Your ancestors in Greece
Greece, with its largest city Athens as capital inspires many, many thoughts and memories. The longest coastline in the world, an epic history, beautiful islands, the cradle of western civilisation and birthplace of democracy with great food and increible scenery to round it off. What’s not to love? Wanting to trace your Greek ancestors? This blog will help you get started.
See https://myfamilygenealogy.co.uk/guidance/ for my 5 steps to discovering your ancestors.
From the eighth century BC Greeks were organised into independent city states known as poleis, spanning the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
Most of present day Greece was united by Philip II of Macedon in the fourth century BC. His son Alexander the Great conquered much of the ancient world and the subsequent Hellenistic period saw the height of Greek culture and influence.
Annexed by Rome in the second century BC it became part of the Roman Empire (by 27 BC) and then Byzantine Empire. Its capital now in Constantinople, its language and culture remained Greek. Modern Greek identity was encouraged by the Greek Orthodox Church emerging in the first century AD.
Ottoman dominion came in the mid fifthteenth century, culminating in 1460. Greece emerged as a modern nation state in 1830 following a war of independence.
During parts of World War One Greece had two governments. One was a royalist, pro-German in Athens, the other a Venizelist, pro-Entente (France had taking the lead in creating alliances with Japan, Russia, and [informally] with Britain before World War One) one in Thessaloniki. These two governments united in 1917 with Greece officially entering the war on the side of the Entente.
In World War Two (October 1940) Italy demanded the surrender of Greece. This was refused and in the following Greco-Italian War Greece gave the Allies their first victory over the Axis forces on land. Unfortunately the country eventually fell to German forces during the Battle of Greece. Athens and Thessaloniki were administered by the Nazis, while other regions of the country were given to partners; Fascist Italy and Bulgaria. Over 100,000 civilians died of starvation during 1941–1942, tens of thousands more died because of reprisals by Nazi collaborators and the great majority of Greek Jews were deported and murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
Greece is a founding member of the United Nations and tenth member of the European Communities (precursor to the European Union). It is also a member of the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) amongst others.
Athens is the capital of Greece. Reform in 2011 instigated 13 regions, subdivided into 325 municipalities. 54 old prefectures and prefecture-level administrations have been largely retained as sub-units of the regions. There is also one autonomous area, Mount Athos which borders the region of Central Macedonia.
The Greek Constitution recognises Eastern Orthodoxy as the ‘prevailing’ faith of the country. The Greek government does not keep statistics on religious groups and censuses do not ask for religious affiliation. According to the U.S. State Department, an estimated 97% of Greek citizens identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. According to other sources, 16% of Greeks describe themselves as “very religious”, which is the highest among all European countries. The survey also found that just 4% never attend a church, compared to 5% in Poland and 60% in the Czech Republic (percentages rounded up).
Greek Muslim, Christian Orthodox Caucasus Greeks, Judaism, Roman Catholic, Protestants (including the Greek Evangelical Church and Free Evangelical Churches), Assemblies of God, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and various Pentecostal churches of the Greek Synod of Apostolic Church make up other, minority religions. Since 2017, Hellenic Polytheism, or Helenism has been legally recognised as an actively practiced religion in Greece (various religious movements that continue, revive, or reconstruct ancient Greek religious practices).
Source: Wikipedia, accessed 2020
Civil Registration (birth, marriage and death) and church records can be found in multiple locations (please refer to the relevant section below).
Birth, marriage or death (BMD) records are known as civil registration and they begin in 1840. Starting at this date some local governments’ started to record birth, marriage and death events. Officially the Lixiarheion (the official record-keeping administration) was not established until 1925, being fully established throughout Greece in 1931.
In addition to England & Wales BMD entries, Greek entries will also contain:
- hour, day, month, year, and day of the week of birth
- the father’s name, age, occupation, birthplace, religion, citizenship, residence, and his father’s name
- the godparents’ name and fathers’ names
- the witnesses’ names, ages, occupations, birthplaces, and their fathers’ names
- name of priest who acted as recorded.
- the names, parents’ names, ages, places of birth, residences, occupations,
- citizenship, and religion of the bride and groom
- whether this is the first or a subsequent marriage of the bride or groom.
- time, date, and day of the week of the death
- birthplace, age, residence, occupation, religion, and citizenship
- parents’ names for men and single women
- women’s maiden names are not mentioned in death records.
Civil registration records (and copies) can be found in multiple locations:
+ Local (Municipal) Archives in Mayors’ Offices
Most civil records can be found in municipal archives (dimotika archeia) located in local mayors’ or community presidents’ offices.
+ Civil Registry Offices (Lixiarcheion)
In large cities, civil records since 1925 can be found in official civil registry offices. These are under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior (Ypourgeion Esoterikon).
+ General State Archives of Greece (GAK)
Some records are collected by the General State Archives of Greece (GAK). The Archives of Greece has a central office in Athens, and local offices throughout Greece.
