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!


Return to Greece, 2016. Part 8: Meandering in Mani

This is the eighth 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.

Mani. There’s something about this land that speaks to my soul. From the moment I left two years ago, I couldn’t wait to return. The forbidding mountains, expansive plains, and impenetrable stone structures exemplify resilience, fortitude, and never giving up. It is the land of some of my ancestral families. On my first trip to Greece years ago, a man at the Archives looked at my surnames and exclaimed, “Oh, your families are from Mani!” Then he looked at my husband and said without any humor, “Watch out! She’s a Maniot. She  comes from tough people.”

Since then, I have learned so much about these “tough people.” There’s a reason they are so strong and self-reliant. They have weathered the elements and tamed the forbidding soil. They repelled any potential invaders by using rustic, yet effective methods. The Turks never penetrated or conquered the Mani. Neither did the Nazis. The people hid in caves in the hills until danger passed, then returned to their villages and their simple lives. Although the spirit of independence from Ottoman rule had been simmering for years throughout Greece, the spark that ignited the Revolution was in Mani on March 17, 1821.

By al-Qamar - File:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg, GFDL,

By al-Qamar – File:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg, GFDL,

There are three regions in Mani:  “exo” or outer; “kato” or lower; “mesa” or inner. As the map clearly shows, the entire region is mountainous and sustains little vegetation except wild olive trees, cactus, and brush. Goats scrape by on the sparse grasses, and an occasional flat valley may support orange trees. Wild herbs such as sage and oregano fill the air with a tantalizing scent. Even during hot summers, cool breezes sweep the mountains.

I fulfilled a dream by driving the beautiful, winding road from Kalamata to Areopoli. My GPS estimated the driving time at 1-1/2 hours, but it took me seven. All I did was stop, take photos, and savor every unique site and beautiful view. Being alone, I was able to absorb the atmosphere and revel in the rugged beauty of the land. I felt so peaceful and happy as I drove. I feel like I belong here.

Driving from Kalamata to Areopoli; the mountains, July 2016

Driving from Kalamata to Areopoli – the mountains. July 2016


Driving from Kalamata to Areopoli – the sea. July 2016

Kalamats to Areopoli - the buildings. July 2016

Kalamats to Areopoli – the buildings. July 2016

A major item on my Plan A was to visit the village of Pyrgos Lefktro in Messinia. I had been told by an elderly aunt that my great-grandfather, Andreas Kostakos, may have come to Sparta from “Pyrgos over the mountains.” This particular Pyrgos seems to be the most logical place. The village is literally at the top of the mountain. When the mountain road ended, I had to park my car and walk because the village “road” was actually a narrow cobblestone winding path, lined with what seemed like ancient stone homes. It was mid-afternoon when I arrived, so of course, not a soul was to be seen except a stray cat. I wandered all around the town, taking many pictures. I found the church, the cemetery, and even went into the osteofilakio (οστεοφυλάκιο), the ossuary building, and looked at the names on the boxes. I did not see anything that could possibly be Kostakos, but my great-grandfather would have left in the middle 1800’s. If he did come from here, there are no descendants remaining.

At the front of the village was a sign on a tree that read “500 years old”. It would have been in full leaf during my great-grandfather’s time.

500 year old tree, Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016

500 year old tree, Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016

Buildings in Pyrgos, which overlooks the sea. July 2016

Buildings in Pyrgos, which overlooks the sea. July 2016

There is a very old museum which was locked; there was no sign as to when it opens. I peered in the windows and was taken aback at the life-size figures in full costume, standing watch over the treasures of the village.

Museum in Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016

Museum in Pyrgos, Messinia. July 2016

As I was leaving, I did see two elderly women sitting on a veranda. They beckoned me to join them. I asked if they had ever heard the Kostakos name in the village, but their answer was no. I wanted to ask what type of life they had led; what type of work their husbands did; how often they left the village to “go to town” (wherever that was, somewhere down the mountain). They had a hard time hearing me and my vocabulary is limited, so the conversation was limited to pleasantries. One of them blew me a kiss as I said goodbye.

