My great-grand father, Papou George, came over to the United States in April 1905, with a cousin. As my grandfather says, they had $15 between them, did not speak English and had left northern Greece, to travel to Athens and then across to New York. I am very fortunate because my grandfather is alive and provides a living link to my ancestors who came from a different country. Actually, I am extremely lucky because all four of my grandparents are still alive, even though out of a collective count of sixteen grandchildren on both sides, I am one of the youngest.
Soon after my great-grandfather immigrated to America, his younger brother Lysandros also came. Lysandros was my mother’s godfather; she was very close to him. She has many strong memories of her godfather and so she also provides a living link to him. When Lysandros came to the United States, folks couldn’t say his name and so everyone called him Alec. When I was born, I became his namesake. My Greek name is Lysandros.
Papou George and Lysandros came from an area in Northern Greece, claiming to be the closest spot to Mt. Olympus. Growing up, my grandfather always reminded me (he still does) that I am a direct descendent of Zeus. Until I visited the villages in Greece where my family members were born, I didn’t quite understand. Now I do. My great grandparents looked right out from their windows to the white cap of Mt. Olympus. The view is pretty impressive and I understand why my grandfather includes Zeus in his family jokes.
My grandfather also enjoys telling me a story of one of the initiation rites put upon my great-grandfather when he first came to live with a group of young Greek men in a triple decker house. Apparently, my great grandfather was instructed to go to the local store to buy some eggs. My great grandfather couldn’t speak English; so, to ask for eggs, he moved his arms and clucked like chicken. He then proudly made his way home with the eggs! My great grandfather opened up a little ice cream parlor in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Unbeknownst to my great grandfather, the shop was on the same street where his future daughter-in-law was to be born. My grandmother still has one of his little wrought iron chairs from the ice cream shop. It is in her kitchen.
One of the coolest things about the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is that we can trace our ancestors to the boats that carried them to America. An uncle of mine has researched our family and has found the manifesto that lists my great grandfather and my great, great, uncle’s (Lysandros) passage. What I don’t understand is that the manifesto lists them as coming from Turkey. We don’t know why this is the case; we imagine the error is due to the confusion taking place as the passengers came off the boats. My great great uncle had to be quarantined for a period because U.S. immigration officials believed he had a very contagious eye disease. Luckily, he was able to prove he was fine and then headed north from New York City to join his brother in Massachusetts.
I’ve taken pictures of the copies of the manifesto that my uncle gave to me. Here are the lists that include my great grandfather and great, great uncle.
What is remarkable to me is that once my grandfather had settled into the United States, my grandmother’s family planned for my great grandmother to leave northern Greece for an arranged marriage in the United States. She was only eighteen at the time and fourteen years younger than my great-grandfather. I can’t imagine how she felt, headed away from home younger than I am now, to meet the man in a strange country and start a new life. Talk about a living link – my great grandmother’s sister is still alive and lives in Athens. Whenever I have seen her, she speaks to me about how much my great grandmother missed her family in Greece, even though she had a good life in America. She worked in the shoe factories in Haverhill, Massachusetts and never veered far from her Greek roots. The life she had in America centered on the Greek Church, her Greek relatives, Greek holidays and foods, Greek friends and Greek markets. My mom tells me of one called “Radio Market” in Haverhill, which was the only shop that not only had a radio but that played Greek programming. A little Greek area grew around Radio Market – with a Greek Bakery and the Greek Church all in the same block.
My great grandparents arranged for more family members to come over from Greece. These families, along with mine, make up the continuing thread of immigration that makes America’s history what it is. I have many part-Greek cousins – my generation, like that of my mother’s are the ones that assimilated into the United States.
The Manifesto from Ellis Island:
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the blog. Doing the research and writing was a lot of fun. It was also much more interesting than I imagined it was going to be. I would like to give a special thanks to individuals who wrote a guest blog and did interviews for me.