Monday, November 16, 2015

Seeing Greece the Best Way

One of the greatest joys of the journey to learning family history is meeting fellow travelers. Never has this come so clear as when we (my husband and I) visited Greece this September of 2015.

Map of Greece from CIA World Factbook,
 22 August 2013,
gr.html, Wikimedia.

I first met Margarita Thomakou on in 2008 (before the site was purchased by Ancestry) when she responded to my query about my Greek Flessouras family. In her response, Margarita said she lived in Athens and enjoyed helping Americans look for their Greek roots. We e-mailed occasionally over the years, just to keep in touch. About eight months ago, I let Margarita know that we were planning our first visit to Greece. She was as excited to welcome us to her country as we were to visit!

Our tour was part family history, part Greek history and a whole lot of Hellenic hospitality. Margarita met us at our hotel in Athens, and we planned our itinerary. First we would go to Pigadakia, the ancestral village of the Flessouras clan, which is in the Peloponnese between Tripoli and Sparta.

By Pitichinaccio (Image:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg) [GFDL 
(, CC BY-SA 3.0
 (, GFDL
 ( or CC BY-SA 3.0
/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We had rented a car, and Margarita suggested that we follow her. It was good to have two cars because sometimes Margarita would have some business to conduct (she is in the real estate field) while we did some sight-seeing.

 “The cradle of civilization” is a phrase many of us heard in history class applied to Greece. The Greeks are very proud of their history, including their painting, sculpture, theater and poetry. But they have a special reverence, as Margarita attested to, for the honor, courage, and fighting prowess displayed over the eras by those who have inhabited the Greek land.

Our first visit was a day trip out of Athens to the town of Marathon. Many Americans, even those who participate in running marathons, may not know where the word comes from. Well, now I do. But first some history. Margarita took us to the site of the Battle of Marathon that occurred in 490 B.C. when the outnumbered Athenians repelled the Persians.

The battle field at Marathon as it looks today,
9/6/2015, taken by Bert Schuster

Battle field relief, taken by Bert
Schuster 9/6/02015
Then she gestured to a huge hill behind us. This large mound is the final resting place of the Greek soldiers who gave their lives in the battle.

Burial Mound at Marathon, taken
by Bert Schuster 9/6/2015

And how did the modern marathon come from this historic battle? After the Greek victory, a messenger was dispatched to take the news to Athens – running all the way. The modern contest is a little over 26 miles, the same length as the distance from Marathon to Athens. 

The day after visiting Marathon, we started our trip to Pigadakia. The chance to visit one’s ancestral village is a rare and precious gift. Just before reaching the village, Margarita introduced us to a small restaurant all by itself on the side of the road, a treasure as it turned out that you would never find unless you had a wonderful guide. We sat eating and discussing Pigadakia and the Flessouras clan. A neighboring diner had been listening to our conversation and pointed out, in Greek of course, another departing diner: “There, there is a Flessouras.” Well, luck, happenstance and chance are welcome companions on any ancestor-hunting trip.

Street in Pigadakia, taken by
 Bert Schuster, 9/6/2015
Margarita followed the man thus described and struck up a conversation. And most certainly, the gentleman was a Flessouras from Pigadakia! He came with us to show us the small village and talk about his family tree. As of right now, my Flessouras tree is short – it starts with my great grandfather, Peter (Panoyiotis.) I am still working on going further back.

Street in Pigadakia leading to small shrine,
taken by Bert Schuster 9/6/2015

After Pigadakia, we headed to the Mani, Margarita’s ancestral homeland. She is proud to be from Maniot stock, and she knows the history of the land.
By al-Qamar (File:Peloponnese relief map-blank.svg)
 [GFDL (],
 via Wikimedia Commons
We saw a lot of historical towns and villages, but two places stand out in my mind.

First, is Aeropolis (see map above), where, as Margarita told us proudly, the Greek War of Independence started in 1821. We stood in the very square where Petros Pierrakos (his birth name), later known as Petros or Petrobey Mavromichalis, declared war on the Ottoman Empire which had ruled Greece since 1453. In addition to the historical significance of Aeropolis, the village has much natural beauty and traditional houses.

Petrobey, a Greek Hero,
in Aeropolis taken
by Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

Typical Aeropolis street, taken by
Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

Still life, Aeropolis, taken
by Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

A second Mani destination with fascinating history was Vathia with its breathtaking sea views, century-old towers standing proudly next to new models, and acres of carefully dug terraces by farmers of old.

Sea view from Vathia, taken by
Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

 Margarita explained that the towers were built not only to protect the residents of Vathia from attacks from foreigners but also from the onslaughts of feuding neighbors.

