RootsTech 2020: A Time for Greeks to Shine

RootsTech, the largest genealogy conference in the world, took center stage in my life this past week. This massive event is known for hosting 25,000+ attendees, hosting a myriad of vendors, and providing hundreds of sessions.

Although I attend every year,  this one was especially meaningful. For the first time at any major genealogical conference, a class on Greek genealogy was held. Presented by professional genealogist Kathleen Doherty Kaldis, the session focused on the essentials of beginning Greek family history research.

Kathleen Doherty Kaldis presents, “Opa! It’s All Greek to Me.”

Using the metaphor of a Greek dance where the circle begins small and gradually expands until all participate, Kathleen described the importance of utilizing all resources available and working within our Hellenic community. Her family is Scottish/Irish, but her husband’s family is from Xirokambi, Lakonia and Pyrgos, Messinia. She used examples from her Kaldis family research to demonstrate the research methodology needed for success. There was a warm feeling of community in the lecture room. We are all in the same position, seeking information as to how we can learn more about our families. It was heartwarming to see people gather at the conclusion of the lecture to compare information. Bringing our community into the national spotlight is a HUGE step forward–thank you, Kathleen 🙂

Gathering and sharing information at the end of the lecture

I was very happy to spend time with Greek friends who also came to RootsTech, as well as Dawn and Trisha who work at the Family History Library. Dawn is a volunteer on Wednesday mornings and she has roots in Argolidis. Trisha is an employee who is at the Library daily and her roots are in Chios. They provide an invaluable service of having the knowledge to help anyone who needs assistance with Greek research.

Trisha, Carol and Dawn at the Family History Library, International Section

As I visited vendors in the Expo Hall, I asked several who focused on European research if they had inquiries about Greek genealogy. The answer was yes and the majority either had a Greek grandparent or great-grandparent; or, they had taken a DNA test and found they had Greek ancestry. In both cases, they were new researchers. There is much we can do to help our beginners: provide encouragement, teach practical “first steps” and share resources.

I met with people at FamilySearch and MyHeritage to discuss ways to make more Greek records available. It is a challenging task due to the contractual negotiations required between Greek repositories and the genealogy companies, but I am confident that the increased surge of interest and the public’s sincere desire will yield positive results.

MyHeritage has launched a truly amazing photo colorization program, which will automatically colorize black and white photos. Their booth featured a magnet board where people uploaded photos which had been colorized through their process and in turn, received a magnet. I am holding a picture of “poker night” at my papou Kostakos’ home in Brooklyn (sorry, it’s upside down!).

My Heritage Photo Colorization

People who are not members of MyHeritage can colorize ten photos at no charge; members can colorize an unlimited number of photos.
Try it here:

There are many facets of family history research. Finding our ancestors is one, but so is capturing the memories of the ancestors that we do know, or whose stories have been passed down by our elders. This conference theme was “The Story of You,” and many sessions were held which described ways to save and record memories. One of my favorite sessions was “Five Simple Steps for Writing the Story of You” [or, a loved one]. Presenter Devon Noel Lee championed the use of photos as writing prompts. Her suggestion is to take a photo and write about it:  who is in the photo? where did the event occur? why is it significant? After doing this for a series of photos, the basis of a personal history is established and it is easy to add details. I am inspired to do this, starting with the photos from my grandparents’ album such as the one I am holding above.

I attended many sessions this week, including several on DNA. One of my favorites was a class with an important but under-discussed topic, “The Circular Flow: Researching Return Migrants.” I learned about immigrants who came to the U.S., but then returned to their homelands and perhaps back to the U.S. again. I will be writing a post about this, as there is much to share.

Conferences are an excellent way to learn and connect. I appreciate FamilySearch for sponsoring RootsTech for 10 years. Please join me in Salt Lake City next February!


Greek Genealogy Conference, Saturday, October 19, 2019

Please join us in Virginia Beach for an informative and lively conference! See the flier below the agenda.
This conference will be broadcast via FB live. You can watch either the entire conference or segments of your choice at:

Sam Williams
Carol Kostakos Petranek
Matt Ellsworth

9:00 Arrival

9:30-10:00 Introduction to Hellenic Genealogy

Why Orthodox Christians Should Do Their Genealogy – Sam
Greek Genealogy Toolbox – Carol
Making connections: Internet resources – Carol

10:00-10:30  Using U. S. Records to Prepare for Research in Greece – Carol

10:30-11:00 Using DNA in Hellenic Research  – Sam

Break:  10 minutes

11:10-12:10 Research in Cyprus – Matt Ellsworth (via Skype)

12:10-1:00 Lunch Break

1:00-2:00 Greek Civil Records in Archives and Town Halls

Male Registers
Town Registers
Election Lists
Contracts and Dowries

2:00-2:45 Orthodox Church Records in Greece

Village Church Records  – Carol
Metropolis Records – Carol
U.S. Orthodox Church Records – Sam Williams

2:45-3:00 Q&A  – Conclusion


A Greek at RootsTech 2019

After four days of classes and meetings at the largest genealogy conference in the world, I am both energized and exhausted. RootsTech, held every year in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a sensory as well as intellectual experience. The vacant hallways of the Salt Palace before opening day give no hint of the pandemonium about to hit.

