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Greeks Connect Through Family History

by Carol Kostakos Petranek



Something unexpected but quite exciting is rippling throughout the Greek diaspora:  from Africa to Australia and the U.S. to the U.K., people are connecting to unearth their Hellenic roots. Fueled by curiosity  and fed by the internet, this phenomenon is sweeping into thousands of lives which become forever changed.
Although genealogy is a respected profession and avocation, why are Greeks, specifically, researching their family history? This question, posted on the Hellenic Genealogy Geek Facebook page, received a myriad of answers, among them:
  •     “I think we all have a deep seeded longing to connect with the past and find our roots. We want to know about our ancestors, to know about the people we descend from, our lineage, because it’s what makes us who we are.”
  •     “I don’t know past my grandparents...so what’s the story, where are they, who are they, what happened to them?”
  •     “It is something stronger than me. I feel it is my responsibility to record the past before it is all completely lost.”
  •     “Last summer, I walked through my yiayia’s and papou’s villages. I am not the same person. I have this profound new sense of self that somehow empowers me in a new and incredible way.”
  • Why does connecting with one’s ancestral past empower the present? A 2013 New York Times article describes an Emory University study which concluded that, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives [and] the higher their self-esteem....”
  • History reveals that the human experience is essentially the same. Whether one lived in a secluded mountain village in 1800 or an urban city in 2019, all share the vissicitudes of mortality: social and family relationships, physical and emotional health, moral and physical challenges. Learning how our ancestors met and overcame their trials strengthens us to conquer ours. How could my widowed great-grandmother say goodbye to her three daughters who emigrated to America, knowing she would never see them again? She did, and she survived—alone.
  • What did it take for your great-grandfather to leave his village for the first time, travel to a distant port, embark on an arduous sea voyage and make a new life in a foreign land? He did, and because he survived, you were born. 
  • These people are your ancestors. You have their genes, and you have their fortitude. But unless you know their history, you don’t know yourself.
  • Today’s technology is making Hellenic genealogy research both possible and do-able. I am involved in record digitization projects in Greece which will soon bring marriage records from Sparta online. (More in a future article).
  • The HellenicGenealogyGeek Facebook page was started in 2010 by Georgia Stryker Keilman. By 2015, there were 2,500 members; today, there are 19,875.  We work together and help each other. Please connect with us. Scroll through the posts. Ask a question or answer one. You may see your family surname or recognize a photo. You may even find a cousin! 
  • Knowing your family history will bring you an enhanced understanding and deeper appreciation of your heritage. And you will be strengthened in ways you cannot now comprehend.

  • Photo Credits: William Sdranis

Carol Kostakos Petranek

Carol Kostakos Petranek is an active member of the Greek genealogy community and shares her knowledge by participating in Hellenic associations and teaching at local and national conferences. She writes, edits and publishes family histories, and she blogs at SpartanRoots.wordpress.com. Carol also serves as a Citizen Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and an Assistant Director of the Washington, D.C. Family History Center


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