Collecting Cousins

On November 7, I went to Orlando, Florida to teach 4 classes at the Central Florida Genealogy Conference. Although my classes were well attended, the one on “Researching Your Greek Ancestry” attracted two people. Nevertheless, I was happy to be able to give them individualized help in the areas they need to research.

Carol Petranek, teaching at the Central Florida Genealogy Conference

Carol Petranek, teaching at the Central Florida Genealogy Conference

While in Florida, I took full advantage of connecting with new cousins. On Friday evening, I met Maria Lambrakos Skordilis and her son, Peter, for dinner in Ybor City (downtown Tampa). Peter, Sophia and I are DNA cousins, and according to GEDmatch Peter and I are about 4.6 generations from our “most recent common ancestor” (MCRA); Sophia and I are 4.8.

Sophia Skordilis, her son, Peter and Carol Petranek. Tampa, Florida, November 2015

Sophia Skordilis, her son, Peter and Carol Petranek. Tampa, Florida, November 2015

We share Brooklyn, New York roots: Peter and I were both baptized at St. Constantine & Helen Church, which is also where Sophia was married. We recognized many Greek Brooklynite names, but as hard as we tried, we couldn’t determine our common ancestor. Sophia’s pedigree includes the surnames Lambrakos, Papastratis, Stratakos, Lambrianakos and Doukas. These families are from Gorani, about  6 miles south or a 1/2 hour drive from Sparta and Agios Ioannis. I’m thinking that Sophia and I are related through my maternal line, as she looks as if she could be a twin to one of my cousins. Even our waitress commented that there is a strong resemblance between us!

Agios Ioannis, Sparta to Gorani

Agios Ioannis, Sparta to Gorani

On Saturday evening after the conference, I visited with George Topalidis whom I had met at our Hellenic Genealogy Conference in Salt Lake City on September 26. We were discussing plans for a similar conference in Tarpon Springs, Florida next fall.

George and Eva Capous Topalidis, Carol Petranek; Orlando, Florida, November 2015

George and Eva Capous Topalidis, Carol Petranek; Orlando, Florida, November 2015

Was I ever surprised to learn that George’s wife, Eva, and I also share Brooklyn connections! Her family is from Anavriti, the village next to Agios Ioannis (honestly, I think everyone in Brooklyn has ties to Anavriti!) Her father’s family is Capous; her mother’s line is Chrisomalis. We started comparing notes and I learned that her Chrisomalis family married into my grandmother Aridas’ family, and that she is thus a cousin to one of my 2nd cousins. Huh? What are the chances???

On Sunday morning, I had brunch with my 2nd cousin, Jim Stavracos and his lovely wife, Maria. This was the first time we met. Jim’s grandmother, Antonia Kostakos Stavracos, is the sister of my paternal grandfather, John Andrew Kostakos. Of course, Jim and I are Brooklyn-born although both of us left the city as young children. He grew up in Baltimore and I grew up in New Jersey, then Maryland.

Carol Petranek, Jim and Maria Stavracos. Orlando, Florida; November 2015

Carol Petranek, Jim and Maria Stavracos. Orlando, Florida; November 2015

I had found Antonia’s death certificate and her husband, Peter’s naturalization records which I brought to Jim. He filled me in on many family stories and shared photographs. He said he has a photo of Antonia holding a shotgun, standing in front of the family home in Greece. I sure hope he can find that one!

I am so excited to meet these new family members and look forward to collecting more cousins!

On another note…last Monday evening, I gave a presentation at the Carroll County, Maryland Genealogy Society and met a woman named Antigoni Lefteris (Eleftheriou) Ladd. Her family is from Trikala, a city in north central Greece. They emigrated and settled in the town of Westminister in western Maryland.

Antigoni Leftheris Ladd, Carol Petranek; Westminster, Maryland; November 2015. Antigoni is the editor of The Greek Families of Westminster, Maryland.

Antigoni Leftheris Ladd, Carol Petranek; Westminster, Maryland; November 2015. Antigoni is the editor of The Greek Families of Westminster, Maryland.

In April 2013, Antigoni became involved in an initiative begun by Westminster’s physician, Dr. Dean Griffin, to collect and preserve the stories of local Greek families. From these first-person narratives, photos and news articles, a community history evolved and is now preserved in the fascinating book, Honoring Our Heritage, The Greek Families of Westminster, Maryland. The following families comprise the heart of the book: Amprazes, Sirinakis, Haralampoulos, Koretos, Bourexis, Lefteris, Letras, Nickolas (Nikolaou), Pappas (Batayiannis), Samios, Sharkey (Chakou).

