Glimpses of modern Greek history in documents marking life’s stages

The City of Athens has compiled 170 years of the capital’s birth, marriage and death records into one registry source that could prove a valuable resource for historians, journalists, investigators and documentarians looking to track down official information. Such records were spotty a century ago, when a still-young modern Greece was struggling to organize itself and people preferred to jot down birthdays and anniversaries on the back of portraits hanging in their homes. Three years in the making, the «Registry of Athens 1836-2006: Historical Facts and Salvaged Archives» is a publication combining the handwritten documents of an older era with the electronically stored data used in roughly the last decade. Glimpses of life Though virtually no records have survived from the first decades, the registry is still a valuable source of information that provides glimpses into the lives of Athenians over the years. Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis also notes in the publication’s prologue that the registry is «the first to go electronic.» In 1836, four years after the London Conference installed the 17-year-old Bavarian Prince Otto as king of Greece following the assassination of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the nascent Greek state adopted a law intended to organize a registry. The law stated that every mayor in every municipality must keep books recording births, marriages and deaths. If a mayor could not perform this duty, then he had to hand it over to a deputy mayor or another authorized official. Virtually no information survived the early years of Athens, especially from 1836 to 1842. For instance, there is nothing from the 1835 election of the first mayor, medical doctor Anargyris Petrakis – not even a copy of the elaborate emblem that symbolized the capital city back then, the current deputy mayor of Athens, Leftheris Skiadas, notes wryly in an article in the registry publication. The 30-year reign of King Othon – Otto’s adopted Greek name – was rocky for Greece, so most of the country’s mayors and prefects did not focus on such tasks as recording birth, marriage and death certificates. The officials also did not coordinate with the Church, which managed its own registry. Enforcing a new law In the 1840s, the country’s Foreign Minister Ioannis Kolettis got annoyed enough with the disorganization in the registries that he threatened – albeit vaguely – to punish «by example» those mayors who failed to follow up on the 1836 law because they had forgotten or didn’t care. In 1856, the country passed another law. It was applied three years later, to some effect: The first death certificate is recorded in the Registry of Athens on January 2, 1859. There is also sunnier news: Constantinos Miliotis, a 38-year-old prosecutor in Lamia, and his wife Polyxeni Dimitrakopoulou also recorded the birth of their daughter the day before, on January 1. Illuminating trends Though information gathering improved greatly in the post-Othon years, even that information that survived modern Greece’s early years proves to be valuable. For instance, the first recorded official births illuminate trends in Athens in the second half of the 19th century. In 1863, the first volume of recorded births shows 119 birth certificates, but 73 of them are for illegitimate children. Many of these children were later found abandoned.

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