Towers and terraces of Vathia, taken by
Bert Schuster 9/9/2015

After a few days of sightseeing, it was time for some rest and relaxation. Margarita took us to her favorite beach and hotel in this part of the Mani, the Alkion Hotel/Apartments owned by Yannis Bechrakis.

Beach in front of Alkion
Hotel/Apartments, taken
by Bert Schuster 9/10/2015

What a paradise! After a day at the beach or visiting nearby scenic/historical attractions, you have only a short drive to Gythio with its choice of restaurants.

Our week in the Peloponnese with Margarita came to an end all too soon. We left her to finish her business in the Mani, and we took off to Napflio and then to the islands of Naxos, Santorini, and Rhodes. 

Two weeks later on our last day in Athens, Margarita had a surprise for us. She took us to her favorite hair salon which is located in the upscale Divani Caravel Hotel.

Hotel Divani Caravel, Dimitris Kamaras,
August 21, 2015, Vasileos Alexandrou
 st., Athens, Greece,

Bert and I spent the next two hours in the hands of the talented staff of Yannis’ Salon:

Yannis -- the transformer of women, the man who makes music and miracles with his scissors.

Anna -- the lady with the colors and the styles right from the red carpet

Kostas -- the master barber who gave Bert the shave of his life

After this fabulous trip to Greece, I came away with a new awareness of  my Greek heritage and with a wonderful Greek friend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Destination: Greece

Well, the time for our departure to Greece is coming closer. Now we’re getting out the checklists to be sure we have everything we need for a comfortable trip, including medicines, electronics, and travel clothes. But what helped us reach this point where we feel nearly ready to head for Athens?

By Gilberto Gaudio from Rome, Italy (Athens (Greece))
 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (
licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

First of all, this is not just a tourist trip but also a heritage journey. Thomas MacEntee explains what heritage travel is in his web article “You Can Go Home Again.” I am taking this trip in part to visit the home village of my Greek great grandfather, Peter Flesouras. He was born in a small village in the middle of the Peloponnese: Pigadakia, Tripoli, Arcadia, just a small dot in the mountains where he and his family herded sheep and goats. Pigadakia is 15 miles (24.3 Km) south of Tripoli.

"PeloponnesosMap". Licensed under Public Domain
 via Wikimedia Commons -

My first step in preparation for the heritage part of the trip (as I described in my Feb 6, 2015 post) was to find and hire a heritage guide to search for existing Flessouras records and possible living relatives. Through connections on the Facebook Hellenic Genealogy Resources group, I was introduced to Marina Harami, and we have been working together for several months. It has been frustrating for her because the economic situation  in the country has hit most sectors including the registry offices, church offices and other research centers. Staff has been reduced or put on really limited schedules, which makes it very hard to reach anyone and to try to locate information. But she has persevered, and we may have some success yet.

For my part, I have contacted Americans with the surname Flessouras on Facebook. Since this is a rare Greek surname and all the people of this name hale from the same area of Arcadia, we probably are related, but we don’t yet know how. Some of these Americans of the Flessouras name have relatives in Greece, and I have arranged to meet two of them.

Along with planning for the heritage side of our trip, we are also preparing for the tourist part. If you are considering a trip to Greece and are looking for travel guides, my husband and I have found three in print and on-line that we recommend. First, is Rick Steves’ Greece Athens & The Peloponnese.

Rick Steves at the Mountain Hostel, Gimmelwald,
Switzerland, 20 July 2007, Andrew Bossi, Wikimedia.

 My readers may remember how much we relied on Mr. Steves’ book on Eastern Europe to guide us through the Czech Republic and to help make our trip more rewarding and memorable. We especially like the walking tours, complete with “concise and simple” “black-and-white” (p. 495) maps, to introduce each destination. My husband describes Steves’ books as full of practical, everyday necessary information.

One of my husband’s favorite books is Insight Guides Greece with its stunning color photographs of natural beauty, icons, and monuments. He says this guide has the best photographs and maps and comprehensive coverage of culture, history and geography.

The third guide that I found very engaging on the subject of the Greek islands is by D. Haitalis: Discover the Greek Islands. This book delivers with stunning photographs, that make you want to fly tomorrow. It also has a brief history and sightseeing section for each island accompanied by small maps. For more detailed information on the islands, I would pair this book with the Insight Guide referred to above.

Just by luck and the grace of google, I came across Max Barrett’s  (online) Greece Guides. What a treasure trove of information! Mr. Barrett arranges his site as a virtual book with chapters ranging from “Matt’s Essential Greece Info” and “Honeymoon in Greece” to “Travel Agents & Tours.”  This is where we found one of the best discoveries in our travel planning: Fantasy Travel.

