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 These men were engaging in an honored tradition that was instituted in ancient times and not officially rescinded in Greece until 1983.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. Archives Research: Kalamata

My research trips are super-intensive. This is due in part to my personality, and in part to the limited working hours at Greek repositories. Archives and libraries’ hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and unlike shops, they do not reopen after 6:30. None are open on Saturdays, not even the Central Library of Sparta.

So, my weekday work schedule looks like this:
7:00 – wake up
8:00 – be at the repository
2:30 – leave (or get kicked out)
2:30-6:00 – go someplace that is open: a cemetery, an archaeological or historical site, or take a drive through a village. It’s beastly hot in mid-afternoon in July, but I won’t waste three precious hours.
6:00-midnight – change clothes, visit family or friends for dinner which usually begins around 9:00

Honestly, I came home more tired than when I left. But I also came home with tons of new information.

I was anxious to return to the Archives in Kalamata. During my visit of July 2016, the office was moving to a new location and everything was packed in boxes, which made research impossible. I was thrilled to see its new home: a stunning neoclassical building constructed in the 1880’s and rebuilt after the earthquake of 1986.

General Archives of Greece, Kalamata, Messinia

I am ever grateful for the help and kindness of my friend, Giota Siora, who met me in Kalamata and escorted me to the Archives. Giota knows the archivist, Anastasia Milioni, who was eager to assist us in any way possible. My goal was to search for information about two families with possible early ties to the Kalamata region: Eftaxias (prior to relocating to Mystras) and Zaharakis (prior to relocating to Theologos).

GAK, Kalamata: Giota Siora; Anastasia Milioni, Archivist; Carol Kostakos Petranek, July 2017

In 2016, Mrs. Milioni had given me a print-out of contracts with the Eftaxias name. There were three for Georgios Eftaxias who was in Kalamata in 1859.

Eftaxias contracts, 1859. General Archives of Greece, Kalamata, Messinia

After the contracts were retrieved, Giota amazed me with her ability to read the documents. They were not written in typical old Greek script, but in a specific type of calligraphy used by lawyers and high government officials in the 1800’s.

Below are page one and the signature page of Contract 727 for Georgios Eftaxias, along with a synopsis by Giota.

Eftaxias, Georgios; Contract 727 p.1. Kalamata, Messinia. July 2017

Eftaxias, Georgios; Contract 727 p.3 – signatures.. Kalamata, Messinia. July 2017

Contract 727 Georgios Eftaxias in Kalamata 1859
Final payment on land purchase
Georgios Eftaxias bought a field at Mavria (on the border of Messinia and Laconia). He paid 60 drachmas on the balance due. He bought the land from Michail Koumoutsas who was a lime maker. One of the owners of land bordering his is Haralambos Eftaxias.

With three contracts for Georgios Eftaxias, I now have proof that a family was in Kalamata. But is this my family? Possibly yes, possibly no.

  • I have an Eftaxias “DNA cousin,” Peter, who was born in a village adjacent to Mystras. His father said that their Eftaxias family came from Kalamata. This is definitely his family. Since we have a genetic connection, this is one point on the “yes” side.
  • The very name, Eftaxias, has ecclesiastical connotations. Gregory Kontos sent me this definition: the one that is in charge of the good order of the church:   good=ευ order=τάξη. So, this could be an example of families who had worked in a church and adopted the position title as a surname. This is one point on the “no” side.

Another twist:  the Election Lists of 1875 show a Michalis Eftaxias who was born around 1800, fought in the Revolution, and lived in Lagia. That is 117 km from Kalamata, a 39-hour walk! Is it possible these two families are related? Not impossible, but perhaps improbable. This could be an example of the second bullet–someone working in a church, taking the ευταξη title as a surname.

So, the definite answer to my question is, “I don’t know.”

Lagia to Kalamata is 117 kilometers

The Archives in Kalamata has a one-of-a-kind collection created by Μίμη Iλ. Φερέτος (Dimitris or Mimi Il. Feretos).  Giannis Michalakakos described Mr. Feretos as a journalist and writer who gathered information on fighters of the 1821 Revolution. In the early 1900’s, he interviewed people who had fought (or whose relatives fought) in the War of Independence. Mr. Feretos created a surname index which include brief notes and reference sources to find the original documentation. The GAK in Kalamata has a bookcase filled with Mr. Feretos’ notebooks. They are arranged in alphabetical order, and Giota easily found the Eftaxias and Zaharakis surnames.

