Monday, December 7, 2015

Building (and Circulating) Family Trees...

Packaging genealogical research is a literary project in many ways. Family Trees may be about facts, but which facts? What did you find?  How is it organized? What do you include? What do you hide? By what name is each branch called. How do you spell it? Will relatives agree? Aman!

Obsessed with details, I have spent hours recently adding more dates and fine-tuning names, knowing that there is still more work to be done.  What are my relatives actual/correct Greek names? Is your name Vasiliki -- or Bessie or Betty or Bella? I'd like to get my hands on whoever turned the name Kostantinos into Gus! (That names were changed on Ellis Island is pure myth. The staff of many languages did their best to preserve the original names listed on ship manifests. Many names were changed and obscured later by the need to blend in.)

Finishing up organizing what I have so far for the main branches of our Family Tree(Skopos, Naousa, Kyparissi, and Koroni) and wanting publish it somehow. Not on the Internet, someone warned -- even though that's how families find each other on or  But publish them I will, primarily in hard copies...because this information should be circulated, savored, and then saved right along with other important family documents. 

There is no end actually, but I am hitting the pause button for now
-- at least until I go back to Greece in February to continue unraveling the story of my Papou Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos. ‎Will I ever know when exactly he left Eastern Macedonia (then Ottoman Empire/now Turkey) and with whom, just before his town of Skopos got caught up in the "Armenian Genocide" circa 1915 that spared no Christians? 

Yiayia Pauline's cousin Elisavoudha Lala Milona
and her daughter Kostanza ("Dina")
I know a lot more now than I did 3 years ago before 2 trips to Greece and several more to Stockton...Yes, I was thrilled to be found by Eleni Xanthopoulou and receive a rare picture of my great-grandmother Kokony. But I have also been thrilled to recently meet many more relatives in Naousa -- as only one branch of that side of our family (3 Koutsoukis siblings: Antonios "Tony Gust" Koutsoukis, my Yiayia Pauline Xanttopulos, and Eleni Huntalas) actually immigrated to the USA/Stockton. Their father Kostantinos died in a Thessaloniki Ottoman prison around 1904 for aiding freedom fighters. Their sister Maria Koutsouki stayed in Naousa and her husband, Nikos Theofilos, was the mayor assassinated during the Civil War as reported in Time magazine (1-31-49). Maria relocated with her children to Athens. Her daughter Soula -- who lived in the USA for 8 years -- is my original Naousa Connection!

My mission/responsibility now is to make sure that all family members have their section of the Family Tree, and, if so inclined, they can help me fill in any gaps -- to help ensure that the info is passed on to future generations, so they don't have to start from Square One like I did. And some of us won't be here to answer the many questions. 

Family Trees will soon be arriving in designated mailboxes, maybe yours. Kali Hronia!

(Published in The Greek American Herald, December 2015)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

OXI means NO, then and now!

Tomorrow is OXI Day in Greece. It's about saying NO against all I wonder what the Greek people are thinking.
Greece is commemorating the day in 1940 when the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas refused an ultimatum from Benito Mussolini: Allow Italy to take over strategic locations without resistance or be attacked. Greece was ill-prepared to fight an all-out war at home against the German-Italian Fascist Axis, but could she give up her independence and aid/abet the war against the Allies? 

Any practical leader might have considered taking the deal, but on October 28, 1940, Metaxas -- reflecting the will of the Greeks -- said OXI (NO): "The time has come for Greece to fight for her independence. Greeks, now we must prove ourselves worthy of our forefathers and the freedom they bestowed upon us. Greeks, now fight for your Fatherland, for your wives, for your children and the sacred traditions. Now, over all things, fight!" 

The Greek Resistance radically changed the course of the war and history...and Winston Churchill later said: “Until now, we knew that Greeks were fighting like heroes; from now on we shall say that the heroes fight like Greeks.”
I was in Greece recently for another OXI Day in Greek history. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras refused to accept a new bail-out proposal offered by Europe that was fraught with more of the same austerity measures that for 5 years had driven the Greek economy to the ground and created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in a developed country. For months he had fought for the debt reduction/restructuring to make the Greek economy sustainable (later validated by the IMF), but wasn't offered even a crumb by the European "Creditors." Mr. Tsipras would not take the deal and asked the Greek people to vote on whether they wanted him to do so or not, pledging to abide by their wishes. 
On July 5th, the Greek people -- with no promises of leniency and barraged by both misinformation and the shameless politicking of European leaders pushing for a YES vote (having ostensibly taken the deal off the table to boot!) -- again resoundingly said OXI! But Europe then turned its back on that cry of anguish and resistance, serving up an even worse deal just to show who's boss. Where's the love now? 
This time it was a war of words like "Grexit" and threats of banishment from Europe if the worse deal wasn't taken in 48 hours...from a European Union with its alleged high ideals of collective cooperation, but an insanely unyielding allegiance to rules (not followed by Volkswagen). "The Creditors" -- many of whom made bad loans and then also made money off Greece's woes -- continue to cast blame and perpetuate punishment upon real people who don't deserve it...essentially the same people who said OXI to Mussolini and fought an insufferable, devastating war that killed 10% of its population to help save Europe as we know it.  
Do 2 of 5 Greek children really deserve to live in poverty in the year 2015? OXI!

(Published in The Greek American Herald, November 2015)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Letters (& a precious gift) from Eleni Xanthopoulou...

Last March (on the what would have been my father Steve's 95th birthday), I stepped up my search to find out more about his own father: the heretofore mysterious Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos. When  (during the Ottoman Empire) did he leave Skopos in Thrace, with whom and where to first? Did he visit NY in 1913? Where were his relatives? Some of us cannot even agree on what his first name was, even though all his official papers (including the petition for naturalization that he signed) say Xanthoulis and not Xenophon. But I digress...

