousin, Panorea Kostakos, helps to sort and then flatten pages.

But these books reveal much more–the sagas of their villages. They are pieces of history, chronicling the demise of picturesque mountain villages and revealing the growth of places in the fertile Spartan valley. I can see which villages are dying and which are thriving. When I visit uninhabited villages high in the Taygetos, the death versus birth entries reveal the exact timeline of decline with statistical accuracy.

School house in the now uninhabited village of Barsinikos/Taygeti, atop the Taygetos mountains. The school closed in the 1950s due to lack of students.

This sign, “Kalo Taxidi” bids visitors a “good trip” as they leave the high mountain village of Barsinikos/Taygeti.

Village churches do not have “offices” or clerical staff. The priest does everything. Some churches may have a storage area with a desk where books are kept, but many priests keep books in their own homes.

A priest’s desk in a church “office.”

Storage area in a village church

There were times I was saddened by the condition of the books, and times when I marveled at the ingenuity of the priests in their efforts to maintain them. I saw some very creative (although definitely non-archival) restorative measures.

Newspaper book cover

Flowered contact paper used to repair binding

Packing tape was used throughout this book to keep it together

This book is held together with string and metal wire

The photos below show examples of pages from birth, marriage and death books. In 1912, the Orthodox Church standardized book formats, and all priests were to use these new books. I was stunned to find that many priests are still recording entries in books which began in 1912–that means they are using books that are 107 years old!

Magoula, Sparta. Births, Baptisms 1908-1934

Vamvakou,  Deaths 1914-2004

Monemvasia, Marriages 1913-1997

Books from the 1800’s are either faded, almost to the point of non-readability, or in fragments.

Mystras, Births 1860-1885. Although the book is in remarkably good condition, the ink has faded, making it difficult to read the entries

Sykea, Death 1859-1913. The priest had the fragmented pages preserved on rice paper, and the book was rebound

This book of deaths has been rebound and digitized on a CD.

Vlachioti, Deaths 1912-1978. Rebound and digitized, with pages preserved on rice paper

At the start of this project, I was anticipating that most Laconian villages had books dating pre-1900. After all, these villages are hundreds of years old and survived Ottoman, Venetian and Nazi occupation. Sadly, only 11 villages (under the jurisdiction of the Metropolis of Sparta and Monemvasia) have at least one book which has entries from the 1860’s or later: Anogeia, Agios Ioannis (Sparta), Geraki, Mystras, Krokees, Koulentia (Ellinikou), Perivolia, Sykea, Voutiani, Vroulia (now Sellasia), Xirokambi. Sadly, so much of our history has already been lost. But we now have “put our finger in the dike” by preserving what does exist and having back-up copies at the Metropolis.

This work could not be done without the support of Gilad Japeth, CEO of MyHeritage.com. His company will host these digital images and foster the acquisition of additional Greek record collections.This will help meet the increasing demand for vital records from Greece:  over 22,600 people are members of the Hellenic Genealogy Geek Facebook page with many new additions daily. We are riding a tsunami of interest and the wave continues to increase.

It is a privilege for me to have the opportunity to preserve the records of my ancestral homeland. I am grateful for the trust of Bishop Efstathios, who embraced the idea of record preservation with great enthusiasm and sincerity, and allowed me to handle these volumes. As a volunteer, this is one small way I can “give back” to the community which gave my family life.

Working in the Metropolis conference room to digitize the village church books

Greece 2019 – The Road to Perganteika

Listen to the locals! Wise counsel, which is leading me down new roads (literally). When I had lunch with friends in Barsinikos, I mentioned to Christos (a native of the area) that I was trying to determine where my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos, may have lived before he was in Agios Ioannis in 1844. With waving arms and rapid Greek, he said, Anavryti and Perganteika (these are two villages on top of the Taygetos mountains). I was a bit stunned; my cousins had said Anavryti, but there was never a mention of Perganteika. So I replied in a nice manner, “But how do you know that?” Christos looked at me incredulously (how could I possibly doubt him?) and went into a long and animated explanation about how a man would settle in a certain area, have children, and then those children would populate the area; and, that a small settlement (not a village) would be formed by a couple of families. Therefore, the origin of specific families is known.

During the Ottoman occupation, families fled to the high mountains where they lived in ways that are unimaginable to me. After the Revolution of 1821, they began to descend into the valleys where the land was fertile and flat.  When I told Christos that Andreas Kostakos was listed in the 1844 Election Rolls as living in Agios Ioannis (in the valley), he said that by that time, he had already come down from the mountain.

1844 Election Rolls, LADA Collection; Line 1205: Andreas Kostakos age 35, indigenous; owns property; village Agios Ioannis

Location of Perganteika:  it is above and over the mountain from Anavryti; Agios Ioannis is in the valley. Seeing it on a topographical map, it is easier to understand how Andreas followed the pattern of descending from the highest to the lowest location after the Revolution.

Perganteika, in relation to Anavryti and Agios Ioannis

Christos’ words have been weighing on me for two weeks, and I resolved to go to the now deserted settlement of Perganteika. How could I not go if my great-grandfather could have been from there? So this afternoon, I left the flat terrain of Agios Ioannis and headed up the mountain.

