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.
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Return to Greece, 2016. Part Seven: Digging Deeper

This is the seventh 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.

The most important lesson I learned when traveling in Greece is:  never arrive anywhere between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. That rule makes scheduling easy — repositories in the morning; solo time in the afternoon; family time in the evening; dinner at 9 or 10:00 p.m. I had to tweak this a bit to squeeze in all I needed to do.

General Archives of Greece, Sparta office, July 2016

General Archives of Greece, Sparta office, July 2016

Archives in the mornings — there’s no better way to start the day! The Sparta Office is a treasure chest filled with nuggets of genealogical gems:  documents, books, records. When I arrive, I learn that my archivist friends are on overload: Mrs. Pepi Gavala and her assistants, Michail Sovolos and Maria Stellakou. They explained that many government offices are now closing or consolidating, and sending their records to the Archives. Boxes lined the hallway, waiting for these good people to catalog and store them. Mindful of their workload, I settled in the main room and begin to dig for gold.

Research room, Sparta Office of the General Archives of Greece, July 2016

Research room, Sparta Office of the General Archives of Greece, July 2016

During my visit in 2014, I had obtained digital copies of the basic records for my family:  Male Registers (Mitroon Arrenon) and Family Registers (Dimotologion). I dug into these collections again for my newly-found surnames, and then for a few friends who had requested lookups. I asked Michalis for School Records from Agios Ioannis, and he brought me several books. I was very surprised to see that some of them had only girls’ names! As a Greek researcher quickly learns, there are few official records naming women. These truly are a treasure, as I can now begin to construct entire families, not just males. The school records for Agios Ioannis range from around 1900-1940; the exact tmeframe I need for my grandparents’ era. I stayed until 3:00 closing time, digitizing pages that listed my surnames. What a great find!

School Record Books, Agios Ioannis, Sparta Archives office, July 2016

School Record Books, Sparta Archives office, July 2016

Example of a School Record for Agios Ioannis, GAK Sparta Office, July 2016

Example of a School Record for Agios Ioannis, GAK Sparta Office, July 2016

Gregory Kontos arrived in the early afternoon to join me for three days of research. It was hot, hot, hot! And every repository was closed, closed, closed. So we filled the empty 1:00-4:00 p.m. timeframe by going to a place that never closes — the cemetery. Up and down the rows we walked, Gregory reading surnames off the headstones while I snapped photos of the ones that were a “yes.” The sun was scorching this July mid-day and there was no breeze, but we persevered until every name on every grave was read. Then it was time to enter the osteofilakio (οστεοφυλάκιο), the ossuary building.

One of two cemeteries in Agios Ioannis, Sparta, July 2016

One of two cemeteries in Agios Ioannis, Sparta, July 2016

There is limited cemetery space in Greece; therefore, families “rent” a burial plot for three years after which the bones are exhumed and placed in an ossuary. Walking into the osteofilakio is an almost sacred experience. Boxes on shelves line the walls; each inscribed with a family name and holding the bones of the deceased. Icons, photos, flowers, candles and small bottles of oil are carefully arranged around the boxes. A spirit of peace permeates the building. This is holy ground.

Ossuary house, Agios Ioannis Cemetery, July 2016

Ossuary house, Agios Ioannis Cemetery, July 2016

It was not until we left the cemetery and began driving towards town that we realized there are two cemeteries in Agios Ioannis. We returned the following afternoon and searched the second one. Next time I make a research plan, I have to make sure that I thoroughly vet all locations of potential resources.

Gregory and I had a full schedule for 1-1/2 days in Sparta: the Archives, two cemeteries, the Mitropolis, the Central Library, Amykles, and the Dimarheion (Town Hall). And of course, dinners with my family who have embraced him as one of us.

Prior to leaving for this trip, I had spotted a Facebook post about a newly published book about families from the village of Amykles. Since this is the birthplace of my Eliopoulos and Zarafonetis great-grandparents, I was very excited to meet Kaliopi Zarafonetis, the driving force behind this project. amykles-book-2 Gregory and I connected with Kaliopi in Amykles where she described the book’s genesis. There had been a village event which featured a display of old photographs. Everyone was surprised at the extent of the collection, but Kaliopi had the foresight to realize that these treasures would be lost if they were not preserved. Thus began her initiative to create the book. I was thrilled to see page after page of Eliopoulos and Zarafonetis families, most of which are most likely connected to mine. One of my great surprises was to learn that my cousin in Agios Ioannis had married a woman whose grandmother was a Zarafonetis from Amykles – a double connection!

Carol Kostakos Petranek and Kaliopi Zarafonetis, Amykles, July 2016

Carol Kostakos Petranek and Kaliopi Zarafonetis, Amykles, July 2016

On to the repositories. I was on the hunt for death records for specific members of my family. My cousin, an attorney for the government in Sparta, had contacted a colleague in the Town Hall and we obtained the certificate for a member of the Linardakis family of Vordonia. I was surprised to learn that death records for Agios Ioannis are in the Town Hall of Magoula, not Sparta! Unfortunately, I did not make it there but it is the first item on Plan A for the next trip.

The Sparta Dimarheion has books of Male Registers and Town or Family Registers, as seen on the shelves in the photo below. However, clerks are busy handling daily government functions and research requests are often put aside. I did pick up a form to use for future mail-in requests.