Saying goodbye; Pyrgos, Messinia, July 2016

Saying goodbye; Pyrgos, Messinia, July 2016

Driving back down the mountain, I wondered if I may have come — literally — to the end of the road in trying to learn more about the origins of Andreas Kostakos. But I resolutely pushed that thought from my mind. I guess it’s the fighting Spartan and tough Maniot in me that just refuses to give up!

Continuing on the road to Areopoli, I found a settlement, Tzokeika, that is being reconstructed to portray a traditional Maniot village, including a tower, a church, individual homes and an olive press. How fascinating to walk through the buildings that are under construction! This is a living settlement, with people occupying houses. I spoke with a man who had moved in last year, and he was very enthusiastic about his new home, the beauty of the scenery, and the pleasures of living in a closely knit community.

The settlement of Tza

The settlement of Tzokeika, Messinia, July 2016


Tzokeika settlement, Messinia, July 2016

I was in Areopoli, the capital of Mani, by 7:00 p.m. It was Saturday evening and the town was filled to capacity with both locals and tourists. When I went to dinner at 11:00 p.m., I could not find an empty table. I love this village! It eneaeropoli-07-16rgizes me. The ambiance is lively, the buildings are beautifully maintained, and it is the home of a favorite bookstore, Adouloti (owned by Georgios Dimakogiannis). There are dozens of tavernas and cafes, and many unique shops. As are most Maniot villages, Areopoli is pure stone — buildings, roads, walkways. The starkness of the rock is punctuated by brilliantly colored flowers. It is a beautiful study in contrasts. Perched at the edge of the sea, the picturesque town is a visual and sensory delight.

Approaching Areopoli, a village by the sea. July 2016

Approaching Areopoli, a village by the sea. July 2016

Adouloti Mani Bookstore, Areopoli, July 2016

Adouloti Mani Bookstore, Areopoli, July 2016

Areopoli, July 2016

Areopoli, Laconia, July 2016

Areopoli, Laconia, July 2016

Areopoli, Laconia, July 2016

On the way back to Sparta, I stopped at Karavelas to see my friend, Margarita Thomakou, and visit her adopted village. Margarita and I had a delightful visit and a delicious lunch, made by her friend, Pietro. Pietro showed me a book about the history of the village. It is heartwarming to see that many villages in Laconia, even some of the smallest, have these wonderful histories.

Karvelas, Laconia, with Margarita Thomakou and Pietro, July 2016

Karvelas, Laconia, with Margarita Thomakou and Pietro, July 2016

My meanderings in Mani were almost over. The road to Sparta threaded through fertile plains, filled with orange and olive groves. Wild and lovely; fruitful and plentiful, this region of Laconia is truly the breadbasket of Greece.

On the road to Sparta, July 2016

On the road to Sparta, July 2016









Eftaxias / Eftaxas in Laconia

Searching my Eftaxias family in Laconia is yielding some exciting results. My great-great grandfather, Ioannis Eftaxias1, was born in 1809 in Mystras. As far as can be determined, he is the oldest Eftaxias in Mystras. He had two sons listed in the 1872/1873 Election Rolls: my great-grandfather, Konstandinos2, (born 1840) and Georgios(born 1848).

Dimitrios Eftaxias4, born 1846 in Mystras, is also found in these Election Lists; however, his father is not named. It is very likely that Ioannis is his father, because Ioannis is the only male Eftaxias in Mystras who is of the age to be a father during that time period. I am hoping that the staff at the Archives office in Sparta will be able to resolve this by finding Dimitrios in the Male Register, which will list his father.