Many of you may be familiar with working with travel agents and arranging tours. Throughout most of our travel, we have created our own itineraries as we are doing for the Peloponnese. But for the island part of the trip, we decided to work with a tour company. The first step in working with Fantasy Travel was to figure out which islands we wanted to visit and in what order on what dates. After looking through our travel guides, Bert and I came up with this itinerary.

First we will visit Naxos:
"Naxos8" by Ildebrando - Own work. Licensed under
 Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.
How could one miss the island described by in the Insight Guide as:
"the largest, loftiest and most magnificent of the Cyclades, replete with high, windswept ridges, long beaches, remote villages, ancient ruins, medieval monasteries or towers, and a fascinating history." (p. 249)

Next on our island tour will be Santorini or Thira as it is known in Greece. In his book Greece Athens & the Peloponnese, Rick Steves calls Santorini  "one of the Mediterranean's most dramatic islands..." and goes on to say  "...this unique place has captured visitors' imaginations for millennia...." and is " of Greece's most scenic spots." (p. 429)

Santorini Scene by Understandingmedia13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

 I am excited  because the island is what was left from a volcanic eruption around 1630 B.C. (p. 450) For fans of Pompeii, one can visit the city of Akrotiri that was buried under ash and was unearthed in 1967.

The final island we will visit is Rhodes.
Acropolis of Lindos on Rhodes by Norbert Nagel, 
Mörfelden-Walldorf, Germany (Own work)
 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (
by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I found great information about Rhodes and all the islands in Frommer's Greek Islands, our last print pick.
What does Rhodes have to offer? Here's what Frommer's has to say:

"A location at the intersection of the East and West propelled the island into the thick of both commerce and conflicts. The scars left by its rich and turbulent history have become its treasures. Hellenistic Greeks, Romans, Crusader Knights, Turks, Italians -- all invaders who brought some destruction but also left behind fascinating artifacts." (p. 332)

 In addition to detailed descriptions of the islands, the book also contains 60 pages on exploring Athens.

Once we had our schedule of islands to visit, we simply e-mailed this to Fantasy Travel. They arranged our rental car and all hotels on the three islands we are visiting.  Then they set up connections by ferry and air from one island to the other. Someone from Fantasy Travel will be meeting us at the airport. What royal treatment! It makes me feel like this:

HM Queen Elizabeth II arrives in Perth, Australia for CHOGM,
 taken by Andrew Taylor, Oct 26, 2011, Creative Commons,

Traveling for heritage and/or tourist reasons can be made easier and more productive with the help of excellent heritage guides, travel books, tour companies and websites. I’ll have a lot more to share when I return from Greece.

Categories: genealogy tools, genealogy professional

Monday, July 6, 2015

Grave Disturbance in Early Chicago Cemeteries

It always amazes me what a rich resource we have in the genealogy community-- the people who generously share the information they work so hard to find. I am continually on the lookout for information on my Irish Chicago ancestors. Any records of these people from the nineteenth century are a godsend!

A few years back, I heard about the removal of many of the early Irish interred in the late 1800s in the Old Catholic Cemetery in north Chicago to the new Calvary Cemetery. I can’t remember which part of the genealogy community clued me into this resource. Did I hear this from the Chicago Genealogy group on Facebook or the Cook County message board or from one of my dear genealogy friends and mentors? I’m not sure of the origin of this record description, but I do remember accessing some names of the “removed” and writing them down.

As we often do with research, I put this list away and forgot about it.
Recently I have been researching my Carney/Duffy family again and re-discovered this Old Catholic Cemetery Removal list of names.  What a potential goldmine this was. Since recording the names, I have identified more cohort families. I wanted to take a fresh look at the source of this list with the benefit of my additional knowledge. Some questions came to mind:
  1. Where exactly was the Old Catholic Cemetery?
  2. When was it founded?
  3. Why were the bodies removed?
  4. What other persons of interest to me might be listed in addition to those I had listed?
I began investigating. First, I needed to return to the source from which I had copied the names. This was an article “Index to Part I of Removals to Calvary Cemetery,” published in the Chicago Genealogist, the journal of the Chicago Genealogical Society , Vol. 32 No. 2 Winter 1999-2000.  I was very fortunate that a digitized copy of this article was now on the Internet, courtesy of the Newberry Library. (Note that in the digitized list of volumes, there is no table of contents. For that, you need to go to the Chicago Genealogical Society.)

