Three Greek Americans star in a new episode of the popular American series «Finding your roots», in search of the history of their Greek ancestors. The actress Tina Fey, the comedian and author David Sedaris and the journalist and presenter George Stephanopoulos, are keen on talking about their Greek origin proudly, but through the show they had the opportunity to learn more about their ancestors and their lives in Greece.
Viewers had the opportunity to discover with them details of their genealogy for the first time!
The presenter Henry Louis Gates Jr, with his research team, spoke with relatives, genealogists helped track paperwork and geneticists helped with the latest DNA technology to reveal secrets hidden for hundreds of years.
Tina’s mother is Zenobia Xenakis and she is the connecting link with Greece. They spoke Greek at home and of course every Sunday the family went to church. In fact, Tina in 2001 chose to marry with a Greek Orthodox ceremony. Her daughters have Greek names, Zenobia and Penelope.
Her grandmother, Kourelakou Basilici, in the early 20th century emigrated to the US, but died when Tina was just 1 year old. The team found files that revealed that her grandmother came to US on February 28, 1921, by her one from the village Petrina. Researchers traveled to Petrina for further information.
The investigation revealed that Tina’s third great-grandfather, Stephen Hartoulari was from Chios. He lived the events of unprecedented massacre of Chios. Her grandfather managed to escape from the slaughter and later settled in the village Petrina near Taygetos. There, he took part in the revolution, and years later, he was awarded with a Medal for his contribution to the struggle for independence.
«I come from a patriot … This is amazing» said Fey.
David Sedaris, as well as Tina Fey, had no idea about the life of his ancestors. His father, Louis, was born in US of Greek immigrants and was particularly proud of his origins.
«My father had a sticker on the bedroom mirror saying «Greeks are great!» he remembers.
He traveled for the first time to Greece as a teenager and stayed in a camp for the summer. Since then, he has returned several times.
His grandmother, Adamantia Thomakos, went to live with the Sedaris family in the US, when her husband died. For Sedaris his grandmother remained largely an enigmatic figure, since she did not know any English.
«The room was like … Greece. It smelled like another country. And he had a pile rugs on the floor!» he recalls.
His grandmother was born in the village Apidia Laconia. The team of the show looked at the Greek army records and discovered that during the Ottoman period, and in one of the raids of Ibrahim Pasha’s forces, they enslaved the daughter of his third great grandfather, the 20-year old Anastasoula, which probably resulted in a harem.
«To lose somebody by death, you know death that you know of is one thing. But if they’re brought off to become a slave amongst the people who you hate more than anything must be like a just a kind of an agony that just never dies» confessed Sedaris.
His father, Harry, was a priest in the Orthodox Church and his mother Nikolitsa Tsafou dealt with the communication of the Archdiocese.
From toddler, he loved politics and this is linked to his roots, as he says.
«I grew up to be proud of the Greek traditions and to know that I have contributed to the US. I loved the fact that my name was bigger than all the others» he points.
His grandmother, Margarita, emigrated to the US in 1931. The other relatives stayed behind and lived through the Nazi atrocity. In January 1944, the Germans captured men villagers, threatening to kill them all, including his great-grandfather with his sons. Though eventually they were released, the family did not escape the tragedy. Greek partners of Germans wanted to avenge those who participated in the Resistance, and burned their houses, among them the homes of his ancestors.
«I’m as Greek as it gets» Stephanopoulos said after he learned all the details.
«It makes me feel humble because I would hope I would do the same thing in their circumstance» he added.
His ancestors were present in another great liberation struggle, the Revolution of ’21. His fourth great grandfather grew up in Vytina
, the mountains which was a refuge of Thieves, and belonged to the famous Captain Zacharias. When the Turks killed the notorious captain, he managed to escape. Obviously continued to participate in the liberation, and the Greek state gave him a piece of land as a recognition of his contribution to the nation.
Tina Fey: The Greek American comedian