Anavryti is an historic village situated near the top of one of the Taygetos mountains. Prior to a road constructed in 1980, it could be reached only by foot or donkey. The white spaghetti-looking lines on the map above are the switchback roads, with hairpin turns providing magnificent views of the valley below.

Leaving the valley on the road to Anavryti

Almost to Anavryti; almost to the mountain top

When I entered the village, I stopped to take photos. The owner of a taverna which overlooked the valley came to say hello, and I asked him where I could find the road to Perganteika. He said to go through town and when the road dead ended to turn left, and when I reached a fork in the road with a steep turn, to go right. Then he looked at my Honda Civic, shook his head and said, “not in that car. With a Jeep, maybe.” I had heard that there was a church service in Perganteika the previous Sunday so I completely disregarded his caution, thanked him, and kept going. The road through Anavryti is paved stone; very narrow; with homes so close you can almost touch them from your car window.

The road in the village

Every mountain village has fountains where cold, pure mountain water flows continuously. Villagers and hikers fill their water bottles. This fountain was donated by the Katsichtis family and is at the edge of town.

Fountain of Anavryti.

Towards the end of the village, the road changed from stone to asphalt, still narrow, still winding, but easily driveable. It wasn’t long before the road dead-ended and I came to a sign. The dark blue addendum with the left-pointing arrow proved the taverna owner was correct and that I was going the right way.

Immediately, the road changed. It became narrower. The asphalt became rougher and big ruts appeared randomly. There was a steep drop-off so I had to stay far from the edge. Donkey droppings were everywhere; they are still part of life in the high mountains. Here, in the middle of nowhere, a truck appeared. I stopped and asked the men where they were going. I thought that if they were headed to Perganteika I could follow them, but they waved me off and muttered something in Greek which I could not understand.

Drop off

I was doing great! The road was not bad and I was feeling a bit smug about ignoring the taverna owner and forging ahead. Until I got to the fork in the road where I was to turn right. I started on the hairpin turn and stopped. No way could I go any farther in a Honda Civic. The pavement ended and ahead there was nothing but rock.

The rock road to Perganteika

I considered leaving the car and walking, but the map showed Perganteika was 4.2 km and I was wearing sandals. I ventured a bit by foot but the road worsened as it continued. It wasn’t going to happen today. Disappointed, I headed back towards Anavryti. I decided to go to the Faneromenis Monastery, just 2 km from the road into Anavryti. Although there are thousands of churches in remote and uninhabited places, I continue to be amazed whenever I find one. Despite their lonely habitat and disuse, they are decorated with beautiful icons.

Agios Stratigos

Once again, the passable road ended at the monastery. I would have liked to continue towards Mystras, but the road became a steep gravel path descending precipitously down the mountain. Not in a Honda Civic! That’s when I realized that the road was maintained for the monastery. I turned around again and drove back to Anavryti.

Faneromenis Monastery; a lovely but lonely edifice in the wilderness

No village stopover is complete without a visit to the cemetery. Cemeteries in Laconia are lovely memorials to loved ones. White marble crypts are decorated with flowers  and photos. With the mountains as backdrop, they are peaceful and spiritual resting places.

Cemetery in Anavryti

Next summer, I am renting a Jeep and bringing walking shoes. I will get to Perganteika. How can I not go?

Greece 2019 – Enchanting Epidavros

An open-air theater that seats 15,000 people? Where you can sit in the back row and hear a whisper from onstage? This is  Epidavros, built in the 4th century B.C. and still used for live performances in July and August.

Photo Credit: By Rvjansen22 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Theater stage entrance

Although the theater is majestic, it is only one aspect of this impressive site. Its origins lie in Greek mythology as the birthplace Asclepius, the son of Apollo. He was a master physician and the god of healing. Ancient Greeks built a comprehensive health complex here, and remnants of its numerous buildings remain.

Diagram of the Asklepieion of Epidavros

One section of the archaeological site, Epidavros

Remnants of the Abaton (incubation hall), where patients were cured by Askelpios

Archaeological excavations and restoration are being actively undertaken at Epidavros. I can only imagine the painstaking work involved.

Restoration continues

Pulley system used to lift tons of stone and marble

Since this is an ancient Greek site, surely there is a stadium! Athletic contests in Epidavros dating from 5th century B.C. are in the writings of Plato and Pindar. Today, the stadium is used in limited capacity for school track and field activities.

Stadium of Epidavros

And of course, there is a museum. Although this one is small, its treasures rival those at Delphi, Corinth, and other places. I marvel that statues and artifacts over 2,000 years old are not encased; their beauty can be examined from inches away.

Treasures of the past

Magnificent statues line the walls of the museum

Timeless beauty

Adding to the enchantment of the Epidavros experience is getting there. The road along the coast and over the mountains is a winding ribbon of scenic overpasses and stunning views. Thankfully there are pull-out places to stop and absorb the beauty, and to take picture-postcard photos.

The road to Epidavros

A

Families flock to the rocky beaches. The water is clear, clean and inviting. Beach shops sell the same wares as the ones in Ocean City, Maryland!

Beach time

Greece or US? It’s the same!

Now that I’ve explored by day, I am ready for a play at night. Whether tomorrow or 2,000 years ago, the experience will be timeless.