While in Greece last summer, I was able to connect -- at the last minute by telephone in a rather amazing way -- with Eleni Xanthopoulou, the adopted daughter of Xanthoulis' brother Kostas. Since then we have had an ongoing, revealing correspondence. And this with a woman I have yet to meet in person! Nevertheless, she has supplied me with documentation that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is the real deal.

She not only referenced Stockton, California, in our initial phone conversation (and knocked me out of my chair!), but talked about photos that her family received -- and saved all these years! -- with boxes of clothes sent to Greece by my grandmother, Pauline Xanttopulos. Subsequently, I received photocopies of those images. This one of my Uncle Gus' family was taken more than 55 years ago... 

Then a precious gift: a photo of Kokony Xanthopoulou -- wife of Efstathios Xanthopoulos (for whom my father was named), Xanthoulis' mother and my father's paternal grandmother. This was the first time my father's sister Mary or any of us had seen a picture of her. If my father was around he'd probably say,  "What's the big deal? I, of course, met my grandmother when she visited us in Naousa around 1925 before we came to this country."

But he's not around, and it is a big deal. And for that we have to thank Eleni Xanthopoulou. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 16, 2015

You can help Greek families & children NOW!

People have been asking how can they help Greece, and for good reason...Greece's 5-year long financial crisis is the source of hardship for thousands of families facing an uncertain future as their income (26% unemployment!), pensions, social, and health benefits have been slashed or completely eliminated -- and more cuts are coming. All hands on deck! 

Two out of 5 children now live in poverty. Schools across the country have been reporting that alarming numbers of children arrive at school hungry. In rural parts of Greece, children have been forced to drop out of school to help support their families. In some cases, parents have even given up their children to local charities because they can't afford to care for them.  Here are two very important ways to provide immediate assistance:

1. You can sponsor a child in one of 4 SOS Children's Villages for orphaned or abandoned children located in Playiari, Alexandroupolis, Vari, and Crete.  Those sites provide a supportive and safe home in addition to healthy food, medical care, and other basic necessities -- plus care from trained educators, workers, and youth activity coordinators. SOS Children's Villages also runs 7 Social Centers throughout Greece dispensing a myriad of services and dedicated to keeping families together. With your help they will soon expand their services.

2. Greek Orthodox churches throughout the USA are actively supporting the IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities), which since 2012 has contributed more than $17.4 million to Greece in medical support, heating fuel, food, agriculture development, and job assistance done in conjunction with the humanitarian arm of the Church of Greek via  multiple programs and with the appreciation/support of the Greek government.  You can make your own contribution  by clicking HERE. Those gifts -- earmarked specifically for Greece -- are being doubled by the Jaharis Family Foundation up to $1 million! 

Greek families and children truly your help NOW -- Efharisto poli!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

DC Advocates Stand by Greece (mostly)...

Mulling over the take-aways from the "Stand by Greece" Summit held a few days ago at the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington DC -- and I have mixed emotions
The bipartisan event was organized by the 136-member Hellenic Caucus co-chaired‎ by Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and assisted by the Hellenic-American Leadership Council (HALC). Intense Congressional commitment to Greece was inspiring. I simply couldn't be prouder of Congressman Bilirakis! (And who knew that Chris Van Hollen [D-MD] was married in the Greek Orthodox Church?)
3 panels covered needed administrative/business reforms, reality on the ground (including a report by Metropolitan Gabriel on what Apostoli, the humanitarian arm of the Church of Greece has been doing bolstered by significant contributions from the IOCC/International Orthodox Christian Charities), and the geopolitical strategic issues/concerns.‎ The last underscored the damnable damage done to Greece for too many years primarily because of location, location, location... 
Contributions and initiatives were announced and applauded -- especially the generosity of HALC founder Nikos Mouyiaris of Mana Products, who will also walk the talk by building a factory in the Thebes area. A letter was initiated to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, requesting technical assistance to be provided to Greece in connection with the current refugees crisis; we lobbied several reps in their offices. And a next project with SOS-Children's Villages (Greek website) for individual child sponsorship was also introduced -- following the $260,000 already raised for their Greek programs through HALC.
Standing by Greece, however, did not seem to include standing by newly re-elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who disappointed (or was it embarrassed?) some with his inability to impress in his interview with President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. 
PM Tsipras -- a relatively young man and not a capitalist by trade or inclination -- made a series of speeches around the UN meetings. It would have been nice if he had hit a couple of home runs, but that was no reason not to stand by him publicly. As the democratically re-elected PM of Greece by the Greek people in tumultuous times, he deserved more than a 10-day honeymoon (especially since others deemed business-minded had 5 years to make things better and did not). Instead some Greek-Americans ridiculed him and his government beyond what might be considered constructive criticism. 
We all want to see the changes needed to rebuild the Greek economy and end the humanitarian crisis as soon as possible. But there will be no overnight miracles. Much will be rightfully decided by the Greek people, not by us -- and in a socio-political environment not like ours.  We really don't know all the facts or understand the mind-set completely. And Greece is not Astoria, Toronto or even Chicago.

Much must indeed change.   On the other hand,  some things about Greece and the Greek people will never change -- thank God!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Notes from Greek Ground Zero -- and one way to help!

In  my previous post, I wrote: "Now already-slashed (some early, but NOT ill-got) pensions sustaining extended families will be cut back again in order to keep Greece in the Eurozone.  Is the price too steep?" Add to that: 25% unemployment (50% ages 25-34), more than 40% living below poverty level, and a very un-Greek uptick in suicides.

A few minutes ago, I received a message from one of my former students from the AFS Girls School (circa 1968-78), who is in her late 50's. I had complemented her political activism on Facebook, as I was always trying empower the girls one way or another when I was their teacher. Here was her response (translated from the Greek):

"As you can see, we are supporting ___, with the old time politicos we see no solution. We are suffering financially and don't know what else to do. We have no help from anywhere. They've cut my husband's pension quite a lot. None of our children have jobs. My daughter owes 2,700 EU to the electric company and 1 1/2 years rent. I don't know what to do. Hopefully something good will happen. Hugs." 
She proved my point, but broke my heart.
NOTE: You can help Greece by joining me in a contribution to  Kid & Family. ($50 will provide foodstuffs and personal essentials to a family of 4 for 1 week) -- or you can send $$ to your relatives wherever they are!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Your Greek-American legacy is at stake!