Before and after

Choosing from the myriad of classes was tough, but I was drawn to sessions focusing on records preservation (both archival and personal), what’s new and upcoming at MyHeritage and FamilySearch, resolving conflicting evidence, alien registrations, military research, and DNA. I enjoy and learn from Mary Tedesco’s Italian genealogy classes, as research strategies in Italy and Greece are similar.

But the most rewarding part of this RootsTech was connecting with several friends of Greek descent. One is a volunteer at the Family History Library on Wednesday mornings and helps people with their Greek research. For the past ten years, she has guided patrons in their quest to get started. She related that most people do not know the original surname and village of origin of their ancestral family, and with no centralized online database in Greece, research must be done at the local level by mail or in person. Thus, much of her assistance centers on teaching patrons how to use U.S. records to find needed information.

My Greek friends at the Family History Library.

There is a feature on the FamilySearch Family Tree app which calculates how many people, within 100 yards, are related to you. Twenty thousand people attend RootsTech, with thousands in the Expo Hall at any given moment. Every year, I pull up this app and every year, my matches are ZERO! The real-time board which displays the numbers of related attendees irritates my Greek friend, Georgia, and me. It is so annoying to hear people say, “I have 300 cousins in this hall right now” when we have none.

We have zero cousins in the expo hall!

But I do have many blogger friends in the genealogy community known as GeneaBloggers. We write about our research and our ancestral families; our backgrounds are multi-cultural and our blogs reflect our areas of expertise. Our goals are to assist others in learning how to research, and to support each other in our own efforts. We are a tight group but never exclusive, and invite any and all who write about family history to join us.

The Family History Library (FHL) is one block away from the Salt Palace and most genealogists split their time between the two venues. The FHL provides access to digitized materials which, due to contractual restrictions, must be viewed either there or in one of the 4,500 Family History Centers worldwide. Its collection of 2.5 million microfilms is almost entirely digitized, but some have not yet been converted; thus, it is the place to go to view these films. The FHL has 3,000 microfilms of records from Greece, predominantly the region around Athens and some islands. This list, compiled by Lica Catsakis, can be found here. While most Greek films have been digitized, some remain on microfilm and can be viewed and downloaded at a scanner such as the one below.

Microfilm scanner at the Family History Library.

Microfilm image of a page from a death index book, Thessaloniki, 1918.

The FHL has a few reference books for Greek research. Of particular value are the gazetteers, or geographical dictionaries. Since the Revolution of 1821, many villages underwent name changes, consolidations, or even extinction. This image shows a list of villages in the Dimos Lakedaimonos in 1836.

Join me at RootsTech next year! The dates are February 26-29, 2020. I can promise you an extraordinary experience of inspiration and education. And great fun!

Conference Time!

Hellenic Genealogy Conferences are fabulous events. Participants have the opportunity to learn how to begin or progress in their research skills, and to network with each other.

It is no secret that Greek genealogy is not easy–there are issues regarding language translation, lack of digital records, and missing/incomplete record collections in Greece.

However, it CAN be done! Our Hellenic Genealogy Geek Facebook page has 19,300 members as of today! That’s a huge group! There are thousands of people who are diligently seeking their Hellenic roots, and we work together to help each other.

In October, there are two all-day conferences which will focus on teaching Greek genealogy research skills:  one in Baltimore, and one in Philadelphia. Details are below. Please join us, and share this post with others who would like to learn more.

Saturday, October 6:  Baltimore
Sponsor: Hellenic Heritage Museum of Maryland
Where: Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, 24 West Preston Street, Baltimore MD 21201
Time:  9:30-5:00
Cost:  $40 which includes lunch
Contact:  Harry Maistros at

Getting Started: Research Strategies, Greek Genealogy Toolkit, Research Help

Using U.S. Records to Prepare for Research in Greece: learn which records can
help you find your original surname and village of origin

Passenger Ship, Naturalization and Alien Registration Records

Civil and Church Records in Greece:  what is available? what information do they
contain? how to access?

Putting It All Together:  Organizing and sharing your research

Carol Kostakos Petranek
Antigoni Ladd

Saturday, October 13:  Philadelphia
Sponsor:  St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Where:  St. George Cathedral, 256 South 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Time:  9:00 – 5:00
Cost:  $20
Contact:  Barbara Lyngarkos, Event Coordinator


Website with information and registration:



Introduction to Greek Genealogy

How to Use U.S. Records to Prepare for Research in Greece {Census – Marriage – Passenger Ship-Naturalization (very brief; full discussion in separate section) – Social Security Applications – World War I and II Draft Registration Cards – Death Certificates – Obituaries – Cemetery Records / Tombstones – Personal Letters, Documents – Photographs)

Locating and Using Passenger Ship, Naturalization & Alien Registration Records

Ancestry DNA – Testing

Ancestry DNA – Analysis

Research in Greece – Civil Records (Male Registers – Town Registers – Election Lists – Contracts and Dowries)

Research in Greece – Church Records (Records in local churches – Records in Mitropolis offices)

Planning a Research Trip and Wrap-Up

Carol Kostakos Petranek
Georgia Stryker Keilman
Nicole Zizos Gulledge