Newberry Library, TonyTheTiger, 2007, 
2.5-2.0-1.0), Wikimedia Commons.
To continue my search at the Newberry site home page, I clicked on the menu tab “Research.” Then I followed these steps: When the menu drops down; click on “Digital Resources and Publications.” Scroll down the page until you see “Chicago Genealogist” and click on it.  When the next page comes up, click again on Chicago Genealogist. In the search box, I typed “Vol 31 No 2.” The next step is to click on the dropdown menu next to “view” and highlight “complete print version.” Then a PDF  of the complete journal contents appears, and you can search the Table of Contents for articles of interest.

As I scanned the Table of Contents, I saw “Old Catholic Cemetery” Records by Helen Sclair. In this article Ms. Sclair answered my first two questions:
Q: Where exactly was the Old Catholic Cemetery and when was it founded?

Ms. Sclair: “In 1843, a cemetery complex was begun near Clark Street and North Avenue. The city of Chicago opened 60 acres for the  ‘City Cemetery’, north of North Avenue and east of Green Bay Road (now Clark Street). The Catholic Church consecrated one block: Dearborn, east to State Street, and North Avenue, south to approximately Burton. Eventually both of these cemeteries would expand, the City’s to 120 acres and the Catholics’ to 5+ city blocks.” (p. 51)

I also learned that from 1858 people began making efforts to stop any more burials and any further expansion of these cemeteries. I presumed that this was because the city was growing and needed the land. A second reason could be that this burial area was very close to Lake Michigan which could cause water issues. But I wanted to make sure that I was on the right track. That’s where my third question came in: Why were the bodies removed? Professor Pamela Bannos answers this question in her website: “Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery and Lincoln Park”:

One of the most important reasons to move the cemeteries, according to Bannos, was that the land near Lake Michigan was below the water table.

By United States Geological Survey
 [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
 A concern at the time was that bacteria from decaying bodies could contaminate the city’s drinking water. Also when graves were dug, water would often times fill the burial pit. Another reason was that the citizens of the fast growing city decided that building a park (Lincoln Park) for the living could be more advantageous than using the land for housing the departed.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs:
Photography Collection, 
The New York Public Library. "Lincoln Park, Chicago." 
The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Professor Bannos provides more historical background and maps of the old Catholic Cemetery on the section of her site “Mapping theCemeteries: Catholic Cemetery.” 

Now if asked “How does your country handle the deceased?” many of us would answer that there is great respect for the dead in our culture as evidenced by our funeral system and manicured cemeteries. But if we look a little deeper we find, at least in the instance of the early Chicago cemeteries, that concern for the departed sometimes gives way to the desires and needs of the living. On her site, Professor Bannos provides an eye-opening chronology of what happened to the remains of those buried in these early Chicago graveyards. She does this by presenting news articles from the time period. 
An article from the Chicago Daily Tribune issue of August 15, 1876 “Sad Scenes in a Cemetery”, truly captures the disregard given to the interred in the Old Catholic Cemetery as they are removed “…with a degree of recklessness almost criminal in its disrespect for the dead the laborers employed in the exhumation have scattered the remains of the late lamented all through the field.”

The whole removal process seemed slipshod from the first. Was it known exactly how many bodies were in the cemetery and exactly where they were buried? Was it a case of disrespect, indifference, lack of time, or poor records or a mixture of all three that caused many bodies to be left in their watery graves? What is known is that over the years and even up until this decade, bodies keep appearing when digging is done in the area. These occurrences Bannos has chronicled through more Tribune articles in the section "Hidden Truths: Catholic Cemetery." 

Now that I had learned about the history of the Old Catholic Cemetery, I wanted to return to the list of names of those who were fortunate enough to actually be removed and reburied in Calvary Cemetery. As I looked down the list, I saw the usual suspects: Carney/Kearney, Duffy, Cosgrave (Cosgrove), Devine, McKenna, Ryan, Sweeney, and Ward. This was another indication that these people were part of a community. 

This confirmation of the relationship of these families went along with the new information that I had recently found from studying pre-Chicago Fire maps, the 1870 Chicago Directory and Census and the 1870Chicago Illinois US Census. These records showed that members of the Carney, Duffy, Cosgrove, Devine, Sweeney and Ward families lived near each other on the Near North Side streets of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.

By OpenStreetMap and edited by w:User:TonyTheTigerOpenStreetMap contributors
 [CC BY-SA 2.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons

On a final note, to get a great narrative and summary of Professor Bannos’ project, “Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery and Lincoln Park,” check out the article by Jessica Curry “What Lies BeneathLincoln Park” in Chicago Life Magazine.

Categories: genealogy community, genealogy tools