A nasty story came across the Internet on August 20th -- at once a cautionary tale and a call to action. Greek-Americans can no longer just sit back and wait to see how things will turn out in Greece like one those crazy TV series with a wild finale, that then comes back again and again with an ever-thickening plot that seems to have no end. It's Season 5 already of the Greek Financial Crisis...and now things are getting very personal!

24/7 media stakes stalk Greece
Growing poverty everywhere in Greece is now a bleak reality whether making the front pages or not, and with no end in sight. But what really hurts the Greek people -- yes, these are actual human beings we are talking about! -- is the accusation that they are all dishonest and lazy...a "parapono" (painful, personal complaint) I first heard from a neighbor in my other grandmother's hometown of Koroni  3 years agoand recently again when I spent 6 weeks in Greece. With all the misinformation, Greeks have found themselves personally condemned on top of everything else...and now a trickle down effect here in the U.S.A.

It was reported that a Philadelphia judge presiding over a child custody case asked the father whether he was of Greek descent, and when told yes, he said: "The Greeks never pay taxes..That's why the country is in bankruptcy." This brought the man's Greek mother to tears, prompting an apology from the judge. But it was obvious that many in the US have a very poor and unwarranted view of Greeks and Greece, like we have never been party to any financial fiascos.*

The posting on a HALC (Hellenic-American Leadership Council) blog went on to explain: "Tax evasion is a serious problem in Greece, one that been front and center during the debate on Greece’s bailout programs. What has been largely lost in the debate — and the reason why the 'none of them ever pay taxes' myth has taken hold so much — is that the bulk of Greece’s tax evasion is committed by a small percentage of people/companies...a mere 5 percent of tax dodgers owe 85 percent of the outstanding amount." Sound familiar? And while many individuals owe small amounts -- many because they simply can't afford to pay at this point  - many of those people who still have jobs are taxed at the source, meaning that they simply cannot avoid paying taxes.

The HALC posting goes on to say: "A broad brush has been used, however, since day one of this crisis, to paint all Greeks as the lazy, tax-evading leeches of Europe. It’s a cartoonish narrative, which is why it’s become so popular. The comments by Judge Coll are a reminder that it is our duty as members of the Hellenic diaspora to counter such stereotypes whenever we hear them, be it in a courthouse or a coffeehouse."  Or at the next church Greek Festival you attend (or organize).

Our legacies here and there are at stake!

* Let us remember that Stateside we acknowledged massive financial mistakes of our own in 2008, which included unpaid, fraudulent mortgages and massive credit card malfeasance by leading financial institutions that had been deregulated.  We had a Depression, and my hometown Stockton, California, was Ground Zero for people losing their homes...Fortunately, our economy was big enough to make things right eventually, but not without government intervention. Unfortunately, Greece's economy is tiny comparatively and tied to the Euro and all of its Germany-driven financial policies and rules/regulations. The IMF has now -- with pressure from the USA -- come to its senses with documentation that the Greek economy is not sustainable with without debt reduction/restructuring. Then again, who is Europe trying to save -- Greece or itself?

(Published in The Greek American Herald, October 2015)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Eureka -- thanks to an Orfeos newspaper blurb and a missing photograph!

As previously posted, I had visited Neos Skopos in Northern Greece on 6/21 in my quest to learn something more about my grandfather, Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos -- a man from Skopos, Turkey, that we know next to nothing about before he married Paraskevoula Koutsoukis in Naousa circa 1916...except the names of his parents, Efstathios and Kokosill (as noted on his 1941 death certificate). No one I spoke with that day knew anyone who might be related to me. And I was told there was no K name Kokosill in the Skopos tradition, but there was a name Kokony. 

I was on a mission to find at least one Xanthopoulos relative on this trip. So my new and now perplexed Neos Skopos friends offered to include a blurb about my search w/my cellphone# in their "Syllogos Orfeos" quarterly newspaper, which was just about to be printed... 

20 days later and on the night before I left Thessaloniki, I spoke with someone who had read the newspaper and given me a call. Her maiden name was Eleni Xanthopoulou, her grandparents were named Efstathios and Kokkony...and she remembers being told that her Yiayia would go to Naousa to visit relatives.  Eureka!

Eleni said that somewhere she had a photograph of four people that was received with a box of clothes many years ago, and she was sure that I was in that photograph. Out-of-the-blue she referenced Stockton, California. I was stunned!

This was the first person on the Papou Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos side of our Family Tree that I have ever located -- made possible because the "Syllogos Orfeos" in Neos Skopos was kind enough to publicize my quest. And then Eleni, who lives in Serres, happened to see that notice. We did not have time to meet in person this trip, but we have an exciting connection and something to build on.
Now to find that photograph...

NOTE: If you have queries about Skopos relatives you can write to Theodoros Voyiaris, President of Orfeos in Neos Skopos, Serron, Greece T.K. 62100...or call him at 306949535354. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

51 and counting, in spite of all the troubles!

Left Greece yesterday firmly believing that the ship I am temporarily abandoning is, for all intents and purposes, unsinkable -- and if you are at all familiar with the history of Greece the last 100 years, you know what I am talking about. The Greek people will never go down without fight!   

The newest proposed austerity measures look to be worse than ever, with just vague prospects for economic recovery.  The lack of cash has caused a cascade of serious problems that most American citizens would find unbelievable AND intolerable. It was impossible to see the end of the tunnel if The Creditors do not cut the debt, like others did for Germany in 1953. That is why Greeks followed the lead of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and voted OXI (NO!) in the July 5th plebiscite. I am very proud of how they stood up for themselves no matter who is to blame for the current situation and how nasty Herr Schäuble has become.  