This is a copy of one of the Feretos pages for Zaharakis. I found it fascinating to see how Mr. Feretos compiled and annotated information, long before the computer age.

Zaharakis surname, notes from the files of Mimis Il. Feretos, GAK Kalamata, July 2017

A simple translation of this document, with my thanks to Giannis: M. Zaharakis, born in Sitsova [now known as Alagonia on the border of Messinia and Laconia]. He fought in the Revolution under George Vasilakos, in the main battles until 1823. Afterwards, he fought in the war under the Giatrakos family. In some documents, he is referred to as Zaharopoulos.

This document reveals two important things: first, M. Zaharakis is not my family; he was born in a region far from Theologos at a time when my Zaharakis are found in documents in Theologos. Second, M. Zaharakis was also known as Zaharopoulos. This is a critical piece of information because there is a long-standing (and frustrating!) pattern of Greeks changing their names. Having written proof that Zaharakis and Zaharopoulos in Kalamata are the same family, saves years and tears for the serious researcher.

For anyone researching in Messinia, the Archives in Kalamata is an essential repository. The staff is actively digitizing as much of its collection as possible. They are friendly, helpful and supportive in every way.

Digitization underway at the Messinia Archives in Kalamata

Here are links to access the Archives website; its online digital collections; and its YouTube channel.This link is especially helpful, as it shows the collections in the Archives.

Was my research trip to Kalamata a success? Yes! I did not find the definitive information I was seeking to link my families in Laconia to the ones in Kalamata. However, I explored a new Archive, discovered the Feretos collection, found documentation to prove (and disprove) some of my theories. I visited the Kalamata Museum, filled with incredible antiquities and artifacts. Most importantly, I spent a delightful day with Giota, who inspires me with her continual desire to help and teach. Thank you, my friend!

 

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.

 

Archives of Sparta: Dimotologion (Town Register) Records

I have returned from month-long productive (and exhausting!) research trip to Sparta and there are many posts to write about the resources I have consulted and the records I have obtained.

However, I am starting with the Dimotologion (Town Register) Records that are found at the General Archives of Greece, Sparta office.

Sparta Office, General Archives of Greece

One of the most helpful record collections to help identify families are these Town Registers. They are similar to a U.S. Census record, as they list the husband, wife, and children of each family in a village, the parents’ names of the husband and wife; years and places of birth, occupation, citizenship and other information. These records were created in the mid-1950’s. I find that the birth years of the parents were in the late 1800’s, and the children’s births were in the early-mid 1900’s. If you can find your grand or great-grandparents in a Dimotologion, you will have much information to proceed on your research.

My previous post which gives examples of Dimotologion records, and explains how to read and interpret them, can be found here.

During the two week period that I spent in the Sparta Archives, I made a list of all of the Town Registers that are available in their office. These records are created and kept by village. Therefore, you must know the original name of your family and the exact village of origin.  Researchers can send a request to the Archive Office (mail@gak.lak.sch.gr) to ask if their family is found in the Dimotologion; however, do not submit a request unless you have this specific information. Oftentimes, immigrants would give the nearest large city as their place of origin when in actuality they were from a small village near the city. If you see “Sparta” as the place of origin, keep digging until you have the exact village and original surname! The list  below will help you further understand the importance of knowing the village name.

