Greece 2017. Part Two: Athens & The War Museum

No matter how many times I come to Athens, I am enthralled with the city–its beauty, vibrancy, and timelessness. Athens is the epitome of classicism and the locus of history. It pulsates with an energy that is thrilling and contagious. No one leaves without being changed.

Ruins dot the neighborhoods and surprise you at every turn. The city is built upon layers of antiquity. Excavations for renovations or new buildings provide continuing sources of artifacts. When I asked a friend why the smaller pieces are not safely placed in museums, she commented that there are too many archaeological relics everywhere to preserve; thus, many are left exposed and unattended.

Ruins in an Athens residential neighborhood

The Acropolis towers over Athens, a constant reminder of where you are and with whom you are mingling.  Although Greeks can be divisive in their politics, they are united in their pride. Even the unschooled know their country’s history and innumerable contributions to democracy, literature, art and science.

Acropolis, Athens

Nestled under the Acropolis, both the Plaka and Monastiraki Square are hubs of vendors, craftspeople, shops and cafes. There is a surprise at every turn of the winding streets. From dawn to midnight, natives and tourists mingle to barter over trinkets, food, works of art; and to eat and drink in innumerable venues.

The Plaka, Athens

Knowing my love of history, my friend, Giannis, wanted me to experience the past from a different perspective. He took me to the War Museum of Athens, established in 1964 to honor those who fought for freedom from ancient times to post World War II. He promised that I would learn much about history; and, although “war is not my thing,” he was right. The past opened before me in manner unparalleled. Photos, paintings, statues and exhibits portrayed a country under continuous invasion and occupation, with everyday people struggling to maintain their lives and safeguard their families. I have never seen so many guns, rifles, swords, and other tools of destruction in one place!

After I recovered from the shock of seeing thousands of weapons, I focused on the displays in each room. Many of us had ancestors who fought during the Revolution of 1821. Some received Aristeia awards which are earned by soldiers for exemplary actions in battle. Aristeia comes from the word άριστος (aristos) which is defined as “excellent.” In Greek warfare, an aristeia (αριστείο) is an award of great prestige and distinction. I was thrilled to see these medals on display.

Awards: (left) Aristeia for the Revolution of 1821; (right) 1843 Constitution

One family story that I am trying to verify is a link between my Papagiannakos and the Maltsiniotis families. In 1887, the Maltsiniotis brothers established an armaments company which was later merged into Pyrkal, one of the oldest defense companies in Greece. Imagine my shock when Giannis pointed out these displays that were clearly marked with the Maltsiniotis name!

Maltsiniotis armaments

One photograph, thankfully unrelated to war, caught my feminist attention. In 1952, shortly after the end of the Greek Civil War (1949), women gained the right to vote. This picture captured that historic moment, and I felt the triumph of the “silent majority” who were silent no longer.

Women voting for the first time in 1952

When men left to fight, women emerged as fierce protectors of the homeland. I am enthralled with the story behind the painting of this strong Maniate woman, holding a scythe in her right hand. During the 1821 Revolution, there was an invasion in Diro, Mani (in the southern Peloponnese). The men were gone, fighting in the battle of Verga, and the women and children were left to tend the fields. When 1,500 Ottoman soldiers attempted to conquer Diro, church bells rang to rally the citizens. Women ran from their fields with scythes in hands. They fought off the invaders and forced them to retreat back to the sea, thus stopping the armies of Ibrahim and preventing an invasion. I love how this woman’s eyes shine with fervor and determination. No one was going to take her land!

Woman of Mani, 1821 Revolution

This is the plaque further describing this amazing story of heroism.

Plaque describing the Maniate women halting the invasion of Ibrahim, June 1826

As I walked each room of the War Museum and studied the myriad of displays, I was reminded that this is but one small country which has been through countless wars and invasions. Hundreds of photographs and paintings depict faces haunted and places destroyed. How senseless war is!

Every visit to Athens is a new lesson in history and culture. I am ever grateful to friends and family who ensure that I will leave with a renewed appreciation and understanding of my ancestral land.

 

 

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Greece 2017. Part One: Piraeus

The port of Piraeus is a lively and bustling community of winding streets, hotels, apartments, and shops. As the maritime gateway to Athens, its three harbors stretch for miles around the shoreline, providing numerous docks for cruise ships, fishing boats, and private yachts. Its history begins in the 5th century B.C. when it was designated as the trade center of Athens, seven miles north. Today, it is the largest passenger port in Europe and the second largest in the world.

Piraeus Harbor

The waterfront is a most picturesque spot to stroll and explore. Countless cafes and restaurants beckoned me to stop and enjoy the view. At 7:30, my friend, Giannis, and I met at an outdoor bar, overlooking the water. We talked for hours about history, genealogy, and village life. At dinner time, 9:45 (!),we moved to a sidewalk table and enjoyed traditional souvlaki while harbor life swirled around us.