For the last 6 weeks, I ran around trying to find relatives and then graduates of the American Farm School's Girls School Department...forays into towns and villages which gave me even more insight into the economic situation. I worked at the School in 1968-78 and was pretty tight with the students and their families. I kept in touch with many up until about 1985, then radio fault. Now the floodgates were open!

So how do I explain that I have now ‎visited with 51 such graduates who acted as if 40+ years have not gone by? "Miss Paula" is now much older and overweight, but they don't seem to care...maybe because some of them aren't so svelte any more either. The beautiful, mind-blowing way I was greeted went beyond my wildest expectations.‎ I could have stayed 6 months if I took them all up on their invitations to stay in their homes!

That must be what they call unconditional love. I like to think it is because we had an extraordinary program for kids from villages, especially for girls who were not sent to high school by their parents. They spent 2 years with us and we filled the time with traditional classwork, homemaking/handicraft training and anything else we could think of to mold mothers and community leaders. A few remembered that I taught them play badminton of all things, others the "Smile" awards I conjured up for best dorm rooms, etc. One even used a certificate we gave her for best candle-maker to get a loan for an amazing decorative candle company she created -- but which has now gone by the way because most people can't afford that sort of expenditure any more. (The same for many small businesses which couldn't compete in markets saturated with goods from China and the like.) 

Most importantly, these now 50+ years-old women loved getting together with others they had not seen or heard from for many years as I went around gathering them up and sharing contact information. They loved talking about their school experience and how important it was. Eleni, Tassoula, Fotini, Aleka, Mairi, Despina, Chrystallo, Isaiah, Peristera, Glykeria -- some are widows, others are still working hard (at the very least helping pick cherries or peaches or olives during harvest seasons in their hometowns), and most are grandmothers tending to large extended families challenged daily by these severely depressed times.  

So my new and unforeseen mission in life is to reach them all, creating some sort of network/association for today -- to renew the friendships they had, share their life experiences, and help each other when they can. 51 was great, but 232 will be a whole lot better.

Kali andamosi!

NOTE: A big shout-out to my partners in crime (above top photo), Vasso'74 ("Sherlock Holmes" as I dubbed her and a leader in her Kavala area village) and Ioanna '73 (hostess, driver par excellence, and teacher in a special needs school for 26 years!) -- who not only came along for the ride‎, but organized a good bit of it. They seemed to enjoy those encounters even more than me and are working on the next phase as we speak. Double Opa!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sadly, Greek life on eerie hold -- to put it mildly!

View from Ioanna's front porch
Currently visiting the beautiful village of Neohori, Halkidhikis. On the one hand it's business as usual -- with a panigyri in progress nearby along with other normal happenings and flawlessly cheerful hospitality wherever I go. On the other, there is a giant elephant in the room.

Life here in Greece is on eerie hold in anticipation of a referendum on whether Greeks would accept the last EU offer for continued financial aid coupled with increased austerity measures. Greece refused to sign unless such a deal included debt reduction. Indeed, an IMF report 2 days ago has now affirmed the government's insistence all along that without debt reduction, the economy is not sustainable -- so why torture the public more just to follow a policy that has only created a growing humanitarian crisis?

It seemed logical and clear a week ago: OXI means no more of the same and NAI means hit us again harder after 5 years of taking our medicine with no end in sight. Unfortunately, the Greek public has now been inundated with fear-mongering rhetoric (think Fox news on steroids!) and numbing banking controls ‎that have recast the  vote into Europe/Eurozone NO or YES, when that has NEVER been the intent or goal.

And to make matters much more dangerous, European creditors have been openly campaigning against the OXI vote in hopes of bringing down a democratically-elected government they disagee with, but which came into power last January because Greeks said we can't take this any more.  As far as I'm concerned, such blatant interference is TOTALLY unacceptable regardless of anyone's political leanings. 

Lines at Naousa ATM
Greek politicians not in power and who previously went along to get along, are‎ furiously doing everything they can to undermine the government and confuse the public. Polls show that the vote is too close to call, when just a week ago people said who would be stupid enough to vote for more pension cuts (already at almost 40 percent) and more taxes on food and medicines? After waiting at ATM lines to get their daily Euro allotments and being unable to pay the rent or make other necessary purchases, Greeks now think a YES vote will mean all will return to normal -- conveniently forgetting that some of them in the public and private sectors have not been paid for months in a stagnating economy that did not just get that way under the present government, no matter how you slice it.

It's pretty scary to think no one really knows what will happen no matter how the vote turns out. Rumors and accusations abound. Prime Minister Tsipras goes on TV daily to urge people to remain calm, hold their heads high, and vote OXI for the ‎betterment of their country in the name of democracy. Demonstrations pro and con grow larger, dotted with foreign celebrities. Meanwhile people are scampering to get back to wherever they are registered in order to vote -- when they are not waiting at ATM machines under threat of further hardship, having difficulty trusting anything they hear. I'm afraid to turn on the TV, hoping this will al go away if I don't.

"Whatever happens, we will manage somehow like we always have" is a typical response by regular people trying to disguise growing anxiety and anger over a situation that has now become inexplicable as well as unfathomable. 

Sadly, Greek life is indeed on eerie hold-- to put it mildly!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Return to Naousa is bittersweet...

The rather bleak financial situation here in Greece has not stopped me from visiting with relatives wherever I can find them, including in my Dad's hometown of Naousa where I just spent 6 days. Going back there was hard because my closest contacts had "left" as the Greeks say when talking about those who have passed away. That included Alkinoy and Christos Lalas (Yiayia X's first cousins, at whose home I usually stayed) and their son Tassos, who died suddenly last August. He was my age and partner in crime whenever I visited Naousa. Zoi se mas.

