Greece Church Records
Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly called vital records because critical events in a person’s life are recorded in them. Church records are vital records made by priests. Church records are crucial for genealogical research in Greece. The Eastern Orthodox faith is the official religion of Greece, although other religions are tolerated. Fully 97 percent of the population of Greece belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. During Ottoman rule the church was headed by the patriarch of Constantinople. After Greece won its independence in 1830, the church withdrew from control of that patriarch and became self-governing with a holy synod of bishops, subject to the control of the state. The highest religious official in Greece is the archbishop of Athens, who is responsible for maintaining doctrinal unity among all Greek Orthodox churches.
Greek Orthodox church records are excellent sources for accurate information on names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Most people who lived in Greece were recorded in a church record. Greek Orthodox churches have made records for several centuries. Some church records in Greece begin in the sixteenth century, although most registers begin in the late 1600s and early 1700s. For birth, marriage, and death records after about 1840, there may also be a civil record (see Greece Civil Registration- Vital Records).
Information Recorded in Church Registers
The information recorded in church books varied over time. The later records generally give more complete information than the earlier ones. The most important church records for genealogical research are christening, marriage, and burial registers. In addition, church records may include account books, list of clergy, and lists of members. Greek Orthodox church records were written in Greek. Catholic Church registers are in Latin and Italian. Armenian church registers are in Armenian.
In early years, children were generally christened a few days after their birth. Christening registers usually give the infant’s and parents’ names (sometimes giving the grandfather’s name), status of legitimacy, names of godparents, and the birth and christening date. The patronymic name is given for each male person mentioned in the entry and husband’s name for the females. You may also find the date, father’s occupation, and the family’s place of residence.
Marriage registers give the date of the marriage, the names of the bride and groom, and the names of the parents of the bride and groom. They may also list the names of witnesses and list the ages and birthplaces 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 (mitropolis). Clerks there would check to make sure neither party was currently married to someone else, nor too closely related to the intended spouse. If no problems were found, the diocese would issue the permission for marriage. Upon receiving the diocese’s approval, the local priest performed the marriage. Often, the only permanent record of the marriage is the information recorded by the diocese. If the marriage did not actually take place, that fact is usually noted in the diocese’s records. These records generally give the same information as the parish marriage record and may also list the date the certificate was issued, the birthplaces of the bride and groom, their residence, parents’ names, and whether this was the first or a subsequent marriage. Other information varies. The original certificates that were provided by the bride and groom appear to be on file in the diocese.
Diocese Divorce Records
Divorces before the mid-twentieth century were uncommon. Records of divorces may contain information on family members, their marital history, their property, residences, and dates of other important events such as the children’s births. Records of divorce are found either in court records or in diocese records.
Deaths were recorded by the priest who performed the funeral. 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. Death registers give the name of the deceased person, the father’s name, the date of death, age, marital status (widow or widower), and sometimes the cause of death.
Locating Church Records
In earlier years, each priest had a book where he recorded the ordinances he performed. Birth entries from his books were copied by the civil authorities in order to construct the male register. When a priest retired or died, the book had to be turned in to the diocese. A priest may have served more than one local village or he may have served with other priests in one parish. You must determine the diocese that your ancestor’s town belonged to so that you will know where the records are kept. In large cities, where there may be many parishes, the Family History Library Catalog uses the parish name (such as St. John) to distinguish the records of different parishes.
Although church records originated on the parish level, the records may be located at various places today. Often the oldest church records are in the GAK. Some very old records are kept in monasteries. Records of the 1800s and 1900s may be kept in local diocese offices. Marriage records especially are generally kept in the diocese offices. Records from the 1900s are often in the diocesan archives. You can usually obtain birth, death, and sometimes marriage information by writing to or visiting the local mayors’ offices. You can write to the diocese office for marriage information. If records are still in possession of churches and monasteries, you can sometimes get information by writing to or visiting the local church officials, although they might not allow access to their records.