Antigoni became the editor of this project, and it was her persistence and dedicated effort that culminated its publication in August 2015. I love this book! It is so inspiring and heartwarming to see the stories of these Greek families memorialized and preserved for the generations to come.

More of us need to follow Antigoni’s example. With each generation, we slip further away from our immigrant ancestors. Their stories will be lost to future generations if we don’t write what we know and collect what we can find. That is a tragedy which we can prevent — but only if we choose to act.



The Elementary School of Anavriti (municipality of Vryseon) in 1838

My friend, teacher, and historian, Giannis Michalakakos, has translated a list of children enrolled in school in Anavriti in 1838. The original digitized records can be found online at the General Archives of Greece (see source at end of document),  images 38, 39, 40.

Giannis has added valuable information about the origin of many of the names in these records (look for a superscript number). He also provided links at the end of this document to the GAK Archives and to a blog dedicated to architecture in Sparta, and specifically to an article about Anavriti.

I extend to Giannis my deepest appreciation for his time and effort in finding and translating this list. The year 1838 predates many extant records (including Mitroon Arrenon); and as Giannis explained to me, if you calculate that the fathers of these children could be 30-40 years old, they would have fought in the Greek War of Independence in 1821!

To read more of Giannis’ writings about history, genealogy, and other issues concerning Mani, follow his bog, Maniatika.  Again, thank you so very much, Giannis!

Giannis Michalakakos


Written by Giannis Michalakakos
Teacher of Home Economics and Ecology



Searching in the General State Archives for information about the Anavriti village (capital of Vrysai municipality) and the families who lived there I found a list of the students of the village’s elementary school. The following documents include the decision of the local council translated.

«The City Council gathered under president P. Vorilas and the rest members of the council G. Rakintzi, K. Perganti, K. Skokkou, Alex. Giannopoulou and A. Kousoula for meeting today 3rd of July in decision No. 2525 after the invitation of the Royal Command of Lacedaemon according to the article 26 of the Law Teaching to arrange the amount of money that monthly is paid by students parents and create a fund for the teacher. The council arranges the names from 29 of May and onwards.  

Anavriti School 1838 p1
Anavriti School 1838 p2 Anavriti School 1838 p3 Anavriti School 1838 p4 Anavriti School 1838 p5 Anavriti School 1838 p6



Families of Anavryti

Last summer at the Sparta office of the General Archives of Greece, I was given permission to take digital images of pages of records of the Male Registers (Mitroon Arrenon) and Dimotologion (Town Registers) that listed names found in my family tree. I have created an index of the families of Anavriti, as found in the pages of the Male Registers that I obtained.

If your family name is listed below, please contact the GAK office in Sparta for assistance in obtaining copies of the records. The staff is kind and most helpful: Maria, Michalis, and K. Gavala speak English and are sincerely desirous to be of assistance.

The GAK office email address is:

The mailing address is:
GAK – Archives of Laconia
174 Vrasidou
Sparta 23100
Telephone:  27310-22884

Please note that this list is not complete, as I the pages I have are limited to my family names.

Names jpeg format

Research and Remembrances, Part 5

Ancestral Villages 

A new highway from Corinth south to Sparta bypasses the villages, making the journey speedy and smooth. Except for the road signs in Greek, I could have been in almost any mountainous country. The highway stopped in Tripolis and the last section into Sparta was closed until officials decided how the tolls would be divided among neighboring jurisdictions (I understand it did open shortly after my visit). But I didn’t mind — I was happy to detour onto the winding roads that immersed me into the Grecian countryside. Each village, surrounded by towering mountains, was unique:  the town squares, the narrow streets lined with houses and shops, the churches and fields, reflected the hard work and the independent spirit of its inhabitants.

Theologos, Oinountos  

Theologos (19)

I entered Theologos, the village of my maternal great-grandmother, Stathoula Zaharakis, on a quiet afternoon.

Theologos (3)

We had traveled a narrow, steep road into this lovely town. Nestled below the towering Parnon mountains, it looked both cozy and inviting.

Theologos (2)

It was siesta time, and the streets were deserted. The peace and tranquility of a beautiful day filled my soul and helped me imagine my ancestors walking the streets.

Theologos (4)

Homes in mountain villages are built on terraces, which enable you to see each one. The flowering bushes and trees provided a beautiful contrast to the stark stone buildings.

Theologos (7)

It is not unusual for even the smallest village to have more than one church. I love the way this small church was built to conform to its surroundings.

Theologos (12)

The larger church was built on the west end of the town square.