Village List of Dimotologion (Town Registers) in the Sparta Archives Office
(Note: smaller villages, hamlets and neighborhoods will be found in the record of the larger, closest town)
Aggelona
Agias Eirinis
Agios Vasileios
Agios Georgios
Agios DImitrios
Agios Ioannis Monemvasia
Agios Ioannis Sparta
Agios Konstantinos
Agios Nikolaos
Agios Anavrgiron
Agios Apostolon
Agorianis
Agrianos
Agia (Chania Koutoumous)
Alepochori
Aleirous
Alikon
Ampelochorio
Amykles
Anavryti
Ano Kastanias Voion
Ano Boularion
Anogeion
Apidias
Areopoli
Arna
Archontiko
Asteriou
Asopou
Afissiou
Chrisafo
Chosiari
Daimonias
Dafnis – Kaminion
Dafniou
Drosopigis
Drialou
Drimou
Elaias
Ellinikou Koulentia
Exo Nyfi
Foinikiou
Geraki
Germas
Gerolimena
Georgitsi
Gkoritsa
Glikorvisis
Gorani
Gouvon
Gytheion
Kareas
Karitsa
Kastoriou
Kelefas
Kefala
Kozi-Kokkinorrachi-Riviotissa, Sykaraki, Charision
Konakion
Koniditsa
Kounou
Kremasti
Krinis
Krokeion
Lagia
Lagiou
Lachiou Voion
Leimona
Leikochomatos
Logkaniko
Logkastra
Magoula
Melissas
Melitinis (Zelinas)
Metamorfosis
Minas
Molaoi
Monembasia
Myrteas
Mystras
Neapolis
Neo Oitylo
Neochori
Niaton
Nomion
Oitylo
Pakia
Palaiopanagia
Paliovrisis
Panitsas (Myrsini)
Pantanassas
Papadianiko
Parori
Pellana
Perivolion
Peristeriou (Tsasi)
Perpainis (Kaloni)
Petrina
Platana
Potamia
Prosilio
Pyrgos Dirou
Selegoudiou
Sellasias
Skamnaki
Skouras
Skoutari
Soustiani
Sparta
Spartias
Tsikalion
Vatheia
Vamvakou
Varvitsa
Vasilakiou
Vassara
Vachou
Velanidion
Velion
Vlachioti
Vordonia
Voutiani
Vresthena
Vrontama
Xirokambi

 

 

Abbreviations in Handwritten Records

This week, I came across a few abbreviations while extracting family names from the Dimotologion Koinothtos (Town Records) of Amykles and Agios Ioannis, Sparta. With limited space and long, complicated names, it is obvious why clerks would use abbreviations. To the uninitiated, it is not obvious as to what these abbreviations are. However, we can learn to recognize certain patterns.

It is important to know the most common first names and surnames of the areas you are researching. This will help you spot an abbreviation, rather than struggling to decide if it is a full name.

This is an example of an abbreviation for the male name, Konstandinos / Konstantinos (Κώνστανδινος / Κώνσταντινος) Georgios Zarafonitis. Konstandinos is a 4-syllable word. Note the slash / that separates the first syllable (Konst) from the last syllable (nos). If I did not know that Konstandinos is a name used frequently in my area, I might mistranslate this as:  Konstnos, Konslnos, or something else that doesn’t make sense.

abbreviation-name

 

 

 

 

Abbreviations of places are also common. Again, it is critical to know the area you are researching, and all of the villages and hamlets in the surrounding area. The red arrow points to two village abbreviations:  on the first line is Agios Ioannis (Αγ. Ιώαννης); on the second line is Paleologio (Παλεολόγιο). Agios Ioannis has a period between Ag. and Ioannis. Paleologio is a 5-syllable word, and it has a slash to separate the first and last syllables.

abbreviation-place

This is a record from the Dimotologion of Agios Ioannis, Sparta, for the family of Dimitrios Geroulakos (father: Panagiotis; mother: Garifalia), born 1875 in Agios Ioannis; and Polyxeni, daughter of Aristedis Smyrnios born 1902 in Paleologio.

Again, I would have been stumped if I did not know that Paleologio is a small village just north of Agios Ioannis.

paleologio

The last example is another place name abbreviation. This one is trickier, as it is for an area outside of mainland Greece — Anatolia, Thrace (in present-day Turkey). It  is abbreviated as Anat. Thraki (Ανατ. Θράκη).

abbreviation-name-1

At first, I was puzzled as I did not recognize the Greek words as being an area near Sklavachori (the name in the next column). Studying the words, I guessed that  Θράκη was Thrace. My friend, Giannis Michalakakos, verified that was correct, and also identified Ανατ. as Anatoli.

Learning to read old handwritten records in any foreign language is challenging, but do-able. Eventually, your eyes begin to discern how the letters are formed. If you do your homework and learn the names and places of your area, your mind will recognize what has now become familiar, and you will have success!

There is a new publication, The Genealogist’s Dictionary, written by my friend Gregory Kontos, that is of significant value in learning the basic vocabulary of old Greek records.

No success is possible without the help of resources such as Gregory’s book, friends like Gregory and Giannis who know the language, and our terrific research support group, HellenicGenealogyGeek. Join us and take a plunge into the exciting, challenging, and rewarding world of Hellenic genealogy research.