I recently learned that my cousin created a family tree. He shared it with me as part of a conversation we had regarding our church’s upcoming 100 year anniversary and the various archives related to that. Even if my own family hadn’t been included on this family tree, I still would’ve been fascinated with his project because of what he’s learned in the process and the diligent and meaningful skills it involved. My favorite cousin and I share so much in common…..a love for all things organizational, family history and a passion for spreadsheets, archives and even a ledger that has spanned the generations. Not only did we have a childhood, pretend detective agency together but our famous ledger tradition got passed down to the next generation when our kids took it over to continue the legacy.
I asked Dean to describe the family tree process to me because I know it will be inspirational to others who are contemplating how to start a family tree. People probably attempt this project in various methods and I knew Dean’s would not only be methodical but also meaningful and personal. What a significant and sentimental project to pass down to one’s progeny.
What inspired you to do the family tree?
I didn’t want to lose some of the knowledge of the elderly family members who helped me complete it. I wanted to be able to show my kids where they were from and how far back they could go.
What was the hardest thing about completing this project?
It was getting information beyond just my grandparents and having to reach out to my cousin in Greece, Angeliki, who had to get with her mom to fill in some more of the blanks. Between her side of the family and mine (my dad has already passed away), I needed to consult others with some of the knowledge.
Did you conduct this over Face Time or a phone call?
I emailed her part of the family tree which wasn’t completed to ask her if she could just answer some of the questions and fill in some of the blanks.
What a fun cousin project!—two first cousins doing that; how awesome! What’s hard about Greek family records is that there aren’t any before the year, what approximately?
Mine went back to the year 1865. Maria Hlepos was born in 1865. (mine and Dean’s common great grandmother) On the other side, I don’t know because they didn’t really keep their dates.
They didn’t really keep records that far back, correct? Maria Hlepos is mine and your common great grandmother and she lived to be 102. And all of her four children lived past the age of 83-96. This was the great grandmother that your mom and my mom sailed to Greece in 1950 to meet for the first time.
…And my mom met my dad there in the 1950’s on another trip.
What did you learn about yourself doing this project?
I wanted to see if anyone was from any other islands (other than Imvros) but we couldn’t go back further from 1860’s. Researching the family tree, I found stories about my grandfathers on both sides and how they were both U.S. citizens. One of them even went back to Greece to live.
Was your paternal grandfather a mechanic like your dad?
No, he worked as a Merchant Marine on ships. Once he got to America, he was in NYC dredging the harbor at one point and in Pennsylvania in the steel mills.
Do you know why he returned to Greece?
It has something to do with family life. His wife didn’t come over so he left his family back in Greece and then decided he wanted to go back home. This is similar to my great grandfather Niko Hlepos who came to work on the railroads in American in 1904. He returned to Greece in 1906, put his suit away and put back on his vrakes. (pantaloons of their folk dress)
So, your other grandfather, Jim Kademis, was also a citizen? From what I understand, he and my papou (grandfather) became restauranteurs because they didn’t want to be shoemakers in Paris like the other two brothers.
Yes, and my yiayia, (grandmother) lived with her brothers in Paris for awhile when times were dangerous for women from Imvros (her village taken over by the Turkish occupation). She was eighteen years old at the time. She married my grandfather and lived in St. Louis, then Bristow, Oklahoma and eventually Tulsa.
You already have natural organizational skills which helped you do this but was this template provided for you on the internet?
I started writing things down on a spreadsheet but this template was made using AutoCad, a computer program for engineering projects. I was doing this experiment to get acquainted with how the program works.
This is very inspirational. For someone who doesn’t know how to get started, what is your advice?
My advice would be to find your oldest living relative and start writing in a spiral notebook. You’ll come back to those notes and it helps you to know how to branch out. They’ll give you someone else’s name, etc. and it grows from there.
Are you going to frame this family tree and display it ?
Well, it’s a living document…it’s evergreen. (so, no) For example, my cousin Nicki’s son is a baby so we just added him; so it’s something that will keep growing. My other cousin just got married so we added his spouse. I’m keeping up with who’s getting married to whom…..I update this once a year if there’s any changes and I give a copy to my mom. (He’s even included his dogs’ names on the family tree!)
She must have been so impressed and sentimental!
I’ve given her a copy of a book (binder) I’ve written on our family which is like a resume with clippings and highlights.
Oh! I hope one of my sons does that for me! Do you have a favorite quote about family?
You can change your friends like you change your clothes but your family is like your blood…..so you don’t ever change that.