One of thousands of restaurants along the Piraeus waterfront.

Piraeus harbor

But the sites of Piraeus go beyond the nautical and encompass the archaeological.  While visiting with my friend, Giota, I was stunned to see ruins in open areas–precious relics which I assumed would be safely ensconced in a museum. Wrong! There are so many ancient treasures in Greece that there are not enough museums to hold them. The artifacts in these photos were “protected” by an iron fence and situated in a residential area.

Giota Siora and me, Piraeus, July 2017

Archaeological treasures as seen on a street in Piraeus

It is hard for me to wrap my head around the history which permeates everyday life in Greece. To natives, history is not facts read in a book; it stares them in the face wherever they turn. It is a pillar that is passed on the way to work, or a statue that is seen outside an apartment window. It is the anchor of Greek identity and the substance which forms its collective unconscious, and mine.

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.

Church Records in Greek Villages

Civil records are the first collections perused by researchers. They are (relatively) easy to access at the Archive offices and Town Halls (Dimarheion): Male Registers, Town Registers, School Records. Election Registers (lists of men eligible to vote in the late 1800’s) are online. I am grateful that so many have survived invasions, occupations, natural disasters and civil war.

Fortunately, these records do exist.  Unfortunately, they primarily enumerate males. Daughters, wives and sisters are almost invisible. Young girls may be found in school records (only if they attended), and Town Registers which list entire families.

There is one compendium, however, that is an “equal opportunity” collection: church records. Women as well as men were baptized, married, and died. Their footprints are in tandem with men’s as they walked the path of life. Thus, records in churches hold priceless information and that will fill in the gaps of a family structure.

Interior of church at Charisio, Laconia

Village Churches

During my trip to Sparta this July, I was finally — after three previous attempts — able to access and view the Birth, Marriage and Death books in churches of three villages. The doors were opened in various ways:

  1. a friend, who is a psaltis (cantor) in one church introduced me to the priest, explained what I was seeking and why, and arranged a meeting
  2. a newly-found cousin was friends with the priest of another church and made an a appointment for us to meet;
  3. one priest whom I had visited called another and asked him to allow me to view his church books.

Local people are the key to obtaining access to village church records!

A stranger who walks into a church and asks to look at old books may be dismissed with the wave of a hand and the words, “we do not have any.” They were [pick one] burned, or destroyed by the Nazis, or lost in a flood, etc. Priests are very protective of these records and rightly so — they have information about the living as well as the dead, and it is their responsibility to ensure that their parishioners and their families are not compromised in any way. However, that does not mean that you cannot access them. It does mean that you need someone to pave the way for you — someone whom the priest knows and trusts.

Every village in Greece has at least one church. When villages were settled, the first building erected was the church, as it is the focal point of every community. Most villages, even the smallest ones, have several churches; my ancestral village of Agios Ioannis, Sparta, has eight! However, only one or two are used for Sunday worship. Others were constructed to honor a patron saint, or as family chapels. A village priest will officiate at all the churches in his parish, holding services in each on alternate Sundays or on a rotating basis.

To commemorate a Saint’s Day, a special liturgy is held in a church that bears that Saint’s name. For example, on July 26, I attended a service in honor of Agia Paraskevi in the church which bears that name, located in Theologos, Laconia. This Saint’s Day is the only time that services are held in the Agia Paraskevi Church.

Agia Paraskevi, Theologos, Laconia, July 26, 2017. Interior of church, Saint Paraskevi, a delightful visit with my Zaharakis cousins of Theologos.

What Can You Expect to Find? Examples of Village Church Books

Each church is different. There is no uniform date of genesis for any records. In the books I examined, most started in the early 1900’s; however, one baptismal book had a few entries from 1868! Generally, people will be able to find records for their grandparents’ or possibly great-grandparents’ generation.

This book of baptisms begins in 1913; column headings are date of baptism, name of infant, name of father, maiden name of mother; name of godfather and residence; place of baptism; name of priest.

Baptismal Record

 

This book of marriages begins in 1913; column headings are date of marriage; name, age and residence of groom and his father’s name; name, age residence of bride and her father’s name; name and residence of best man/bridesmaid; name of priest.

Marriage Book

This book of deaths also begins in 1912; columns include the date of funeral; name, age, residence and occupation of deceased; name of priest.

Book of Deaths

The priests whom I visited allowed me to look at the church books and take digital images of some pages where my family name appeared. This meant that I had to be able to read my surnames in old Greek script!

How to Prepare for a Visit

This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit your ancestral village and be able to view church records. Be prepared! Priests may be busy and your time may be limited.

