Asia Minor Ancestry

Spent these last two mornings at the General State Archives of Athens searching through the Archive of the Evaluative Commissions of “Exchangeables”. I had recently heard that this archive is helpful to those searching their Asia Minor ancestry… and indeed, it proved it is!

We would have never imagined that this not very well known archive would give us so much information on the Spinos & Haratsis families of Alatsata, a town near Smyrna!

Alatsata was a flourishing town in the 19th and early 20th century, inhabited almost solely by Greeks! Flourishing… until the Catastrophe! In 1922 its population abandoned the land hastily and fled to Greece to be rescued from the Turkish hordes. The Spinos and Haratsis families were among those who fled to Samos and Athens.

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The Restitution

The Catastrophe followed the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). On January 30th 1923 both sides agreed on a Population Exchange. It was the first time in history that a obligatory massive population exchange was agreed. Greeks, residents of Turkey, now had to leave their lands and settle permanently in Greece, while Muslims of Greece had to move to Turkey. About 1,500,000 Greeks arrived to Greece. According to the treaties, these people could take their entire chattel with them and they would be compensated for the real estate they were leaving behind. Special commissions and organizations would take up their movement, restitution and compensation.

The refugees that came to Greece could receive either a rural or an urban restitution and compensation. In the rural restitution, they were given land, animals, seeds, tools, etc. and accommodation to live and cultivate the land. In the urban, they were given compensation, based on the property they had left in Turkey, and accommodation. In 1924 the Exchange Directorate was founded, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, to evaluate the property left in Turkey. Special commissions were founded for the completion of the huge work.

The Archive

The Archive of the Evaluative Commissions of “Exchangeables” is the archive exactly of these commissions and directorates described above. We could say this Archive is consisted of two parts: a) an alphabetical Index of compensated people, and b) the resolutions of the commissions regarding the people’s applications for compensation.

The Archive is huge! There is at least one really big index volume for each letter; the index is alphabetical, in general, but one has to be careful not to miss any mis-placed entries. The resolutions folders are filed by place of origin and place of settlement of the refugee. Regarding Alatsata, for example, there were some 5 “sub-archives”, each containing about 3-4 folders; there were two sub-archives for people from Alatsata who settled in Athens, another for those who settled in Chios etc.

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General State Archives of Athens, Ministry of Agriculture, Evaluative Commissions of Exchangeables

The Results

What was found was unbelievable! Except for the dozens of family names, we found lists of all the property the families owned back in Alatsata, even how many olive trees they had! All this property was evaluated in golden Turkish liras by the commissions for the determination of the compensations!

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General State Archives of Athens, Ministry of Agriculture, Evaluative Commissions of Exchangeables

The Feeling

Searching through that archive created special feelings. It was definitely a lot different to any other archive… It feels weird having lists of evaluated property of refugees in front of you. These people had no choice! They were obliged to leave their homeland and then they were requested to evaluate their property as if they wanted to sell it… Of course, they wouldn’t sell it! They lost their paradise and became poorer than they could even imagine!

But, in their collective and personal catastrophes, they were a bit lucky at the same time. Those refugees fled to a state which was in general friendly to them! They soon readjusted and intergrated! It’s more topical than ever to cogitate about the current refugee flows and try to better understand these people’s feelings and lives through the research and study of our refugees in 1922… The Spinos’s, the Haratsis’s and all the refugee families’ stories must make us think and empathize with feelings of people who might live in different eras or are of different ethnicity, but experience similar situations!

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Recovering the story of a Cretan warrior

Hitting and breaking the brick wall

When Helen Schafer e-mailed gkfamilytrees searching for her Cretan ancestry we couldn’t expect to find anything more than a couple of administrational documents. When we realised we couldn’t find even those, we were, of course, very disappointed! Many members of the family had moved from Crete to Pireaus, most likely, during the revolution of 1866-1869; their Cretan roots seemed non-traceable…

It was that moment when she mentioned something about a Cretan ancestor, Sistonikolis, who was said to be a noted warrior during one of the Cretan revolutions of the 19th century. But how was he connected to the family? Which revolution was that? All these were unknown, until we found something with the help of the Historic Archives of Crete

In their Warriors’ Archive, they found an application of 1901 signed by Nikolaos Sistos! It was when enthusiasm started going higher and higher!

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The application

“Your Highness,

Having participated in the virtuous fight for our country since 1821 and therefore having taken part in many battles in Greece and in our homeland -in particular, in the siege of Missolonghi, in the naval battle that took place near Samos under the brave captain “Capetan Lazaros Prouskos”, and in Faliro under the brave “Karaiskakis” where my dearly departed brother Georgios was killed- and in all the revolutions of our country during the past century, not having, however, any means to live and being already one hundred and five years old, I respectfully implore Your Royal Highness, if it wishes, to  provide me with some little help.

I hope, your Highness, that the request of probably the last surviving fighter for the liberation of Greece, who also, as an affectionate offspring, fulfilled his duty to his homeland, will be accepted. I remain always Your Royal Highness’s loyal subject and devoted servant.

Nikolaos Sistos”

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The Memory

Helen proved to be the great-great-granddaughter of a forgotten hero, whose life, though, was definitely too big -literally and metaphorically- to be forgotten forever! He had taken part in some of the most crucial battles of the Greek Revolution of 1821: Missolonghi, Samos, Faliro. He lost his brother; he fought under Karaiskakis and Captain Brouskos; under Miaoulis and Sahtouris. He finally lived 108 years; he definitely was the only warrior of the Greek War of Independence to live in the 20th century! But, Nikolaos Sistos aka Sistonikolis finally died penniless and forgotten in his village, Kakodiki, in 1904! His amateur charcoal drawing hanging on the wall of the Sistakis (Sistos) house in Kakodiki was the only remaining memory of Nikolaos -waiting for the moment that it would be just removed from the wall to be replaced by something “more modern”…

His memory would, indeed, have been erased hadn’t Helen searched for it!

Thank you, Helen, for giving us the opportunity to help you recover this dusty family story and join our enthusiasm with yours!

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