So I made it my business to connect with others, starting with the oldest relatives on my list. Time to put more faces on those names!
Christos Lalas had 4 siblings who altogether produced 18 children, none of whom migrated to the States.  His sister Elizavouda, is now 91, lives alone, and is no slacker. Her daughter Dina lives in the building next door, and they have installed an ingenious steel bridge to connect the two. Amazing, I still can't get over it!

Dina's husband Yiannis comes from the nearby village of Rodohori, where I had also been before to visit students. She graciously drove me there to help me reconnect with  3 Girls School   graduates. A 4th now lives is Veria; we spoke by phone. Then Dina -- who has worked for the governments of Arkohori and Naousa -- gave me the grand tour of Aghios Nikolaos Grove and environs. (Many women now drive in Greece, unlike when I would appear in remote villages circa 1970 driving my trusty VW.)

Very happy to also meet Tasso's daughters Ethimia and Alkinoy...but first a sweet visit with my father's cousin Dr. George Koukoulos and his wife Roi. I have an old photograph of me and my parents having lunch with them and brother-in-law Angelos Valtadoros circa 1972, seemingly at a restaurant in Aghios Nikolaos Grove. My "Uncle George" -- at one time the town's main doctor -- is still going strong at 91 and has written a very interesting memoir. They still live in his ancestral home, which on the ground floor once housed his father's store and then his doctor's office...and they still navigate a rather frightening, no-handrail wooden staircase that winds up to the second floor.

Dr. George Koukoulas gives me a copy of his book!
‎I was invited by a 1978 Girls School graduate to have Sunday lunch at her home in the Alonia neighborhood -- on the same street where my dad grew up in the 20's and not far from where my Yiayia's ancestral home once stood. Despina's kids go to "Yalakia," a grammar school that just celebrated its 160th birthday and which my father attended before leaving for America in 1929. She gave me a book and CD celebrating that anniversary...could Efstathios Xanthopoulos be in that photo  on page 36 of the 1926-27 second grade class ?

Many miles and many years did not mitigate against family roots and renewed relationships. It is indeed a small world we live in...and thus we need to pay attention to what's going on in Greece and support our enduring "patrida." Lots of ugly things have gone down here in the last 100 years, most not the fault of the Greek people per se.  ‎They have suffered enough, in more ways than the average second or third generation Greek-American can fully appreciate. 

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Zito Hellas!

NOTE: How has globalization affected Naousa? Beginning in 1875, renowned textile factories provided work and prosperity for over a century. Many factory buildings dot the Naousa city landscape -- and now, except for one, they are depressingly shuttered because such goods could be produced much more cheaply in China and Pakistan. Even the famous Naousa area cherries and peaches -- and most people were spending mornings these days picking/processing in their family orchards -- bring little profit anymore as foreign markets have fizzled and middlemen drag their feet paying the farmers. Very tough times indeed!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Neos Skopos, it's my village now!

Spent yesterday -- thanks to my friend Soula Moraitou and her husband Takis -- looking for relatives of my father's father Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos in Neos Skopos (near Serres). The town was built by refugees from the original Skopo in Turkey (Eastern Thrace), where Xanthoulis was born and from which Greeks were expelled in 1915 leading up to the exchange of populations in 1923. Residents and the two presidents of the village and of Orfeos (an amazing organization dedicated to preserving the Skopo legacy) could not have been nicer, even opening the Town Hall on a Sunday morning to search records.  

The village is patterned after the original, topped by a building complex -- funded by Skopians all over the world -- housing Orfeos and it's multiple activities: library/office, large practice‎ room with wooden floor for the dance troupe, an auditorium with theater seating, and photo gallery. Excursions to the original Skopos are now the norm -- and a beautiful book dedicated to the  Skopo Diaspora was published to well-deserved fanfare on May 25th in Thessaloniki on the 100th anniversary of the 1915 pogroms. 

Unfortunately my short-on-details quest yielded zero results, so far. I had only my Papou's name and his father's (Efstathios) plus documentation of birth in Skopo -- and no idea when exactly he left Skopo, except that it was probably before 1915. But Orfeos will publish a blurb about me and my search in their upcoming quarterly newspaper, officially taking me in to the Family of Skopians (as I see it).  Their interest and generosity were overwhelming.

Neos Skopos is a modern village where history is a respected way of life -- and I am hereby adopting it as my own, until further notice!‎ 

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Can't stop thinking about tomorrow!

Selfie, w/Aunt Soula front & center
 Happily ensconced now in the throw-back "Tourist Hotel" in Thessaloniki, on Mitropoleos Street just 2 blocks from Plateia Aristotelous. I miss my Aunt Soula, but NOT the Athens humidity.  For dinner, I hobbled over to the Modiano Market area and enjoyed a glass of tsipouro and meze plate for 5 Euros. It's now 4 am and I cannot sleep.

Tomorrow I will visit the American Farm School, where I worked in various capacities for 10 years circa 1968-78. To be honest, I had not really been looking forward to that because the changes, I hear, have been dramatic.  My favorite years had been as an administrator in the Girls School Department, primarily a traditional Homemaking/Handicraft program for teen-aged girls who did not continue on to high school.  During Christmas, Easter, and summer vacations I visited EVERY student's family in their home villages -- and was pretty tight with many of them‎. ‎(I am hoping to visit with as many Girls School graduates as I can track down, but I digress...)

I  got a ride from Athens to Thessaloniki with the daughter of a 1971 Girls School graduate, Eleftheria née Rangoussi '69, now living in Philadelphia. Kathy Varkadou was going to pick up her own daughter, a current AFS high school student -- 45 years since I recruited her mother to come to the School from the town of Giannitsa. It was a timely opportunity to get to know that family better and acclimate myself to the current Greek reality.

Kathy -- a registered nurse with 4 kids, and an impressive woman in her own right -- was born in the US and married in Athens 20 years ago.  She said that her mother describes her experience at the School as the best years of her life. In a few hours, Kathy will show me around the place I left 37 years ago...and where once upon a time I used to give the tours.‎ Mind-boggling!

