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Parish Community Histories: Planning an Approach for Recording Parish History

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I am not going to talk to you today about the importance of researching and preserving the histories of our communities and parishes, because I believe that you all understand this and this is the reason for your being here.

In the time that I am going to speak to you, I shall talk about some of the aspects of delving into the past, doing the research, and making some very important and exciting discoveries. Research is painstaking and sometimes slow, but in the end it is very rewarding.

My presentation will cover a variety of topics. The important thing that I want to emphasize at the beginning is that a project such as researching the history of a community, collecting records, materials and artifacts, needs a certain amount of organization. If you organize at the beginning, it will be easier to continue along the way.

My presentation is going to be a primer of sorts on doing research and especially tailored to our church communities or parishes. I hope that it will open new horizons for you and give you new ideas. I do hope that, as a result of this meeting, some of you will be inspired to form historical groups in your parishes and follow the examples of Salt Lake City, Utah, of Oakland and Stockton, California, of Phoenix, Arizona, and of other communities.

Your approach to the history of the parish ~ and, you know, I use the words parish and community interchangeably: the eggs are scrambled, and I don't think you can unscramble them ~ should be organized and carefully planned. It may change along the way as things develop, depending on what you uncover and discover.

At the outset, I should say that doing historical research for our older parishes and our newer communities presents some differences. But I am going to concentrate on the older parishes. Most of what I have to say is also applicable to the newer ones, for whom the job will be much easier as a result of what the older parishes have done.


Now where do we start in doing research on the history of a parish or a Greek community? First we should try and discover when the first Greek immigrants arrived and settled in the community, for they are the ones who established the communities. Now how do we do this? Actually an important starting point are the city directories. City directories were published during the last half of the 19th century and the better half of the 20th century, before there were telephone directories. In reality, they were a census of the city. They showed, by address, everybody who lived in the city. At the same time, the directories contained what we have in the present day telephone directory, yellow pages, listings by types of businesses. Each city published them, and they are available in your public library.

When I researched and wrote the history of the Sacramento Greek community, I went to the library and started looking through the city directories from 1879 on, looking for what were obviously Greek names. This is a sort of hit and miss approach, because some people had changed their names. It was very rewarding. Very painstaking. Line by line. Hour after hour.

In every city, there is a city directory for each year. You just go down and try and find a Greek name. It is like reading the phone book. In the city directory of Oakland for 1895, for example, I find the name of J. Constantine. Maybe he was the only Greek in Oakland in 1895. On another page, I find the name of C. Demetrac, which is not as clear. As you go through succeeding years, you will see how the community of Greeks grow. When you look in the yellow pages, you look under businesses where the Greeks were more apt to be. You don't look under clocks, clothing etc, but under grocers, confectioners, shoe shine parlors, etc. These were the occupations of the first immigrants.

In doing these researches ~ and I did this for Sacramento community, which is all on computer now ~ it is very important to record the names and to compile a prosopography. What is a prosopography? It is a list of names with as much information about an individual as possible. You begin by making a master list of names, and then adding information about that name in whatever context it appears.

I have spoken about city directories, because it is a place to start. The second place to go is to newspapers. Here is an example. A newspaper article says, "A Wedding at the Russian Church, but here in 1894, the bride was a Greek." The article appeared in the San Francisco Call Bulletin, Tuesday, February 1, 1898.

Another important article from the same San Francisco newspaper tells how Easter was celebrated in San Francisco churches, and then down at the bottom of the article you see "Easter Among the Greeks". It explains something about the Greek Church on Powell Street in San Francisco, how they celebrated and roasted lambs, etc. Then, the important thing of course, is that the article lists all the Greeks who where in attendance there. So, from a source such as this, you can collect the names to add to a master prosopography list.

Another article describes something about the establishment of the Holy Trinity parish in San Francisco, the first Greek Church in the West. The Russian Bishop writes to his Patriarch in Moscow saying that the Greeks have established a church in San Francisco. Prior to that time they worshipped at the Russian Church.

On this subject, the article mentions a name, from which I was able to discover the first Greek priest who was in the United States in 1982. He served in San Francisco for eight years at the Russian church. I shall tell you that story later, which is quite interesting.

Following up on details can be very painstaking. Now here it says about the Russian Church and Bishop Ledinov celebrated the liturgy assisted by the Greek priest.

