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

Introduction and Scope of the Project

This work is the first comprehensive study of the historical documents of the Greek American community in New York. It does not purport to be a complete survey of all the Greek American institutions, associations, and societies in the city but an inventory of these establishments in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that were surveyed through the Greek American Documentation Project. Our primary motivation for this project has been our interest in the community's historical records and the desire to preserve them for future generations.

The Greek American Documentation Project was officially launched in the fall of 1994, after a $24, 793.00 grant was received from the State Archives and Records Administration Documentary Heritage Program. Meanwhile, the project's Advisory Board kept in constant communication with the Greek American community to ensure the project's success.

Attending workshops and meetings related to this project presented a problem for association representatives. The administrative body of most of the Greek societies consists of working class family people who use these associations as a diversity and a hobby. Many were not willing to devote time to extra meetings. The project's Advisory Board decided to bring the project to the community by either the Director or a member attending meetings and events of associations, with the purpose of discussing the project. In addition, bilingual updates of the project's progress were mailed to all associations, schools and churches. At least one article regarding the project appeared once a month in more than one newspaper.

A major problem was locating the associations and then gaining access to their historical records. Some associations of the Greek American community belong to a Federation, our main sources of address information, that serves as the umbrella organization. It is the responsibility of each association under a Federation to report the new address after elections. Unfortunately, there are no regulations as to when that change of address must be reported. Thus, Federations' address lists do not get updated on time. As 1994-1995 was election time for most of these associations the project's updates never reached many of them because the addresses used were obsolete. For a solution to this dilemma the following steps were taken: the project's progress was announced through as many different forms of media, as often as possible; the project's office at Queens College remained open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; all other times people were encouraged to call the Project Director at home for information; telephone and facsimile numbers appeared on every piece of mail sent out; all surveyors had made their phone numbers available to associations they surveyed.

The National Herald daily newspaper, which was bought every day, proved to be a valuable source of information. Most associations, even those not registered with a Federation, publicize their annual dinner dance through this paper giving the number of the association's President or the event's Chairman. That number was used by the Advisory Board to gather further information. Experience has taught us never to place a call before a social event. Most of the times we ended up going to that event but not getting the information needed. Although Greek social events are always very pleasant, one must take into account that there are 150 registered Greek American associations and approximately 100 unregistered. Attending even one social affair of each association in less than a year was a tremendous task.

Finding a contact person for an association didn't always mean that we had gained access to the historical records. Older records and artifacts are still in the custody of former association administrators or members of the older generation who, although retired from active administrative duty, continue to keep the records somewhere in a basement, an attic or a garage. In a few instances the surveyors were denied access simply because the person in charge was too old and not feeling well. Other times the surveyors had to visit one or two different residences or places of business to complete a survey. There are some exceptions. For example, the Chian Federation serves as a records center and library for all associations registered under its auspices.

It is common for individuals to react negatively to new and hardly understood experiences. Members of Greek associations are no different. Since this was the first time the State of New York had given funds to the Greek community to survey its historical documents, suspicions arose as to the real purpose behind this project. To many, the word survey meant auditing by the IRS. To others, it meant that this was the initial stage for losing their documents and at this point no Greek association is ready for that. The Advisory Board had to substitute the word survey (epopteuw) with inventory (katagrafw), a less threatening word in Greek.

Using both languages, Greek and English, was essential for the project's progress. Most people, especially the old timers, felt comfortable communicating in their native language. The project's correspondence, announcements, flyers, briefs and answering machine messages were in both, Greek and English. All surveyors, one secretary and most board members were bilingual.

A study of this caliber had never before been introduced to the community. No school, church or association was willing to open its records to us unless this project was endorsed by people well known in the community. For this purpose, the Director had meetings with prominent individuals within the Greek American community, such as his Grace Bishop Alexios of Troas, Fr. George Passias, and representatives of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York. Individuals involved with the project are well known to the community: Frederica Sagiani, Principal of a Greek American High school, and Dr. John Siolas, members of the Supreme Education Board of the Greek Archdiocesan schools; Professors John Frangos, Spyro Vryonis, Jr. and George Giannaris; Historian Constantine Hatzidimitriou, Archivist George Tselos, author Dan Georgakas, reporter Fotis Papagermanos, genealogist Andrew Paspalas serve on the project's Board. Surveyor Spyro Koutsoupakis is the recording secretary of a few Cretan associations, surveyor Kally Katos is connected with the Chian Federation, the umbrella organization for all Chian Societies and John Volikas is connected to the Pan Cycladean Federation, the umbrella organization for all Cycladic societies. The project's volunteers, Costas Dedopoulos and Nikolaos Anagnostos are associated with over 23 societies.

