Greece Emigration and Immigration

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Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving (emigration) or coming into (immigration) Greece. These lists are usually found as passenger lists, permissions to emigrate, records of passports issued, lists of prisoners deported, and so on. The information in these records may include the names of the emigrants, ages, occupations, destinations, and the place of origin or birthplace of the emigrant.

These sources can be valuable in helping you determine where in Greece your ancestor came from. If you don’t find your ancestor, you may find emigration information on neighbors of your ancestor. People who lived near each other in Greece often settled together in the country they emigrated to. Records were created when individuals emigrated from or immigrated into Greece. Other records document an ancestor’s arrival in his or her destination country. This section discusses:

  • Emigration from Greece
  • Greek immigrants to the United States
  • Finding the emigrant’s town of origin
  • Immigration into Greece

Emigration from Greece

Sometimes the best sources for information about your immigrant ancestor are found in the country he or she emigrated to. These records sometimes provide the town of origin and other information. To learn about these records, use handbooks, manuals, and research guides for that country.

Until the 1820s Greeks emigrated to European countries mostly for political reasons. After the Greek nation was established, the reasons for emigration were economic. Most people leaving Greece in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries went to the United States, Egypt, Australia, South America, or South Africa. By 1910, an estimated one quarter to one fifth of the total labor force of Greece had left. In 1914 alone, 35,832 Greek emigrants went to the United States. Emigration to the United States nearly stopped after 1924 when restrictive immigration quotas were applied. After that time most emigrant Greeks went to other countries such as Australia, Canada, or South Africa. Today there are many Greeks in Australia, which is called by some the largest of the Greek islands. These Greek emigrants were not all from Greece. Many came from areas outside of Greece, mainly from the surrounding Turkish territory, the Balkan countries, or Egypt. For most Greek emigrants, this was to be a temporary move–they intended to return to Greece with money they saved abroad. Almost half of the emigrants eventually did return to Greece.

Greeks established Greek Orthodox churches wherever they had sufficient numbers. Before they could establish a Greek parish, they often associated with other Eastern Orthodox churches such as the Russian Orthodox Church. Consult church records for these churches if you expected to find your ancestor’s records in the Greek Orthodox church and didn’t. The church was the cultural and social heart of the community. The church helped the Greek people maintain their cultural identity wherever they settled. In America, for instance, they even offered Greek language classes for American-born children.

Records of passports and other such documents are located in Athens and Nauplion, the capital and former capital of Greece. Such records from the county of Argolidos have been microfilmed and can be searched through the Family History Library.

Greek Immigrants to the United States

Although Greeks had been leaving their homelands for the New World since colonial times as sailors, merchants, or miners, it wasn’t until the 1890s that substantial Greek communities were established in the United States. At the close of the Civil War, fewer than one hundred Greeks lived in the United States. Reports of job opportunities in America started a wave of emigration in the 1880s. The earliest emigration was from the Peloponnesus, then from central Greece, Crete, Turkey, Cyprus, and the Balkan countries. The number of emigrants grew slowly until 1900, thereafter growing rapidly and reaching a peak about 1910.

Most Greek immigrants to the United States arrived at the port of New York. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the records and indexes of New York passenger lists from 1897–1943. See the Emigration and Immigration section of the United States Research Outline for more information about emigration and immigration records of the United States. At least two books are available at the Family History Library on this subject:

  • Fairchild, Henry P. Greek Immigration to the United States. Berkeley, California, USA: Yale University Press, 1911. (FHL film 1760249)
  • Burgess, Thomas. Greeks in America. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shermon, French, 1913. (FHL book 973 B4ai ser. 2 vol.2)

Finding the Emigrant’s Town of Origin

Once you have traced your family back to your immigrant ancestor, you must determine the city or town the ancestor was from. Greece has no nationwide index to birth, marriage, or death records. These records were kept locally. There are several sources, however, that may give your ancestor’s place of origin. You may be able to learn the town your ancestor came from by talking to older family members. Members of your family or a library may have some of the following documents that might name the city or town:

  • Birth, marriage, and death certificates
  • Obituaries
  • Journals
  • Photographs
  • Letters
  • Family Bible
  • Church certificates or records
  • Naturalization applications and petitions
  • Passenger lists
  • Passports
  • Family heirlooms

The two primary ports of departure from Greece were Piraeus and Patras. Although no passenger lists from Greece have been microfilmed, there are several other sources for tracking your immigrant ancestor’s place of origin. If the family came to the United States, the passenger arrival lists can be of great help in finding the town where the family last resided in Greece and an ancestor’s birthplace, especially in the records of the early twentieth century. Indexes to New York arrivals (1903–1943) and other ports of arrival can be searched through the Family History Library or the National Archives. A published set of books that may be helpful is:

  • Voultsos, Mary. Greek Immigrant Passengers, '1885–1910: A Guide and Index to Researching 'Early Greek Immigrants. Three Volumes. Worcester, Massachusetts, USA: Mary Voultsos, 1992. (FHL book 973 W2vm) First volume includes a list of Greek passengers to New York 1885–1910, and to Boston 1900–1910 listed alphabetically. The second volume is arranged by date of arrival, and the third volume is arranged by destination. Keep in mind that this list is not complete as it refers only to certain vessels.

Additional information about finding the origins of immigrant ancestors is given in the Tracing Immigrant Origins (34111) research outline.

Immigration into Greece

Significant numbers of ethnic Greek refugees were removed to Greece following World War I. Some of the registers of refugees, identification lists, and certificate records of those who moved to Greece have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library:

  • Register of Refugees from Marmara, Turkey. Halkis, Greece: General Archives of Greece, n.f. (FHL film 1792803 items 26–27)
  • Refugee Records, 1921–1984. Thessaloniki, Greece: Armenian Orthodox Archives, n.f. (FHL films 1038672 items 6–7 and 1038674 item 2) Includes census of Armenian refugees to Thessaloniki (1923) and other records of the refugees from 1921–1937, annotated through 1984.
  • Liste préparatoire pour le répatriation des Armeniens de Grèce, 1947 (List for the Repatriation of Armenians of Greece). Athens, Greece: Armenian Orthodox Archives, n.f. (FHL films 1038668 items 3–9, 1038669 items 1–2, 1038672 item 1).