Lakonian Emigration

This summer in Areopoli, Mani, I visited the one-of-a-kind Adouloti Mani bookstore. The owner, Georgios Dimakogiannis, is also a publisher and his store is a treasure for anyone seeking information about the southern Peloponnese and Mani in particular.

In his magazine, Adouloti Mani – Laconia Odos, Issue 3, 2019, was an article about emigration from Lakonia in the early 1900’s. That was the experience of all four of my Spartan grandparents, and I wanted very much to read the story. I tackled the translation using a dictionary and online translators. It is by no means exact and it is somewhat redacted, but it certainly illuminated for me the realities of their experience. I scanned the original article and it can be accessed here. If you read Greek, you may prefer to read that untouched version which also has additional photos.

Lakonian Emigration

by Donald-George McPhail  (author, researcher, historian)
published in Adouloti Mani – Laconia Odos, Issue 3, 2019

From 1896 to 1921, more than 400,000 inhabitants emigrated from Greece. The legend of America as the “land of promise” and as a refuge for emigrants around the world  undoubtedly permeated Laconia. The years of misery that plagued the predominantly rural population—agricultural disasters, government mismanagement, uncertainty and insecurity, frequent military drafts, and grief over the loss of the war in Thessaly–caused thousands of Greeks to board foreign ships and emigrate. They left haunted by poverty, with the sorrows of their homeland in their hearts, and trusted that things will change in the New World. They believed that in this way they would pay off their homes, marry off  their sisters, and help their parents, their families, and their villages. They hoped that in a few years they would return rich, honored and equipped for a better life.

Emigration was also due to the fact that the demand for labor was greater in America and the wages paid were much higher than in the immigrant’s home country. The Greeks who immigrated to overseas countries had no qualifications other than physical fitness. They were illiterate, naive and innocent deprived people who had no awareness of their power, nor of course their rights.

Greek Immigration to the USA


  1. First Immigration: 1873-1899; 15,000
  2. The Great Wave: 1900-1917; 450,000
  3. The Last Exodus: 1918-1924; 70,000
  4. The Era of Restrictions: 1925-1946; 30,000

Preparation for Departure

The trials of the poor and destitute migrants, who cared little for amenities they had never tasted, began long before the trip. Most were unaware of the great difficulties that awaited them in the New World, which hundreds of immigration brokers presented as the Promised Land.  The trip required a lot of money, and the loan agents were looking for security. So, among the emigrants  were many small farmers with mortgaged land.  Even for the very poor and the landless, there was a way. They were bound by employment contracts and so they paid off their fares, as slaves literally, by working in the railways or mines.

Usually the departures of the ocean liners, especially the Greek ones, were festive. The decks were packed by immigrants who waved their handkerchiefs to those who led them, along with the curious crowds who thronged the pier. The band of the municipality played, the ship’s whistles blew, and flags decorated the ship and pier. Last greetings were exchanged with those poor immigrants who had left their hometown and had lived for a few hours in Gythio and Kalamata.

Before 1907, the Greek transatlantic wave to America was overseen by foreign steamer companies until the establishment of the first Greek passenger line. The ports of departure were Piraeus and Patras. Subsequent Greek ocean liners were generally poor, small, slow-moving, and badly traveled trips without even the minimum comforts of a boat.

Life on Board

Judging by the horrible living conditions during the journey on the ships, especially those from 1907 to 1937, immigrants were considered as “cargo.” The third-class steerage areas beneath the main deck were packed with rows of iron or wooden double beds. Passengers were literally on top of each other in desperately narrow spaces. From the very first day, the crowds, the exuding fumes of vomit, the smell of passenger bodies and the lack of elementary cleanliness caused the atmosphere to be suffocating.

The bunks were filled with straw or seaweed. There were no chairs, stools, or  tables. Luggage, clothes, utensils and all belongings had to somehow fit  between the narrow beds. Separation of women passengers was impossible. In their quest for isolation, women hung clothes around their beds to create a rudimentary curtain. The women had the opportunity to dress before eating breakfast and leaving their compartments. They could not arrive late or there would be no food available. Usually, they were not as harassed by their male passengers as by the crew men.

Upon boarding, each passenger was given a spoon, a fork and a tin cup. When breakfast was announced, everyone crowded into an open area as there was no dedicated dining room except for a space with a few tables and benches where women and children would usually sit. The men had to go through the serving area and then find some place to eat, or go out on the windswept open deck.