But I am now actually looking forward to it.

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Going to Thessaloniki, Greece still in economic limbo...

Heading north to Thessaloniki where I have not been since 1983...and I have serendipitously caught a ride with the daughter American Farm School Girls School graduate Eleftheria '71, who now lives in Philadelphia. Kathy -- born in CT and a trained nurse -- lives outside Athens with her Greek husband and family. She is going to pick up her‎ own daughter Eleftheria, who is attending the American Farm School high school program some 44 years after her grandmother graduated. That somewhat dizzying circle is closing. (FYI: I worked at that school for 10 years, 1968-78, and have not been back in Northern Greece since 1983.)

I would like to report good, clear-cut news about the political/economic situation here in Greece, but I cannot. The capital is awash in speculation and anxiety. People here simply cannot afford more cuts to their pensions or added taxes for necessities like food and utilities.  Many people have put any even minimal summer plans on hold. The Finance Minister said that yesterday was a good day, because now the issues have been clarified, And polling shows that the Greek public doesn't want the government for change to back down. We will have some answers very soon. 

While in Athens I stayed with my dear Thea Soula in Palaion Faliron where I ate down-home cooking, watched the news, and talked about family history. Her father was the mayor of  my father's hometown of Naousa during the Civil War and was assassinated by the communists guerrillasBy that time Soula was safely in Athens and became a world traveler with her late husband Mario, even living in Salt Lake City where he went to school and where their daughter Leah was born. They came to our house in California many times -- and we had much to talk about, including who to visit when I go to Naousa next week to work on my maternal grandmother Paraskevouda Koutsouki's quarter of our Family Tree.

This morning, my aunt was arguing with her television set. She is 86 and already her pension has been cut by 36 percent. Can you blame her?

NOTE: Naousa is a town of 23,000 people about an hour west of Thessaloniki in Northern Greece...My Yiayia married Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos at Panayia Church in 1916, just 4 years after Naousa was liberated from the Ottoman Empire.  My father Efstathios (Steve)  Xanthopoulos was born there, too, in 1920 and went to the States in 1929 with the rest of the family.  He never forgot "Niaousa," as he pronounced it...and went on to become a devoted, hard-working family man and Greek Community leader in Stockton, California, where I was born. Papou X died of cancer in San Francisco in 1941, so I never met him.  He remains somewhat of "a mystery man." That circle is not yet closing...

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Leaving Kyparissi today, a lot more connected than when we came..

Speeding away from‎ Kyparissi towards Athens on the 6 am (and only) bus, I am trying to absorb everything that transpired on my 3rd trip to Papou George Sarris's village -- this time with my niece Rachel and good friend Wendy. Six days in this gorgeous, semi-isolated, and newly-favored spot by rock climbers were simply not enough. Next time, a month minimum!

Rachel, Kostas & Froso Heliotis, and Me

‎My aim this trip was to gather info and meet Sarris cousins ...and to hook Rachel up with contacts/info so  she could come back to her great-grandfather's village any time. Mission accomplished -- ‎ as we spent a lot of time with my penpal cousin Froso Heliotis (50 year-old granddaughter of Papou's brother Kostas) and her bouzouki-playing husband Kostas. And the Vasiliou clan that owns/runs the exellent Paraliako Hotel are indispensable!

Father Haralambos
Many of my Family Tree questions were answered thanks to the village priest Haralambos Fessos and the other 10 or so people that I grilled relentlessly. It‎ was fascinating to learn that local relatives did not have a complete list of Papou's siblings (8 total), now provided by me as patched together from various sources. Seems like the 3 that went to the States and never came back -- except for a visit by Sofia Sarris Demakopoulos -- we're off the radar, as were the 2 youngest who died in 1923 and 1933 according to church records. That list may now make it into Maria Ioanniou's second book on the area, this one more specifically about Kyparissi.

Land records that Maria studied indicate that Ilias Sarris -- aka Louis, who sold his Crockett Sweet Shop to his brother George‎ -- built "To Milo tou Sarris" above the upper Vrisi portion of Kyparissi after he returned to Greece circa 1920. It was not handed down from his father Nicolaos, who died in 1922, followed 5 years later by his wife Angeliki. No one seemed to know where the Sarrises lived before 1920. But school records have George Sarris registering for 2nd grade in 1899, with his father's occupation listed as "tekton" (construction worker). 

Eleni Ianniou w/her sister's book!

And from which part of the family tree did Vasiliki Sarris Xepolias (aka "Thea Vasilo" or Bella) come from? She and her family lived in Stockton approximately 1920-25. When her husband Panayioti died, they moved to the San Mateo area, and the children are now deceased -- including ‎Panayiota "Ioda" Manolis, who was close to the Demakopoulos/Mellis clan in Santa Cruz and known to many of us. Kyparisioti John Tsiglieris -- who I had encountered on the bus coming in per my last post -- promised to investigate further. There are many Xepoliases in or from Kyparissi. But as the circle widens, it seems to be closing at the same time.

Thanks to Thea Eleni Ianniou Sarris (above photo w/book), I now have a complete list of Ilias's grandchildren (my cousins) a few phone numbers in Athens where most live. To be continued...

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Just a few kilometers from Kyparissi, and I am freaking out!

John Tsiglieris
‎Sitting on the bus to Kyparissi, Lakonias, I turned to ask another rider if he could tell the driver that we wanted to get out at the Paralia intersection. He said, "Where are you going?" I said to my grandfather George Sarris' village. What? He lived at one time in Tracy and went to St. Basil's Church. Did I know Nick Demas? My Uncle Nick, whose mother Sofia was my Papou's sister? Turns out that John Tsiglieris (see photo) lived in Tracy 1970 - 86. He and another Kiparissioti, John Migoulis, bought The Diner from Bill Panagos, whose wife Helen was my brother Bill's Nouna. John also actually remembers my Papou's oldest brother Ilias (Louis) as an old man here in Kyparissi. And as he lives in the Vrisi section of Kyparissi -- where the Sarris family had a mill and homestead -- and knows other people I mentioned. Unbelievable, I am freaking out!

