Calling All Young Greeks: Why and How You Should Explore Your Family History

By Alexandra Kiritsy

Learning your personal family history can be an incredibly meaningful adventure. As the saying goes, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you have been, and there is no better time to delve into your family’s past than as a young adult or even a teenager.

Why? Many of your older relatives–yiayias, pappous, theios and theias–are likely still living when you’re young, and when it comes to family history, these are the people who will provide you with the genealogical information and stories often not found in old records or documents. So, don’t pass on this opportunity! Below are some tips on how to easily get started with family history!

1) Look for old photographs.

Next time you’re visiting yiayia and pappou’s house, ask them if you can look at any old photos they might have! We are incredibly lucky to have photographs of our ancestors which captured their exact likeness, better than a painting. Also, if you have an interest in history, you might, for instance, enjoy seeing the clothing people wore in times past or even the old buildings in the background. Additionally, you’ll be able to ask your grandparents and other relatives to identify the individuals in the photograph whom you are likely not familiar with. Indeed, photographs can be a great starting point in learning about one’s family history, as they often help to jog the memories of your relatives and help call to mind amazing stories!

Side note: Also see if your relatives have any family heirlooms that were passed down. These items can be just as, if not more, interesting than old photographs!

2) Ask about any family stories and be sure to record them.

Sit down with your yiayia or pappou, and simply ask them to start talking about their own parents and grandparents. Doing so will likely remind them of many stories, oftentimes funny and amusing ones, that you will definitely want to hear! You will also want to remember these stories, so be sure to take notes or, better, record the person speaking (with his or her permission, of course). If your relative is having trouble getting started, ask him or her specific questions, particularly ones that interest you, such as “Did any of our family members serve in the military?” or “When did our family migrate from Greece?”

Also, be sure to ask your relatives questions about their own lives! Ask about where they grew up, what it was like, who were their friends, what were their hobbies, etc. You will appreciate having interviewed your living relatives down the road!

3) Visit the places where your ancestors lived.

This can be as simple as driving by the home where your yiayia grew up in the United States or visiting your family’s village back in Greece! There is no better way to get in touch with your family history than by walking—literally—in the same steps as your ancestors and seeing the same sights they once saw.

4) Ask about old family recipes and cook them.

Making and eating the same foods as your ancestors is also a great way to connect with your past. Cook a family recipe with your yiayia next time you visit and start a conversation about where that recipe came from. Because Greek food is always amazing, you’ll likely want to hold onto these recipes for yourself anyway!

5) Do a brief search on GreekAncestry.net.

If you become interested in searching for historical records and documents, do a quick search on GreekAncestry.net for your family. Knowing your ancestor’s original surname, the approximate time of his or her birth, and the village he or she was from will help you get started. You may be able to find some fascinating information and start to build a real family tree!

Let your journey into the past begin! You won’t be disappointed!

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