  1. Make a list of every surname in your family who was born, married, or died in the village.
  2. Ask someone to write these surnames in Greek script — then to write them again in “sloppy” handwriting. You need to be able to recognize the names you are seeking.
  3. If you know a relative in the village, advise him/her of the dates you will be visiting and request that they contact the priest in advance to ask his permission for you to view the books, and to give him the exact day you will be there.
  4. If you do not have a relative in the village, find one when you arrive. It’s easy! Greeks are very communal and everyone knows everybody else in the village. Just go to the platea (village square) and ask the locals where the “Papageorgakos” family lives. If you ask in a kind manner, someone may offer to take you to the house and even introduce you. Be sure you have candy or cookies to bring — a sweet offering that will touch the hearts of your relatives.
  5. Bring a letter of introduction from your local priest. It will open doors for you. My cousin, Father Eugene Pappas, is the Priest at Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn, New York. He wrote a letter on official church stationary, introducing me, explaining that he and I were working together on our family history, and asking permission to view the books. I brought several copies of this letter, and gave one to every priest. Each of them read it carefully (sometimes twice!) and they asked to keep a copy for their Archives. After reviewing the letter, they had no hesitation in showing me the books.

Letter of Introduction, Father Eugene Pappas

I understand that accessing village church records is not easy. There is a trip to take, connections to make, a language barrier to overcome, and luck to be had. However, it is doable. I wrote above that I had tried three times to gain access to these books but, until this year, I had been unsuccessful. The keys to success are preparation and persistence, and–you must have a local contact who can introduce you to the priest.

The rewards are worth the effort. Seeing the baptismal record for your grandparent, or the marriage record of your great-grandparents, will leave you speechless. You will be ever grateful, and your confidence level will soar. If you can do this, you can do anything!

Archives of Sparta: Mitroon Arrenon (Male Registers)

After the Revolution of 1821 when the land of Hellas victoriously overthrew 400 years of Ottoman Rule, the “new” country of Greece began to form a central government. As a means of enumerating males who would pay taxes and serve in the military, the Mitroon Arrenon or Male Register was instituted. Every village was required to maintain a list of male births, the year and place of birth, father’s name and father’s occupation. Over time, these official government registers have also substituted as official birth records.

They are a most valuable and very important genealogical resource.

Mitroon Arrenon, Agios Ioannis, Sparta: 1844-1847

 

Mitroon Arrenon can be found in the Dimarheion (Town Hall) of the municipality in which the village is located. Some regional offices of the General Archives of Greece may also have copies for villages in their area of jurisdiction. If you are taking a research trip, you must locate these records because, except for rare cases, they are not digitized or found online in the regional Archive offices mentioned above, or at the Dimarheion websites.

My previous post, Reading a Town Register and a Male Register, gives further information on how to read a Male Register.

The Sparta office of the General Archives of Greece has some Mitroon Arrenon in their collection. They can be contacted at:  mail@gak.lak.sch.gr. The staff can read and speak English. Be sure that you include an approximate birth year of your male ancestor, along with his original surname and exact village of birth. Remember that records are created in specific villages, as shown by the list below.

Mitroon Arrenon Records in the Sparta Archive Office
(Note: smaller villages, hamlets and neighborhoods will be found in the record of the larger, closest town)
Anavryti:  1839-1923
Agios Ioannis: 1835-1930
Alepochori, Geronthon: 1830-1950
Alikon, Messi: 1845-1915
Ano Volarion: 1865-early 1900’s
Aeropoli: 1837-1915
Archontikou, Melitinis: 1844-1915
Vatheia, Messi: 1836-1914
Vachou, Laconia: 1839-1915
Vresthena: 1831-1924 and 1925-1939
Geraki, Geronthron: 1826-1914
Germas, Teos: 1836-1915
Gerolimenos, Teos: 1845-1914
Gytheio: 1836-1915
Dafni: 1837-1935
Exo Nyfi: 1841-1915
Karitsa, Geronthron: 1841-1914
Karvela, Teos: 1814-1913
Kelefas, Teos: 1830-1915
Konakion, Teos: 1829-1914
Kotronos: 1831-1914
Kittas, Messi: 1845-1913
Kounou, Teos: 1831-1915
Kryoneriou, Oitylo: 1846-1913
Mystra: 1824-1915
Pyrgos, Oitylo: 1845-1914
Lymperdou, Malevriou: 1842-1915
Minas, Oitylo: 1845-1915
Neo Oitylo: 1834-1915
Neohori, Gytheio: 1840-1915
Dritsis: 1865-1901
Oitylo: 1840-1915
Sidokastron: 1845-1915
Skamnaki: 1825-1915
Sparta: currently not available
Trachilas: 1830-1915
Tzerovas: 1839-1912

If you need a village that is not on this list, or a different year range for a village that is on this list, you will need to visit the Dimarheion (Town Hall) that houses the records for that village.