Church directories list the various places where the Orthodox church has congregations and addresses. They often give additional information such as church beliefs, diocese office addresses, and calendar items. A yearly church directory for the Greek Orthodox Church includes information on Eastern Orthodox churches in other countries of eastern Europe. The Family History Library listings for the 1976 and 1995 editions are:
Imerologion tis Ekklisias tis Ellados - Almanac ''of the Churches of Greece'''. (s.l.): Apostoliki '''Diakonia tis Ellados, 1976. (FHL book 949.5 K22e; )
Diptyha tis Ekklisias tis Ellados, 1995 - 'Diptych of the Church of Greece, 1995).'''
Minority Religions and Records
The minority religions include about 1.3 percent of the population. There are Muslims of Western Thrace, with additional small communities of Roman Catholics (remnants from Venetian times), Protestants (from 19th century missionary activity), Armenian Monophysites, and Jews.
Roman Catholic church records from various parts of Greece have been filmed. For example, many of the records from the 1700s–1930s have been filmed from the county of Kykladon. Church records kept by the Roman Catholic church are similar in content to the Orthodox church records.
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has some church records on microfilm from Greece. This collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed. Earlier church records have been filmed from GAK (Genika Archeia tou Kratous) in the counties (nomos) of Kerkyras (1700s–1844), Kefallinias (1700s–early 1900s), Leukados (1700s, 1823–1860), and the district (eparhia) of Kythiron (1660s and 1700s–1865). Church records from the diocese of Halkidos, Thivon and Levadias, and Rethymni have also been filmed. Diocese boundaries do not always correlate with county boundaries.
The specific holdings of the Family History Library are listed in the Family History Library Catalog. You can determine whether the library has records for the locality your ancestor came from by checking the locality section of the Family History Library Catalog. Of course, if a record has been destroyed, was never kept, has not been microfilmed, or is restricted from public access by the laws of the country, the Family History Library will not have a copy.
In the Family History Library Catalog, look under the name of the town, district, or county where the your ancestor lived:
GREECE, [COUNTY], [TOWN] - CHURCH RECORDS
GREECE, [COUNTY], [DISTRICT] - CHURCH RECORDS
GREECE, [COUNTY] - CHURCH RECORDS
Records Not at the Family History Library
Baptism, marriage, and death records may be found by contacting or visiting a local diocese or GAK (Genika Archeia tou Kratous) in Greece. Greece has no single repository of church records. The present location of records depends on several factors of nationality, government regulations, and local history. Records are available from several locations.
- Local parishes. Most church registers are still maintained by the parish. Most older records, however, have often been turned in to diocese or state repositories.
- GAK archives (Genika Archeia tou Kratous). Many pre-1900 records from many parishes are in the GAK. Some of these records have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library. However, for more recent records and for those not yet microfilmed, write to the Genika Archeia tou Kratous and request searches of the records. See Greece Archives and Libraries.
- Diocese archives. Current parish registers are located at the parish, but older records are collected in diocese archives. The diocese archives particularly keep marriage records. Some form letters that can be used to write for genealogical information in Greek are given in the following book:
- Catsakis, Lica (Bywater). Greek Genealogical 'Research'''
Include the following in your request:
- Full name of the person sought
- Names of the parents, if known
- Approximate date and place of the event
- Your relationship to the person
- Reason for the request (family history)
- Request for a photocopy of the complete original record
- International Reply Coupon, available from your local post office
- Agreement concerning payment of any fees incurred
Use the following strategies to search church records effectively:
1. Search for the relative or ancestor you selected. When you find the
birth record, search for the births of his or her brothers and sisters.
2. Search for the marriage of your ancestor’s parents. The marriage
record will often lead to the birth records of the parents.
3. You can estimate the ages of the parents and search for their birth
4. Repeat the process for both the father and the mother.
5. If earlier generations are not in the record, search records of
6. Search the death registers for all family members.