For ventilation, the law provided for two small “windshields” for every fifty passengers. These “windshields” ended up on the main deck, which was usually a short distance from the surface of the sea, causing third-class passengers to be sprayed with frozen ocean water.

Baths were taken on open decks between seats and compartments.  Showers were in small iron “cabins” and the water was seawater. Needless to say, passengers rarely used them. They were used for washing dishes and clothes, without soap or towels and with cold salty water.

The ticket issuing agencies described the food as healthy and nutritious.  In reality, however, it was so poorly cooked that many found it inedible. The only exception to the whole trip was the last meal before arrival, a supper that could smell like delicacies such as fried potatoes.  The farewell dinner dinner was intended to give pleasure to the next day’s arrival and inspection by the health authorities.

Various states had been slow to adopt provisions for the proper transport of passengers, resulting in steamboat companies exploiting the unfortunate immigrants. An American law stipulated that each passenger could have no less than 2.83 cubic meters. Two children under eight years were counted for one passenger. If this space was not available, the ship’s master had to pay a $50 fine per passenger, but there was never any control by authorities and no relevant fines were imposed.


When the ship anchored in America, a fleet of small boats encircled the ocean liner. Men from the Immigration and the Public Health Services boarded the ship and quickly passed through the first and second class cabins, giving a cursory inspection of the passengers in those seats. They then went down to the “fragrant” compartments where the third-class passengers were to examine each traveler. This was the most time-consuming part of their job. When the Public Health people reboarded their boat to go to other vessels, the ship raised the anchor and  slowly headed to the port of New York Harbor, traveling through the fumes of the tugboat towing it.

Upon  arrival, the immigrants’ day was just beginning. After an endless wait on the ship for the checks to be completed, they began to finally descend the staircase of the ship, loaded with their luggage. So overloaded, they headed to the Aliens Service boats waiting for them to take them to the famous Ellis Island known to the Greek immigrants as “Castigari” (from Castle Garden).

Ellis Island

Ellis Island, off Manhattan, was the main hub for immigrants arriving in America from the late 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. There, immigrants were put to the final test, undergoing medical examinations to approve their entry into the United States.  There was tight control for medical conditions that were contagious. Most passed the check and then forgot the hassles of traveling. But if someone was ill or unbalanced he was obliged to return to the port and surrender to the steamship company for repatriation. These unfortunates were sent back to their homeland at company expense, a fact which made steamship companies careful when selecting passengers.

When stringent requirements for trachoma and other contagious diseases were understood, health authorities in Greece examined travelers and checked for trachoma because eye disease would prevent entrance into America. Ophthalmologists in Greece were stationed in Ageranos, Mani and elsewhere in Laconia where prospective immigrants went to make sure they had no contagious conditions or, if they did, to make them well.


The immigrants, after endless suffering, were finally admitted onto the new Promised Land where other adventures began for them. Most newcomers, at least in the early years, stayed in New York and New Jersey. There were small hotels and small shops owned by Greeks, who welcomed them when they were unloaded from the boats that brought them to the south of Manhattan from the Ellis Island. The city was expensive and most had less than thirty dollars in their pockets, so they were in a hurry to continue their journey.

The Greeks who progressed in America were mostly employed in textiles, heavy industry, coal mines and railroads. They often worked for twelve hours and lived in unhealthy homes, cramped in small rooms. Life for Greeks working in the mines and on the railroads was especially difficult. They lived in tents or wooden huts and their diet was very poor. The savage exploitation of underage children, who worked as “blackboots” [the shoeshine business operated by  compatriots] prompted the intervention of American and Greek consular officers.

I don’t think there is a Lakonian that doesn’t have a relative, even a remote one, in America. At the beginning of the previous century, thousands with the hope for a better tomorrow left for the distant continent.

On the Internet, the Ellis Island archives are available, the small island in New York in which all immigrants were registered. While researching for immigrants to America, I worked with this website and found information about Ligerian residents who immigrated to America between 1892 and 1924. For those who don’t know, Ligereas (Λυγερέας) is the smallest local district of the municipality of Gythio and is my wife’s village. I found details of the Ligerian immigrants where their disembarkation was recorded at Ellis Island, a few hours before they were “sucked” into the new land. I found over 190 residents in 32 arrivals reports which contained valuable information that even today’s descendants did not know.


