On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, actor John Stamos explores his Greek heritage for the first time and learns more about his grandfather’s sad childhood. He also meets a relative he never knew and hears firsthand about his family’s enduring strength. In a suiting coincidence and homage to John’s heritage, the episode premieres on Greek Easter, which is usually celebrated on a different date but this year coincides with the Western calendar’s Easter Sunday.
Warning – get the box of Kleenex. Yep, this is one of those – in a good way.
John begins by explaining that he never wanted to go to college, and how supportive his parents were of his decision to pursue acting. John’s parents and grandparents were all very family focused.
His parents are gone now, and of course, he and his sisters wish they had asked many more questions while they could have.
He said, “I always thought Mom and Dad would be around.” Yea, John, you and so many others, right up until they aren’t anymore.
As it turns out, for John, the information he was able to glean from a trip to Greece wasn’t anything that his parents were likely to have known.
John’s grandfather, for whom John’s father and John himself are both named, certainly did know, and perhaps intentionally left that part of the family story back in Greece.
John and his sisters think they remember the village name in Greece, but they have different memories, so John will need help figuring out where his family is from. He thinks they were from someplace near Tripoli. Turns out that he was close – about 40 miles or so distant. And of course, the family name was changed in America.
John heads to the Greek National Archives to begin unraveling his own personal Greek tragedy.
At the National Archives, John works with a historian who has put together as much as she can from what is in essence a Greek census document and school records that show John’s grandfather as a 13 year old boy and have him marked as an orphan.
John never knew this about his grandfather, and wants to know more, but of course, he must return to the county where his grandfather was raised.
The Greek countryside is stunningly beautiful, but be prepared…for snow. I had no idea it snowed in Greece, and John is driving on those mountain roads in the snow, with the flocks of sheep.
John’s next stop is the notarial archives which have records of things like land sales. Indeed, John’s grandfather’s mother sold land in 1916. The historian explained to John that this was her dower land, near and dear to her heart because it was given to her when she married. To sell it would have probably meant she was in some kind of trouble.
As John said, “a desperate act of a desperate woman.”
But to find out why, John had to go on to the actual village, Kakouri, to discover what was actually going on, and why. John is now in the part of the world where villages hang on mountainsides, roads are one lane and addresses are given by description. “Look for the house with the green gate.”
John discovers that he is literally related to half the village, and probably the other half too, if he went back more than a couple generations or did some DNA testing. I couldn’t help but think how much fun it would have been to do a village genealogy and DNA test everyone, but I digress.
John discovers the secret that his grandfather very clearly knew, and left behind. He meets a most amazing woman and finds a photo of his grandfather’s mother, hanging on the wall and learns the story of this amazingly strong woman from someone who knew her. She sacrificed her dower land for honor and family.
John’s reunion in the village and his discoveries there are nothing short of amazing, and heartwarming, and heart-wrenching too.
I’m so glad John made this journey and took all of us along. The views of Greece and the cemetery, especially if you are a cemetery buff, are worth watching alone. I love learning about the cultures and records of other countries.
But for John, it truly was a journey home in ways he could never have imagined. It’s amazing how much “distance’ is created in just two generations, and how much can be recovered when you physically visit the location where your ancestor lived. There is just something about standing where they stood and seeing what they saw that gives you roots.
Don’t forget the Kleenex, and enjoy! It’s wonderful way to spend Easter evening.