Sparta Dimarheion (Town Hall), July 2016

Sparta Dimarheion (Town Hall), July 2016

Record Request Form, Sparta Dimarheion, July 2016

Record Request Form, Sparta Dimarheion, July 2016

Our task at the Mitropolis in Sparta was to obtain specific pages of the Marriage Books for a friend. Although Gregory and I had been there in 2014, I was unsure if we would be granted access to the books again. My concerns were  unfounded. We were warmly greeted by a priest who brought us whatever we requested. When Gregory mentioned that the books were fragile and should be preserved, the priest replied that there had been discussions with the European Union about digitizing the records, but the talks had not come to fruition.

We were warmly greeted by a kind priest at the Mitropolis; Gregory Kontos and Carol Kostakos Petranek, Sparta, July 2016

A kind priest helped us at the Mitropolis; Gregory Kontos and Carol Kostakos Petranek, Sparta, July 2016

Then it was on to the Central Library of Sparta, located around the corner from the Mitropolis. This time our search was for history books of villages in Laconia, usually written by teachers during summer months. Giannis Michalakakos gave me the name of his colleague, Konstandinos Tzanetakos, who is a librarian there. We found Konstandinos in the section for Laconian history and he showed us the shelves that held many village histories.

The Laconia History section of the Central Library of Sparta; with Konstandinos Tzanetakos and Gregory Kontos; July 2016

The Laconia History section of the Central Library of Sparta; with Konstandinos Tzanetakos and Gregory Kontos; July 2016

There were books for lots of Laconian villages, but none for Agios Ioannis. Giannis explained this was because Agios Ioannis had begun as a settlement beneath the towering Mystras castle, and that any noteworthy event had occurred in Mystras and not in its valley. I had harbored a secret hope that I would find something, but my friend was right. Anyone looking for a history book can call or email the library to see if there is a book for their village and if so, obtain the name, author and publisher. Most likely, our friends at the Laconia bookstores, Laconia Odos in Skala and Adouloti in Aeropolis, can then locate the book for purchase.

Our tasks in Sparta were completed, so Gregory and I headed to the west coast of Laconia to visit the Archives in Kalamata. Why there? I was hoping to find a clue — any clue — as to whether my Kostakos or Eftaxias family may have been in the Kalamata region before they headed northeast to Spartan villages. I had been told that my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos, could have come from Pyrgos (see previous post).

This was my first visit to Kalamata, a charming city by the sea.

The city of Kalamata, Messinia, July 2016

The city of Kalamata, Messinia, July 2016

Waterfront, Kalamata, July 2016

Waterfront, Kalamata, July 2016

However, traffic in the city is a nightmare! The streets are one-way, very narrow, and very crowded. And horror of horrors — this is where I had my first car accident in Greece. It was a fender-bender at an intersection, and because we were moving so slowly, damage was minimal and no one was injured. But, I quickly realized the complexities of such a situation in a country where my language skills are not optimal. Calling the police and the car-rental agency, and talking with the other drivers could have been truly awful. Luckily, a passenger in the other car spoke perfect English and handled everything with grace and good humor. I was so grateful! Somehow I found my way back to the hotel and parked my car. I refused to let this mishap unnerve me, and I also refused to move the car until the day I left!

Accident! This is the car that hit mine in Kalamata, July 2016

Accident! This is the car that hit mine in Kalamata, July 2016

Gregory and I were very happy to meet in person our friend, Giota Siora. Giota is a Facebook friend on HellenicGenealogyGeek. Despite working full-time, she spends many hours online helping people with their research. For her devotion, she is greatly appreciated and respected.  Giota met us at the Kalamata Archives and introduced us to the Archivist, Anastasia Milioni, who also happens to be the wife of the mayor. This Archive has an extensive record collection for the Messinia Prefecture, including records of churches, land, houses, elementary schools, newspapers, military. The collection was greatly enhanced when Mrs. Milioni responded to a request from the GAK Central Office to ask local services to send their records to the Archives. Unfortunately, we were unable to do any research as the Archives is in the process of moving to a new location. Books were packed in boxes, and the office was essentially empty.

The Kalamata Archives is headed for a new home, July 2016

The Kalamata Archives is headed for a new home, July 2016

kalamata-archives-giota-siora-anastasia-milioni-archivist-carol

Giota Siora, Anastasia Milioni, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Kalamata Archives, July 216

When I inquired about possible records for the Eftaxias and Kostakos names, Mrs. Milioni did a computer search and found a few documents which look very promising. Two especially stood out:  a contract naming a Kostakos family in Anavriti, which could confirm oral tradition that the family had lived there prior to Agios Ioannis; and a contract for an Eftaxias family in Kalamata. After the office move, I will contact Mrs. Milioni and ask her to access these for me. I continue to be impressed with the kindness and professionalism of the Archivists in both Laconia and Messinia. They truly desire to be of help and will set aside whatever they are doing to be of assistance to researchers.

Giota suggested that we walk to the Dimarheion, or Town Hall, on the chance that we kalamata-dimarheion-signmight access records there. Visiting this municipal office, I was again reminded that clerks are extremely busy handling daily matters. Someone walking in and asking for records that are 150 years old are, at best, a distraction and at worst, an annoyance. This is especially true when there are six people standing in line, vying for a clerk’s attention. I was also reminded that the municipality has records only for its specific area of jurisdiction (unlike the Archives which has records for the entire prefecture).  Since I was looking for Pyrgos, a village not in the Kalamata jurisdiction, the clerk was not able to be of assistance. The lesson of that day was:  location is everything!

Dimarheion, Kalamata, July 2016

Town people waiting patiently for help on a Friday afternoon at the Dimarheion. The line stretched outside the door. Kalamata, July 2016

Every hour of my research trips are filled to the max. Sometimes “the force” is with me and I have amazing success; sometimes not, and the disappointment becomes a “learning experience.”  Nothing is lost; everything is gained. I love the ride!