Theologos (8a)


The original plaque on the front corner of this church reads that it was built in 1879-1880 by the families of Theologos. With my gr-grandmother Stathoula’s birth being in 1870, this means that her parents would have helped build this church and worshiped in it!




Theologos town square  Collage

The town square has an enormous tree that provides both a focal point and much-needed shade on a hot day. The plaque reads: “The generation that lived in Theologos during the years 1879-1880 planted this sycamore tree and watered it but God made it grow.” I closed my eyes and imagined by Zaharakis gr-gr grandparents at the tree-planting ceremony – surely they were there! I felt very, very close to them as I stood on the ground where they had lived.

Theologos (21a)

It is heartwarming to see that every village has a monument honoring those who died in the service of their country. This one in the Theologos town square bears the names of:  Dim. H. Mouses, Pan. N. Kefalas, Andr. N. Synolinos, Nikol. K. Kefalas, Bas. P. Sarantopoulos, Dim. N. Manousos, Anar. K. Galatas.

Agios Ioannis

Three of my four grandparents were born in Agios Ioannis (Sparta): Papagiannakos, Kostakos, Aridas/Mihalakakos. This village lies in the fertile valley of the plains of Sparta, overshadowed by the rugged and forbidding Taygetos mountains. My family history continues in this village, as I wrote in an earlier post about visiting my relatives here.

Agios Ioannis (1 Papagiannakos school) (7)

Demetrios Nikolaos Papagiannakos (1897-1945), who emigrated to America and became a most successful restaurateur, built this school in Agios Ioannis which bears his name.

Agios Ioannis (2 building built by Kostakos)

My second cousin, Grigorios Georgios Kostakos (1927-2001) was mayor and provided the means and the incentive to build this structure which is used for town meetings and other events.

Agios Ioannis - Maltsiniotis tower-home (6)

This house, which is adjacent to the Papagiannakos School, was built by the Maltsiniotis family. Its structure is evocative of the towers found in Mani, which is where the family originated. There is speculation that the Papagiannakos family may have been a branch of the Maltsiniotis family, but that has yet to be proven.

Agios Ioannis monument Collage

The memorial tower for Agios Ioannis lists several surnames in my family.


The ancient city of Mystras, which was the seat of the Byzantine Empire in the Peloponnese, is the ancestral village of my grandmother, Aggeliki Eftaxias. It is built on a side of the Taygetus mountain overlooking Sparta. Mystras (10)

The majestic castle buildings and churches, built in 1249, dominate the landscape and and give the  visitor a glimpse into the world of its founder, the prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. Mystras was occupied by the Byzantines, the Turks and the Venetians, and was eventually abandoned in 1832.

Mystras (22)

This map, on the wall by the ticket office, shows the layout of the city during its prime years.

Mystras Collage

The village of Mystras is charming, with small shops and a mixture of architectural designs. I delighted in spending the night in this wonderful place where my Eftaxias family still lives.


At the peak of a mountain in the Taygetus range, overlooking Sparta, is the village of Anavriti. The “old road,” a narrow, hairpin-turn switchback road, has thankfully been replaced by one that is newly paved and slightly wider. Even so, it was frightening to wind across the face of the mountain at an almost vertical climb.

Anavriti CollageIt is easy to see why there are so many “icon boxes” on these twisting roads, which are erected by families to memorialize the spot where a loved one died.

Anavriti (11)

The village is literally perched at the very top of the mountain! How did people ever build on this terrain?

Anavriti (20a)-path to AgIoannis

This photo shows the way to a trail leading down the mountain from Anavriti to Agios Ioannis, making it very convenient for the two populations to mingle! I am attempting to tie Kostakos families from Anavriti into my bloodline; also, there are several Anavriti families that married into mine which give me a link to this village.


Slightly north of my villages is the town of Vordonia, home to the Linardakis family.

Vordonia (1)

My daughter, Kathy, was thrilled to visit the ancestral home of her paternal grandfather, George Lynard/Linardakis, who immigrated to Washington D.C. when he was a teenager.

Vordonia Church Collage

We found a tiny but charming church and imagined that the Linardakis family may have met in a building such as this.

Vordonia Monument Collage

The ornate memorial touched our hearts and reminded us that every life is precious.

Vordonia (51)As we drove many miles through many villages, we more clearly understood the difficulties of travel in the days before automobiles. People walked or rode donkeys up and down steep and rugged goat trails, and a simple visit to a neighboring village could have been an all-day trek! As I study the records of villages, I now realize why almost all people married within a local geographic boundary — and, why some never left their village.