When Friends Become Family: The Elissavitis Siblings of Kokkari

An unanticipated joy of all the genealogy research and blogging I do is the connection I have made with many friends and family also researching their family trees.

It has helped me learn about the social life and friends of my ancestors that I never knew about. Here is an example of a new connection to my Halvangis line originally from Kokkari, Samos in Greece.

A new contact (Kathy Miklia Ruffner) reached out to me and sent the following:

“Hi Steve! I am on Hellenic Genealogy Geeks with you. I also subscribe to your Blog. I wanted to say that I believe my papou and yiayia knew your family member with the name Halvangis. I say this because I saw the Halvangis name written several times in my own family records.

As a back story, my yiayia Dimitra Elissaviti left Kokkari Samos in appx 1923. She married Odysseus Giokas in Detroit in 1926. Someone with the last name Halvangis signed as their Witness, or in Greek, Koumbaro. I’ll attach a picture…”

Here is the marriage document of Kathy's grandparents (papou and yiayia in Greek), Odysseus Giokas (1893-1966) and Dimitra Elissavitis (1904-1990)

 Marriage License of Odysseus Giokas and Dimitra Elissaviti 1/6/1926

Marriage License of Odysseus Giokas and Dimitra Elissaviti 1/6/1926

Note the red arrow pointing to the Halvangis signature on the witness line.

Here are two beautiful photos of the married couple. 

 Odysseus Giokas and Dimitra Elissavitis 1/6/1926

Odysseus Giokas and Dimitra Elissavitis 1/6/1926

 Odysseus Giokas and Dimitra Elissavitis 1/6/1926

Odysseus Giokas and Dimitra Elissavitis 1/6/1926


What we do know is that our families, both Elissavitis and Halvangis, were bonded by place (Kokkari Samos, Greece) and deep and abiding affection. What started in a small, tight knit fishing village in Greece flourished in the United States. As immigrants, these families must have taken great comfort in seeing familiar faces from the “Old Country”.

Kathy and I are both near certain (99%) that the 2nd witness signature is that of my great grandfather, Vasilios Demetrios Halvangis (1891-1937). To be a “Koumbaro” for a Greek wedding is considered a high honor. That Vasilios served this role for this couple means that they were quite close. I imagine their Samos roots intertwine even more a generation or two back. 

Here is the only photo I have ever seen of my great grandfather.

 Vasilios Demtrios Halvangis (1891-1937)

Vasilios Demtrios Halvangis (1891-1937)

In fact these families must have remained quite close. Kathy also sent pictures of the guest book at her papou’s (Odysseus) funeral in 1966. Signing the guest book were my grandparents, James Halvangis (1920-1974) and Claire (Pawlowski) Halvangis (1916-1980), as well as my great aunt and uncle, John Majka (1920-2015) and Pauline (Halvangis) Majka (1922-1999)

James and Pauline were siblings and children of my great grandfather, Vasilios.

 Funeral guestbook for Odysseus Giokas 1966

Funeral guestbook for Odysseus Giokas 1966

 Funeral guestbook for Odysseus Giokas 1966

Funeral guestbook for Odysseus Giokas 1966

Here is a photograph of Odysseus and Dimitra.

 Odysseus and Dimitra (Elissavitis) Giokas

Odysseus and Dimitra (Elissavitis) Giokas

And here is a photo of my grandparents, likely after Odysseus's death. 

 James William Halvangis (1920-1974) and Claire Pawlowski Halvangis (1916-1980)

James William Halvangis (1920-1974) and Claire Pawlowski Halvangis (1916-1980)

This funeral registry is THE clue that helped Kathy make this connection that she had been researching. In fact, her research help me discover a significant error I had made in an earlier post about my great grandfather, Vasilios. 

In that post I misread a ship manifest passenger list (see previous post about Vasilios). I had mistakenly concluded that Vasilios was coming to the U.S. to visit his "brother-in-law" George Kalogeras in Waterloo, Iowa. I knew my great grandparents were married in Waterloo and I also knew that there was a large group of my distant family who remained in Waterloo, some still there today. But, I read the wrong line!

It turns out that Vasilios was actually coming to see Gregorio "Greg" Elissavitis (1889-1974), Dimitra's older brother, in Freeport, Illinois! Vasilios did eventually make his way to Waterloo, at least long enough to marry my great grandmother, Maria Chardoulias, before they both made their way to Detroit where they laid down new roots. 

This was was the dear family friend that welcomed my great grandfather to his new country in 1911. Greg's sister Dimitra (pictured above in the wedding photos) also came from Greece to see her brother, though not until 1923.

Here is a beautiful photo of Greg, his wife Theodora, and their children in 1927.

 Gregorio "Greg" Elissaviti, his wife Theodora, and their children

Gregorio "Greg" Elissaviti, his wife Theodora, and their children

One of their children, Grace Elissavitis, married a Nicholas T. Mitchell. Here is their wedding photo and where it gets REALLY interesting. From left to right we have: Aspasia "Bessie" Giokas Miklia (Kathy's mother and the daughter of Dimitra and Odysseus), an unknown man, Grace Elissavitis (bride), Nicholas T. Mitchell (groom) and Pauline Halvangis Majka. 

 Wedding photo of Grace Elissavitis and Nicholas T. Mitchell - 1948

Wedding photo of Grace Elissavitis and Nicholas T. Mitchell - 1948

Nicholas had a brother, George E. Mitchell (1922-1995). George married another of the Halvangis siblings, my great aunt Irene Halvangis Mitchell (born in 1925). She is the youngest of the four Halvangis siblings (from oldest to youngest: James, Pauline, Anthony, Irene).

Kathy and I have no obvious DNA connection. I wouldn't be surprised if somehow somewhere way back we had some shared genetic roots. But that specific connection would be difficult (near impossible) to document.

What we do know is that our families, both Elissavitis and Halvangis, were bonded by place (Kokkari Samos, Greece) and deep and abiding affection. What started in a small, tight knit fishing village in Greece flourished in the United States. As immigrants, these families must have taken great comfort in seeing familiar faces from the "Old Country".

Here is the best part of the story. After the natural loosening of this family bond over decades (to the point of virtual disappearance), this connection has now been reignited!

I am so thankful to Kathy for reaching out to me. As I said at the beginning, making these connections has been one of the greatest joys of the endlessly fulfilling hobby that is genealogy.


This is the 18th of 52 weekly posts planned for 2018. It was inspired by the #52Ancestors writing challenge issued by professional genealogist, Amy Crow Johnson. The challenge: once a week, for all 52 weeks of the year, write about a relative in your family tree.