In fact, it turned out to be very interesting detail for me as I have been researching the archives of the Archdiocese for the past twenty-five years and have been writing the history of our church in America. The first two volumes have been completed and will be published later this year, with all the documents. In researching the archives of the Archdiocese, I discovered a report by a priest named Klaxons Canellas, written in 1918 when Archbishop Meletios came to this country. The archbishop had written a letter to all priests asking them to send him a résumé. The priest wrote the letter, and I have a copy. He was a graduate of the University of Athens in 1860, was ordained a priest and sent to serve the Greek Orthodox Church in Calcutta, India. He spent eight years in India, became ill, and came to the United States, sailing from Calcutta to San Francisco. Upon arrival in San Francisco he went to the Russian Orthodox Church, where the Russian Bishop hired him as a priest for the Church in San Francisco. He also taught Greek to the children of the school. Father Cannellis ended up establishing the parishes of Savannah, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, and other parishes in the South. He is, as far as we know, the first Greek priest in the United States.

His name was mentioned in the San Francisco newpaper article. It appeared as a detail. When you come across a detail like that, it takes a long time to research it, to find out about it. In the end, the effort turns out to be very worthwhile. I provided the communities of Birmingham and Savannah with the information about their first priest, of which they were unaware.

Next, I am going to talk about following-up on leads. Some of the leads are minute, absolutely minute, and some lead to dead ends, but some others bear real fruit. Here is an example. It is about the first black Greek Orthodox priest in the United States. In doing my researches for the history of the Church in America, I spent considerable time in the archives of the Patriarchate and of the Archdiocese. I went through a periodical which was published in Constantinople at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. It was in French and was the publication of the Roman Catholic Church in Constantinople. Every month, in a derogatory way, they would chronicle what was going on at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. So, I read that for leads, and lo and behold, I came upon a notice in 1907 that a black from America had recently been baptized and ordained at the Patriarchate for the purpose of converting blacks of America to Orthodoxy. Well, that seemed sort of strange. I wrote to the Patriarchate and asked if they had any record of Robert Morgan being there in 1907. Lo and behold, the Patriarchate sent me the minutes from the Holy Synod of 1907, wherein it was mentioned that the Community of the Annunciation in Philadelphia sent a black from Philadelphia. He went with letters of introduction from the priest and from the parish council, which recommended him to travel to the Patriarchate. He was catechized baptized and ordained and was given the name of Rafael. He was sent back to Philadelphia. They gave me all the documents.

I contacted the Philadelphia parish about this, and the priest put my request for information in the bulletin and asked if any of the old timers knew anything about it. He discovered a number of them who remembered the black priest when they were children. This is all written in a small booklet, which is available. Morgan disappeared. He was there for two or three years. I went through the city directories of Philadelphia and he is listed for a few years and then disappears. We have no notice of what happened to him. Yet, I tell you this story because it is an example of following up on a detail, which turns out to be a very significant point in the history of our church in this country. Father Cannelis is but another example and his report to the Archbishop is the first indication that a Greek priest was serving in San Francisco during the 19th century.

I encourage you to follow up on leads. Your really have to be very inquisitive. Don't take anything for granted.

Now as to the archives of the Archdiocese, Nikie Calle, the very capable archivist will speak to the subject, but I should tell you that you will find all the correspondence of a particular parish with the Archdiocese going back to 1923 and earlier in these archives. Then, you have to go another way. Once you have a list of all the priests who served in the community, you go to the file for each of those names. Ms Calle will explain in more detail what is available.

Another source for research are the organizations, although many of their records have disappeared: AHEPA, GAPA, local societies, etc. They were part of their local communities.

Yet another source are the Greek newspapers published here in the United States. The two national dailies, the Atlantis and the National Herald, published in New York, are both available in libraries in the East. Throughout the United States, there were regional Greek newspapers, such as the Mentor in Cleveland, the California and the Prometheus in San Francisco, etc. The importance of these newspapers is that they all had local correspondents who wrote about what went on in the parish: weddings, baptisms, general assemblies, dances, picnics, elections of officers of the parish and organizations etc.

A very important source are the minutes and records of the community. The one community that really has preserved its records is Sacramento. I was able to find the original minute book of the community, and in it I found the minutes of the original meeting of the community on 18 January 1920. The people called the meeting in order to organize a Greek community and parish, and the record lists the original donors. That night they collected $1,988.05.