Photo Credits:  All photos are from Mr. McPhail’s original article.
Note:  Mr. McPhail is half Scot, half Greek and he married a Greek lady from Mani. He never went back to England he raised his family ​in Greece. His full name in Greek is written as Ντόναλντ-Γεώργιος Μακφαίηλ. (Many thanks to Marina Haramis for this information)








Laconian Studies: Documenting and Preserving Our Heritage

Just imagine that there is an eminent group of academics who gather to write, share, debate and publish scholarly works focused on the region of your ancestral home. Their focus is simple:  to promote continuing scientificresearch about the region with the ultimate goal of creating a written archive that chronicles and preserves the area’s rich history. If you have roots in the southern Peloponnese, you will be enthused to know that the Laconian Studies organization has undertaken this task with dedicated fervor.

Laconia Studies logo

Laconia Studies logo

Formed in Athens in 1966 under the initiative of Δικαίου Β. Βαγιακάκου (Dikaiou V. Vagiakakou), this group of about 130 has met continuously through the years. Members research and write about a myriad of subjects such as: history, archaeology, linguistics, folklore, philosophy, law, art, anthropology, and architecture.  Papers are presented at conferences, where time for debate and dialog is incorporated into the agenda.

This year, a Laconian Studies Conference will be held at the Cultural Hall in the Central Library of Sparta, Greece on November 10, 11, 12. There will be 35 speakers presenting diverse topics such as: The Lighthouse of Gytheio on the isle of Kranai Island; The Perennial Presence of the Komninos family in Xirokambi / Koumasta; Social Welfare in Laconia during the German Occupation; Geraki, Laconia during the Byzantine Period; Information about Mani from a Rare Brochure of the 19th Century.

All of the papers will be published in the Journal of Laconian Studies. There are 21 Volumes and 19 Annex Editions, which contain hundreds of articles about Laconia and Mani. A list of Journal publications is found here. As you browse through the various journal editions, be sure to click on titles of interest. Many titles are linked to pdf files with additional information on the topic.


The Laconian Studies website has downloadable publications in pdf format, which can be found here. Titles are:  Notebooks on the History of Mani; Mani in the Second Turkish Period (1715-1821) and The Mantineies of Mani. Included in the Notebooks on the History of Mani are ten sub-volumes, one of which is transcribed names of Election Lists from the late 1800’s. Of course, all publications are in Greek, but can be deciphered with the help of a good dictionary and Google Translate.

The Journals and Annex Editions can be purchased by contacting the Laconia Studies office as provided on the website here. The Laconian Studies Library and Office is located at Trikoupi 63, 4th floor, 104 81 Athens. Office hours: Monday – Wednesday – Friday 11:30 a.m. – 1.00 pm; telephone: 210-3304422. To visit the library, make an appointment in advance by sending an e-mail to:

Volumes of the Journal of Laconian Studies can also be lakonia-odos-logo-2016purchased through the newly-opened Laconia Odos bookstore in Skala, which can be contacted at The bookstore has a Facebook page which features posts about its publications and other items of interest.

Laconia Odos Bookstore, Skala, Greece

Laconia Odos Bookstore, Skala, Greece

I am very pleased to have these resources to help me study and learn about my heritage.

Addendum: I was delighted to see this Facebook comment from the owners of Laconia Odos:

November 4 at 11:20am ·

·Οι Σπαρτιατικές ρίζες (SPARTAN ROOTS) κοντά μας! Με ιδιαίτερη χαρά και ικανοποίηση είδαμε τη δημοσίευση του Αμερικανικού site που ασχολείται με Λακωνική γενεαλογία. Η ικανότατη και ταλαντούχα υπεύθυνη κυρία Carol Kostakos Petranek, συμπατριώτισσά μας Λάκαινα, βοηθά στο να μεταλαμπαδεύεται το ιλαρό φως της γνώσης στους συμπατριώτες μας στην Αμερική, εκεί όπου ζουν πολλές γενιές Λακώνων, με τη θύμηση της μητέρας Πατρίδας. Carol σ’ ευχαριστούμε πολύ για την όμορφη ανάρτηση και τα πάντα καλά σου λόγια!

The Spartan Roots near us! With great joy and satisfaction we saw the publication of the American site that deals with Laconia genealogy. The very talented and responsible lady Carol Kostakos Petranek, our compatriot Laconian, helps disseminate the cheerful light of knowledge to our compatriots in America, where many generations of Laconians live with the remembrance of the motherland. Carol thank you so much for the beautiful post and all of your good words!

1 the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.
(Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

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









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


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!


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