Through this project, we were able to survey approximately 2,500 cubic feet of material which nearly had been forgotten and were largely unknown. The records surveyed, spanning 1901-1994 (bulk 1950-1990), describe sixty-two associations, five private collections, ten schools and nine churches*. Maps, correspondence and petitions document the impact of these institutions on the community in which they exist. Minutes, reports, and financial records document the administrative procedures, progress of the associations and their influence on the mother land. The bulk of all collections of records consists of journals and yearbooks** where one can find significant information regarding the history of the associations, past presidents, local businesses owned by Greek Americans, photographs, histories of the ancestral villages, poems with immigration as the main theme, Greek myths, traditions and customs. For instance, the yearbook of the Thracian Society explains Gynaikokratia (ruled by women), an event celebrated during the New Year. The carnival from Patras and the Elikia (Festival of flowers) from Aigion are also fine examples of wonderful traditions brought to the new land by the immigrants and passed down from generation to generation.

The final report of the project has been developed to be of general interest to individuals in the archival profession and researchers of immigration history. In addition to surveys, it includes studies on the Greek community of New York since the beginning, religion, education, and archival sources. The report also includes photographs from different associations, a geographical and regional map of Greece and a select bibliography. Records of each association are listed under the name of the original creating agency. If stored in more than one place all addresses and contact people are given. Miscellaneous collections of records in the custody of individuals were classified as Private Collections under a different section. Surveys consist of a brief historical note, a description of the archival records, location, restrictions that apply and access. Since most of these records are in private hands, written permission might be needed before one is allowed to use them. Historical information has been recorded as written in manuscripts or given by a representative of each association and the names have been spelled as close to the original as possible. Since this guide is organized alphabetically by creating agency, researchers should be aware that among a few associations the same term is founded as part of the association's name but the spelling might differ (e.g. Naupactians is the same as Nafpaktians, Sillogos is Syllogos, Spyro is Spiro, Constantine is Konstantine(os) and Nikolaos is the same as Nicholaos or Nicholas). Some names have been translated into English by the associations (e. g. Aghios to Saint and Syllogos to Society). Again, the transliteration and translation adopted by the association were used.

The level of description provided, varies from association to association. A complete description or abstract is provided for records that have received either a complete or partial survey. Information is also provided on records within the same collection but not accessible to us. Where available, information on arrangement of the records, on finding aids or indexes and on microfilm availability is provided. Each completed survey was edited, fact checked by the Project Director and sent to each association and the project's board members for approval. The date in the upper right hand corner at the beginning of each survey corresponds to the founding date of the association. In the Private Collections section these dates correspond to the years the documents span.

A common occurrence for many associations is the two different dates kept as the founding day.

From documents and conversations held, it became clear that many of the associations surveyed were established before WWII. War hardships forced many of them to become inactive. In later years, when economic stability allowed people to devote time to activities outside the home and workplace, these associations resumed operation. To avoid misrepresentation of information the project's Advisory Board, after discussing it with SARA (State Archives and Records Administration) officials, decided to keep both those dates as the founding dates.

Every association that participated in this project will receive a complimentary hard copy of this report. The project's Advisory Board decided also to automate the project in an effort to provide the researchers with another means of accessing the information (see Automation). A copy of this study in the magnetic form will be available only upon request.

One can not predict what the future has in store for the Advisory Board of the Greek American Documentation Project or to what extent this project will benefit the Greek Americans and those interested in immigration history. During this project we came across many problems and hesitations. We were able to eliminate if not all, most of them. For the first time in the history of the Greek American community we have an idea as to what kind of documents exist, the quantity, quality and their location. We are proud of the progress we have made in awakening the desire to preserve the community's historical records and consequently the Greek heritage. The community has realized that historical documents are essential for the preservation of our heritage, therefore attempts are being made to retrieve old records and place them in a repository or at least in the club houses used as headquarters of different associations.

The Greek American Documentation Project has expired. We would like to think that only the first phase of it has been completed. The Advisory Board will keep on working towards improving storage conditions and access to the community's historical records. The problems we'll face in the future might be different, but education still is a part of change and changing times. As we arrive at the conclusion of this introduction, one can echo Ebenezer Scrooge: I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. If Scrooge could change his ways, perhaps we all can. It was always said of him that he knew how to keep archives well, if any man alive possessed that knowledge. May that be said of us...and all of us! And so, God bless us all.

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