So, the minutes are very important. Unfortunately, some communities have not kept the minute books up to date. Or they have discarded old records. Sacramento has microfilmed all the minutes and have stored the duplicates. The minute books will also provide a valuable source for the prosopography.

The vital statistic record books of the parish are another very important source. These are the records of baptisms, weddings and funerals. They provide a great deal of information which is important in compiling a prosopography, which should be collected from every available source.

There can be an initial difficulty here, but it is easily overcome. All the records books like the local newspapers, from the old communities are in the Greek language, so it will require someone who reads Greek. The vital statistic books are kept in English now.

You will notice that in the baptism records, we have the names of the child baptized, the parents, the god-parents and the priest. In the wedding entries, we have the names of the bride and groom and the best man, or koumparos. In the funeral entries, we also have all the pertinent information about the deceased.

We might find a name in the city directory, and we enter it into the prospography. The same name might appear as one of the founders listed in the minute books. Then, we come across the name again when the person got married, and then when his children were baptized, or when he was the god-parent at a baptism, when he was the koumparos at a wedding, and finally at his funeral. He also might be mentioned throughout the minutes as having served on the parish council. What a mine of information that is to trace him from his arrival in the city to his death.

An important document is the articles of incorporation of a community. Should this no longer be in the archives of the community, it is readily obtainable from the county or state recorder's office. It will give the names of the original incorporation, etc.

I can't emphasize to you how important it is to start a prosopography, which is a type of genealogical record. It will be your basic record, and from there you will be able to expand in all directions.

The other important aspect are photographs, and you should begin colleting photographs of individuals and events throughout the history of your parish.

There is another aspect, and an important one, and that is oral histories. It is important to record the recollections of founders (if available) and elderly individuals who had lived through the growth and development of the parish. These should be recorded on tape, if possible. Oral history is a special subject, and there are guidelines available as to how to conduct them.

Parish Community History Outline

The following outline will serve as a primer for archival research. It will stimulate curiosity and inspire the rewarding task of researching and documenting our communities' histories.

The outline may assist in beginning to organize the history of a community. The outline should remain somewhat flexible, so that changes can be made when necessary as the research continues and circumstances develop, depending upon the information the researcher happens to discover.

  1. Name of parish/community.
  2. Incorporated?
    1. Date of incorporation.
    2. Original articles of incorporation.
  3. Present address of church.
  4. Date of founding.
  5. Original Minutes.
  6. Present address of church
    1. Area originally served and presently served.
  7. Church Edifice(s)
    1. Original edifice
      1. Date of consecration. Presiding bishop.
      2. Photographs, interior and exterior.
    2. Subsequent edifices, photographs, etc.
    3. Current facilities / hall, school, offices.
    4. Photographs.
  8. Greek School
    1. Date of founding.
    2. Teachers.
    3. Location(s).
    4. Photographs.
  9. Choir
    1. Date of founding.
    2. Choir directors.
    3. Photographs.
  10. Sunday School
    1. Date of founding.
    2. Teachers.
    3. Photographs.
  11. Philoptochos
    1. Date of founding.
    2. Officers throughout the years.
    3. Antecedent organization.
  12. Other Parish Organizations: GOYA, FDF, Senior Citizens, etc.
  13. Community Organizations throughout the history of the community
    1. AHEPA, GAPA, Pan-Arcadians, Pan-Cretans, etc.
  14. Other
    1. Programs (religious and educational).
    2. Community Outreach.
    3. Library.
    4. Athletic Programs.
    5. History ~ anniversary albums, programs, events.
    6. Publications ~ bulletins, newsletters.
  15. Pan-Orthodox Activities.

Such an outline should also include a list of the documents that need to be researched as well as the location of each of those documents, enabling researchers to work in a disciplined fashion.

This type of preparation ~ involving a well prepared outline as well as a preliminary understanding of some of the challenges and resources ~ can make the daunting task of research more enjoyable and can yield immense rewards.

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Manolis, Paul G., Parish Community Histories: Planning an Approach for Recording Parish History, Workshop Report in Procedures for the Preservation of Parish Histories, 36th Biennial Clergy Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, on-line publication July 2002, available at http://www.pahh.com/symposia/workshops2002/mano.html.

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