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It's raining in Athens today, as we hold our collective breaths...

Winding our way along the highway to Sparti, where we change buses for Molaos before the last hairpin stretch to Kyparissi, Lakonias, where my Papou George Sarris was born. ‎My niece Rachel and friend Wendy are with me on a fact-finding, 5-day vacation stay in the beautiful, somewhat isolated seaside village. 

It was raining in Athens when we drove away -- weather I wasn't really expecting after 3 gorgeous days in the capital city. Maybe that was the calm before the storm, as today is June 5th, the next date on the Greek ‎debt payment calendar. It had seemed that all of Greece was holding it's collective  breath. No one pretends to know what is really happening during the current high-stakes negotiations or what the outcome will be. Our taxi driver on the way from the airport said: "I don't know what will happen. I'm not saying anything." (Another taxi driver said yesterday that Greeks don't take taxis anymore, just tourists. You get the picture.)

Last night we met up with my Aunt Soula Chrysopoulou, my father's first cousin from Naousa. I wanted Rachel to meet her and her archaeologist niece Maria -- who actually took a vacation in Kyparissi a few years ago! -- just like we met Alkinoy Lala the night before. She is the daughter of my second cousin Manolis Lalas, whose family in Naousa I was close to when living in Thessaloniki way back then. Maria brought old pictures to dinner, ‎having gotten into the family history swing of things.  She has a 3-month-old baby girl now to pass that heritage on to. 

Meanwhile, we wait for the proverbial political/economic shoe to drop. My aunt said that the outcome (or current status) would be announced today at 6:30 pm in Parliament. We will be watching from Kyparissi like everyone else -- witnesses to another critical slice of Greek history and hoping that Greeks get the break they deserve without further ado. 

To be continued, either way!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Papou Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos' Naturalization Papers -- and some more questions...

‎Preparing to go to Greece, I have been organizing my family tree info so that I can fill in the proverbial blanks -- and there a quite a few as regard my Papou Xanthoulis Xanthopulos' pre-Naousa life. Recently my search to confirm his birthplace had me looking towards E. Thrace on the Turkish side. Now I have confirmed that he was from Skopos (now known as Uskup), a town in Turkey a few miles from Sarranda Ekklisies (now known as Kirklareli). 
Hints came from my Aunt Soula in Athens -- whom I love dearly, and will see soon -- and the very last column on a ship's passenger list which had been a mere online squiggle at first.  A 1930 census form revealed that my Papou and his 2 kids Efstatheos and Theopiste were naturalized by then!
Naturalization Petitions and the ancillary documents -- which I got from the National Archives regional branch in San Bruno, CA* --  are some of the best sources of immigrant info, as they are filled out and sworn to by the subject. And signed. I was thrilled to see my grandfather's signature on documents.

Xanthoulis & Theopeste
(Stockton, 1937)
Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos died of cancer in 1941 before I was born. He was born in "Skopo, Turkey (Greek Parents)" he declared in 1925. Along with renouncing foreign governments, he also swore that he was not an anarchist or polygamist. And 3 years later -- it took 2 years for the issuance of a "Certificate of Arrival" from the Dept. of Labor -- he was made a citizen along with 2 minor children  who were not even here until1929.‎ (Unfortunately the official papers from their journey from Naousa to San Francisco along with any birth certificates have disappeared.)
Were both my father Steve and Aunt Faith actually born in Naousa, where they lived 1920-29? And Aunt Soula says she remembers Theopeste going to Thessaloniki or thereabouts to visit an aunt. Who are those people?
*There are various online sources for genealogy info online, some free like and others by subscription like On the latter I searched the naturalization records, finding the Index Card for Xanttoles Xanttopoulos (later signed "Xanthules") with Declaration and Petition numbers.The approval was given by the US District Court of SF in1928. I emailed the  San Bruno archive with that info/request and within a week they replied. Paid $10 fee by phone, and 2 hours later the 5 scanned pages were in my email box. Place of birth confirmed, no real surprises except 2 unknown to me witnesses from Stockton for a man ("hat cleaner") living in SF...

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

A blessed letter from a friend in Australia, who happens to be an archbishop & poet, too...

At the Hellenic Genealogy Conference last weekend at NYC's Holy Trinity Cathedral, I was reminded by a lovely woman sitting behind me that there would be a memorial service for Archbishop Iakovos the next day. That set a raft of personal memories down memory lane. 

I told her that about 50 years ago, I had naively sent a letter to Iakovos complaining bitterly about parishes stealing priests from one another...And some may remember that Archbishop Iakovos' retirement was not all that smooth. Some turmoil went into choosing his successor Metropolitan Demetrios of Vresthenis (Athens), who had spent 11 years at Holy Cross seminary and was seen to have first-hand understanding of Greek-Americans. That did not turn out very well...

Archbishop Stylianos
Archbishop Stylianos of Australia (originally from Rethymnon, Crete), a personal friend from my Thessaloniki days, had been another possibility -- a brilliant, straight-forward cleric who was apparently seen as too tied to the Patriarchate. I was very disappointed that he didn't get the job, but I don't think he ever really wanted to leave his beloved Australia. 

Vouli & Paula (Circa 1969)
When I first met him through my dear friend Vouli (another Cretan) in 1969, he was the Abbot of Moni Vlatadon in Thessaloniki. We visited there occasionally, dining at least once on snails from Crete. He seemed to relish my greeting him with "Yia'sou," not exactly the usual way he was approached by lay people. But Stylianos was not your usual churchman, either...Preparing to visit Thessaloniki after many years, I was thinking of Vouli, who has passed away, and my friend Stylianos, with whom I had not communicated for many years. So I sent him an Easter greeting, and a few days ago I received a blessed letter back. 