+ Family History Library
The records may be available on microfilm on the FamilySearch Catalog or at the Family History Library.
A snapshot of a family, on one night of the year. Early census material was taken in different parts of Greece for different purposes:
- Crete: 1644
- Peloponnesus: before 1820
- Turkish rulers: late 1600s, 1718, 1719 through to 1798
- Greece: 1828, 1830
- Greece yearly: 136-1845, 1848, 1853, 1856, 1861, 1870, 1879, 1889, 1896, 1907, 1920, 1928, 1940, 1951, 1961, 1971, 1981, and 1991
- Greece (new territory added): 1865, 1881, 1900, 1913, and 1947
- Refugees from Asia Minor (voluntary census): 1923.
Most census records are not accessible to the public for research. The location of these census records may be in the Department of National Statistics (Ethniki Statistiki Ypiresia tis Ellados) or at the General Archives of Greece (Genika Archeia tou Kratous). For website addresses see further sources below.
Some census statistics have been published, but this doesn’t mean personal information helpful for genealogical research is included.
Census records from before 1820 are likely to be in the archives in Vienna, Venice, Istanbul or in other nations that had interests in Greece during the Ottoman period.
Some census records are available at the Family History Library and give more information than merely statistics:
+ 1840–1844, 1848, 1851, 1879 and other census records filmed at Nauplion, which includes statistics from the country of Greece and the county Argolidos
+ 1835, 1838–1839 census and 1857–1881, 1889 town registers from county of Argolidos
Census records were also taken of the Armenian minority in Greece:
+ 1923 census of Armenians in Greece.
+ 1948 census of Armenians in Thessaloniki and regions of Macedonia and Thrace in northern Greece
+ 1953 census of Armenians in Greece
Emigrants and Immigrants
Emigration and immigration records usually list those who are leaving (emigration) the country, or those arriving (immigration) into the country.
Most of those choosing to leave Greece in the 19th and 20th centuries went to the United States, Egypt, Australia, South America or South Africa. By 1910, an estimated one quarter to one fifth of the total labour force of Greece had left. In 1914 alone, 35,832 Greek emigrants went to the United States.
Emigration to the United States nearly stopped after 1924 when restrictive immigration quotas were applied. After that time most emigrant Greeks went to other countries such as Australia, Canada, or South Africa.
Records of passports and other such documents are located in Athens and Nauplion, the capital and former capital of Greece.
Passenger Arrival Lists
The two primary ports of departure from Greece were Piraeus and Patras. Although no passenger lists from Greece have been microfilmed, there are several other sources for tracking your immigrant ancestor’s place of origin. If the family came to the United States, the passenger arrival lists can be of great help in finding the town where the family last resided in Greece and an ancestor’s birthplace.
Further records detailing your ancestors journey can be reviewed on the FamilySearch.org website (see ‘Source’ below).
Parish registers generally detail baptism, marriage and burial. They may be used as an alternative or substitute for civil registration.
The Eastern Orthodox faith is the official religion of Greece and are an excellent source for accurate information on names, dates, places of births, marriages, deaths, and relationships. Most people who lived in Greece can be found in church records, some starting in the 16th century, with most registers starting in the late 1600s and early 1700s.
In early years, children were generally christened a few days after their birth.
Marriage registers give the date and place of marriage, the names of the bride and groom, and the names of the fathers of the bride and groom.
Diocese Marriage Records
In Greece, persons who wanted to marry had to talk to the local priest. The prospective couple submitted certificates giving their birth, parentage and other information to the local priest, who forwarded it to the diocese (metropolis). If no problems were found, the diocese would issue the permission for marriage. Often, the only permanent record of the marriage is the information recorded by the diocese.
Diocese Divorce Records
Divorces before the mid-twentieth century were uncommon. Records of divorces may contain information on family members. Records of divorce are found either in court records or in diocese records.
Deaths were recorded by the priest who performed the funeral and burial. Burial usually took place within 24 hours of death, either in the parish where the person died, or in the cemetery of the town where the person died.
Parish membership lists (katalogos enoriton) list the residents of each parish, organized by family. In many towns they may include 100% of the local population.
Although church records originated on the parish level, the records may be located at various places today.
+ Local parishes. Most church registers are still maintained by the parish. Some older records, however, may have been turned in to diocese or state archives
+ Diocese (Metropolis) archives. Current parish registers are located at the parish, but older records of the 1800s and 1900s are often kept in diocese archives
+ GAK archives (Genika Archeia tou Kratous). Some pre-1900 records may be in the GAK
Some very old records are kept in monasteries.
Key contacts and useful websites
Research ancestors in other countries
- Wikipeadia, accessed 2020
- FamilySearch, accessed 2020
- Photo by Photo by Luka Rister; freeimages.com/
Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See https://myfamilygenealogy.co.uk/guidance/ for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.
What stories might your ancestors tell?