My friend, historian and teacher, Giannis Michalakakos, has found the name in two areas in Laconia: Mystras and Lagia (Mani). He said this name is rare and may be Byzantine in origin. It is likely that all Eftaxias from Laconia are blood-related. Giannis surmises that members of the Eftaxias family moved from Lagia north to Mystra after the 1821 Revolution, as this was a time of widespread migration throughout southern Greece. When the Ottoman occupation ended, families were free to move about, unmolested and unafraid. It was common for families to leave their hiding places in the forbidding mountains to find work in cities and farming opportunities in the fertile plains of Laconia.

A newly-found Eftaxias relative was told by his father that his family originated in Kalamata. Corroborating this, the map below reveals the route from Lagia through Kalamata to Mystras. Understanding migration patterns helps us move back through time.

Lagia-Kalamata-SpartaGiannis determined that the oldest Eftaxias in the village of Lagia is Mihalis Eftaxias, born about 1800. He fought in the 1821 Revolution. Mihalis had a son named Vrettos, and Vrettos had two sons: Michalis5 (born 1826) and Panagiotis6 (born in 1832).

The Eftaxias name is found in Atatka, the first Modern Greek dictionary! The Atatka was compiled by Adamantios Korais, a Greek humanist scholar who played an influential role in the Greek Enlightenment, the 1821 Revolution, and in particular the development of the “purist” Greek language, Katharevousa. His monumental work, Atatka, is comprised of 17 volumes and was published in France in 1832.

Recently Giannis sent me an entry from page 147 of Volume One of Atakta, where the name “Eftaxias” appears.

Page 147, "Eftaxias"

Page 147, “Eftaxias”

A rough translation reveals that Eftaxias is an ecclesiastical servant; one who keeps the order of the church. [From Gregory Kontos: Ευταξίας: good=ευ, order=τάξη]. He is the one that ensures there is orderliness among the people by preventing disorderly conduct, noise and mischief. There is reference in this document that Eftaxias was named “the Lord of peace.” This description gives me a most interesting insight into my ancestor who was first given (or adopted) this name.

Some families spell the name without an “i”:  Eftaxas. Giannis explained that in the Maniate language, the name is pronounced Eftaxeas (accent on the 2nd e, and pronounced as a long e). The family is part of a Maniat clan (blood related families with different names) named Ksifomaheridianoi. Other branches of families from this clan are Kassimis, Royssakos, and Kapylorihos, all of whom remained in Lagia.

Along with clan affiliations, name changes pose real challenges. Most occur from either παρατσούκλι (paratsoúkli) which is a nickname; or creating a surname from a given name —  males taking the given names of their fathers and adding -akos to indicate “son of.” Example: my surname, Kostakos, means “son of Kostas.” Thus, the original surname is lost. Reading through Election Rolls, I see this phenomenon on almost every page in Mani records. With the Eftaxias name having a distinct definition, there is no name change. Tracking down the “first” Eftaxias would be a fabulous find!


1General Archives of Greece, Election Lists, 1843-44
File 22, Image 62, Line 239, Mystras
Ioannis Eftaxias, age 35, owns property; gardener; no father listed

2General Archives of Greece, Election Lists, 1872
File 25, Image 404, Line 573, Mystras
Konstandinos Eftaxias, age 32, shepherd; father: Ioannis

3General Archives of Greece, Election Lists, 1875
1872: File 25, Image 402, Line 480, Sparta-Mystras
Line 480 : Georgios Eftaxias, age 24, b.1848; occupation: student; father: not named

4General Archives of Greece, Election Lists, 1872
1872: File 25, Image 403, Line 506, Sparta-Mystras
Line 506: Dimitrios Eftaxias, age 26, occupation: shepherd; father: not named

5 General Archives of Greece, Election Lists, 1875
File 9, Image 99, Line 188, Lagia
Mihalis Eftaxias, age 49, farmer, father: Vrettos,

6 General Archives of Greece, Election Lists, 1875
File 9, Image 100, Line 237, Lagia
Panagiotis Eftaxias, age 43, farmer; father: Vrettos