I want you to know more about this extraordinary human being. Stylianos Harkianakis -- who first studied at the Theological School of Halkis and subsequently established St. Andrew's Theological College in Sydney -- has been Archbishop of Australia for 40 years and a dedicated servant of the far-flung Greek Diaspora. Many people do not realize that he is a also an important Greek poet, who has published 40+ collections and was the recipient of the 1980 Award for Poetry from the Academy of Athens.  I have 5 volumes, thanks to Vouli -- including Australian Passport, published in Greek and English:

THE WORD (Sydney, Redfern, 18 April 1989)*
Sweet is the motherland
the home
the face
sweet is love --
sweeter than all these
the word is
which illuminates
and magnifies
which perpetuates them.

The Archbishop is approaching his 80th birthday, a fact he mentioned since I told him I was about to be 70. He doubts that he will be visiting Greece again -- except, of course, in spirit. And what an amazing spirit, who closed his letter with "Your friend always." Christos Anesti indeed. 

* S.S. Charkianakis, Australian Passport, English Translation by Vrasidas Karalis (Sydney: Brandl & Schlesinger Pty Ltd, 2002), 121.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Live from New York, it's Greek Genealogy!

Taking our lunch break at the First National Hellenic American Genealogical Conference. The speakers are awesome, including Georgia Stryker Keilman, the founder of (in the picture below with me). We have heard from the author of "Greek Americans: Struggle and Success" and the Greek-American Chief Archivist of Ellis Island as well as Georgia and Professor Louis Katsos, chief organizer.

(And his Greek name is Ilias, if any of my Sarris relatives are listening. He confirmed that all Greeks named Ilias who came to the States took the name Louis, NOT a Greek name. ‎My Papou George Sarris bought a candy store in Crockett, CA, from his brother Louis Sarris. That was his brother Ilias, not another person we never knew of.)

Hooking up here with others who share my passion/obsession and looking forward to more speakers to come -- including "Records Available from the General State Archives of Greece" located in Psychiko, Athens. You can check it out at  It's in both Greek and English -- everything from voting and ecclesiastical records to who received medals in the war (s) for independence. If your great-great-great grandfather got one of those medals, please let us know about it.
Meanwhile, today we observe the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide AND the bigger picture of pogroms against the Greek Christians and Assyrians of those times -- something that we can NEVER forget. Zoi se mas.
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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Travels w/Aunt Libby Sarris to Greece in 1962 (and a Bouzouki for Harry Spanos)

Planning my June trip to Greece now...And with today being my aunt Liberty Sarris' 88th birthday, I was thinking of a truly remarkable trip to Greece that we took in 1962 during the summer before my senior year at Stagg High.* That rather amazing (in retrospect) 2-month escapade is documented in my little red "Trip Abroad" diary -- as my first ever trip by plane and topped off by an overnight Paris stopover on the return.  In 1962!

It all began with an invitation to visit the Harry Theocharides Family, good friends who had recently gone back to the American Farm School in Thessaloniki where his father had once taught. Harry typically pulled out all the stops to show us a good time, to see everybody and everything possible...But first Athens, where we were greeted at the airport by my grandmother's wonderful sister Anna, who lived in Piraeus and bore such a resemblance to Yiayia Sarris that I did a double-take. "How did Yiayia get here?"

In Athens, we stayed with my father's cousin Soula Chrysopoulou and her husband Mario -- who had visited with us the States  -- in their new suburban home. That was my first experience with a "telephone shower," and I was secretly horrified when I drenched more than just me.  (Now I laugh out-loud when reading reviews of Greek hotels on Trip Advisor that include rants about showers with no shower curtains.)

We then spent about 3 weeks exploring Thessaloniki and therabouts, including my Dad's historic Naousa -- where I met Yiayia Xanttopulos' elderly aunt Sultana Lalas and other relatives that I would see many times over the years, especially during Carnival Season.

Naousa 1962 (w/Sultana in black, Thea Libby, & Mary T.)
Yiayia Sarris' Father
Later we visited Yiayia Sarris' breath-taking Koroni in the Peloponnesos, flying first to Kalamata on a tiny Olympic commuter plane and going the rest of the way by taxi eating "free grapes on the road." There I obediently slurped a raw sea urchin that Cousin Thanassi pulled off rocks in the Ionian Sea not far from the family ktima. My aunt and I were both startled and honored to find a brand-new pink toilet in our uncle's out-house that had no plumbing attached to it. And we slept in a  room with somewhat unnerving portraits of mustachioed ancestors lining the walls, an experience I would repeat with my brother Bill in 1977.  

The trip was not without challenges common for the times -- especially during a 10-day stay on Spetses, an island not far from Athens that did not allow cars and where the Theocharides had a summer gig. And where our odyssey turned into a little bit of a nightmare.  I got sick for the second time, with a 105.2 temperature that took 6 days to normalize. It was quite a scene: "I was scared by the way everyone was acting."  My aunt must have wondered what she'd gotten herself into.  On August 15th (Tis Panayias),  I celebrated w/a motorcycle ride...and weighed in at 113 lbs. after what was later diagnosed as para-typhoid.

Still we had a wonderful time on our first trip to Greece and even managed to accomplish a very important mission: purchase and carry back to Stockton a bouzouki and a baklama for Harry Spanos!  I loved that trip and never forgot not just the sights, but also the sounds and smells of Greece that kept pulling me back. And I did go back in 1968 for 10 years...and keep going back, to help perpetuate the power of "Romiosini." (Google it!)

And I love my aunt for taking me on that trip and to many others places over the years.  On this coming trip, my niece Rachel will be with me on the Kyparissi leg, continuing our own family tradition...Happy Birthday, Thea!

*In her heyday, my aunt was the ubiquitous Registrar at Stagg Senior High School, having started out at Stockton High. She retired in 1989 with many kudos for 42 years of "Outstanding and Exemplary Service" (followed by about 10 more years of pinch-hitting when the Stockton Unified School District called on her).