A Survey of Archival Records of New York's Hellenic Community

Greek Archival Sources in New York

The work accomplished by the Greek American Documentation Project as laid out in the accompanying report is an enormous advance in the cause of preserving the history of the Greek community in the New York area. While the survey by itself does not guarantee the long term preservation and availability of all the records described, it is a necessary first step. Before plans for such preservation can be advocated, there must be knowledge about what exists.

Organized efforts to preserve Greek American historical materials relating at least in part to the New York area have been infrequent before this current project. The archives of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America have been preserved and organized during the 1980s, thanks to the support of Archbishop Iakovos and the work of his long time secretary Ms. Nikki Calle. The American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA) microfilmed its records during the 1980s. The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia obtained the office records of the newspaper Atlantis and the personal papers of Nicholas Vagionis, a leading figure in the New York Greek Independence Day Parade. The Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis holds the Theodore Saloutos Collections and over 40 linear feet of the records of the Department of Laity of the Orthodox Church.

In 1987, author and Professor Alexander Kitroeff, now at the Onassis Center at NYU, obtained assistance from Professor Harry Psomiades, the Director of the Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Center at Queens College, in launching the "Greek American Historical Documents Project" which was active for several years. With help from Dr. Constantine Hatzidimitriou of the Queens Public Schools and Leandros Papathanasiou of Pella Publishers, the project distributed widely a brochure within the community about the importance of saving historical materials. At that time, the most important accomplishment was preserving the historical records of the Pan- Macedonian Association which agreed to allow the Balch Institute to microfilm them. A key role in this effort was played by one of the Association's past presidents, Vassilios Daniels, who had devoted time over many years to keeping a set of organizational records and scrapbooks. Another accomplishment of the project included placing a large collection of yearbooks from fraternal groups at the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia which at the time was the only east coast repository willing to accept the collection.

Despite these efforts the publicly available resources at this time fall far short of providing the necessary documentary foundation for in-depth historical studies of New York Greek and the Greek American community. Such historical studies and well rounded historical exhibits require the records of a broad range of community institutions as well as the personal collections of individuals. The three crucial categories of institutional records needed are those of the Orthodox Churches and their associated schools; the press and media; and the numerous fraternal, professional, business, and political organizations. In each of these categories, except for the few instances mentioned earlier, there is still a critical lack of accessible documentation.

Even as regards such a fundamental information source as Greek newspapers published in New York, the holdings available to researchers are not very complete for the years before World War Two. With the exception of Atlantis, significant runs of the majority of most early (pre-1930) Greek newspapers published in New York are lacking in local libraries. Even the New York Public Library's holdings of the major national paper Ethnikos Kyrix lack many issues between 1923 and 1940. While currently publishing newspapers in New York City have their own back issue files, none of these have been microfilmed for long term preservation and accessibility.

At this time, a critical challenge exists in preserving the diminishing pool of original research materials from earlier generations. The more time passes, the more likely that the remaining material in existence in the hands of various organizations and individuals will be lost. Printed materials, especially newspapers and yearbooks, are often discarded because of the mistaken belief that copies must have been saved elsewhere. Even when they are saved, the paper often suffers from internal acid deterioration and will self-destruct over time unless kept under controlled environmental conditions, microfilmed, or chemically treated to stop acid formation.

Manuscript and archival materials are often not recognized as historically important and are discarded when offices moved or when organizations run out of storage space. When a senior citizen who has been an officer in a fraternal group dies, the children or other relatives often discard organizational records that the person may have saved, without understanding the potential historical research value the materials might have.

It is important that steps that taken now to assure the preservation of future resources for historical studies of Greek America. First, however, the types of documentation that are important require some elaboration. The minutes of the various types of associations, churches, and other groups are, of course, absolutely necessary to follow their development. However, these minutes of membership meetings and governing councils are often barely enough by themselves to provide insight in the organizations' internal life because they are frequently so brief and often lack an account of the discussion held before making a decision. The officers' correspondence will usually reflect more fully not only the inner workings of the group, but also its interaction with the rest of the community.

Newsletters and yearbooks published by various organizations are very important sources, particularly in the absence of older internal records. Even such ephemeral items as publicity leaflets for social events or political leaflets can be useful in understanding the public appeals made around certain issues, and these items can also become evocative elements in historical exhibits.

Finally photographs and sound recordings can be extremely important historical sources of information. Whether the photos are of prominent individuals, social gatherings, church buildings or Greek businesses, these images may be able to provide insights into material progress, social customs, and group activities. Moreover, such photographs, coupled with popular music can be used very effectively in historical exhibits and lectures to educate the local community about its own history. An example of this work has been the slide presentations about the New York Greek community prepared by Antonia Mattheou which she has given on several occasions.

Greeks in America and Americans of Greek descent must be the primary agents in the effort to preserve this valuable historical material in ways which will not only assure its safety, but also its availability for research. Based on the critically important assistance of the grant from the New York State Archives and Records Administration, this successful survey lays the groundwork for further progress.


Go BackReturn to home page