Rooting out your ancestors on the Internet

Couples in Vassilis Michalopoulos’s extended family have an average age difference of nine years and eight months and there is a 4.17 percent divorce rate. Life expectancy for the males in his line is 68 years and for the women 72, although his great-great-great-grandfather Dimitrios Tsitsipis, born in 1832 in Dadi, now known as Amfikleia, lived to the ripe old age of 96. The most commonly found names in his family tree are Giorgos, Yiannis and Costas for the men and Eleni, Maria and Evstathia for the women. Michalopoulos didn’t know any of the above when, about a year ago, he started tracing his family’s history, a search that actually began 45 years ago with stories told by his grandmother of cousins who emigrated and uncles with amazing experiences. Soon simple curiosity about his roots turned into a full-blown hobby, with hours spent filling in the details of his family tree with the help of software he found on the Internet. «I have found over 1,000 relatives, mainly on my mother’s side, that go back to 1750, but about 300 are missing from the tree, although fortunately most of them are still living. I’ll find them eventually,» he told Kathimerini. Branches of his family with many members that are still living have been traced to the USA, Norway, France and Germany. Michalopoulos’s main research tool has been, the Greek branch of one of the largest electronic family tree search engines, with 22.9 million registered members. In recent years, these sites have become some of the most popular online. The most famous,, has 3.8 million family trees with a total of over 330 million names, 900,000 subscribers and is visited by over 8.2 million people every month. Further help has come from the pages of the MySpace and Facebook social networking sites. Although MyHeritage has its own search engine that draws data from about 1,200 genealogical data bases, Michalopoulos has done most of the work himself, «by talking to the elderly, mainly in Amfikleia,» he explained. «It wasn’t easy. The elderly have a tendency to confuse things – dates, names – so you need to check everything they tell you. For example, one 90-year-old woman told me that one of her uncles had married the daughter of a mayor ‘from Livadia – or maybe Corfu.’» Younger people were more hesitant about helping. «Generally I came across a lot of unwillingness and suspicion. Many think I am digging around to try and find an inheritance.» And the family stories he came across were not always pleasant. «For example, I found out that my great-grandfather on my mother’s side did not appear for military service in 1850 with the result that his brother had to go in his place, and so do two terms.»