Echoes of our Ancestors

cover-of-vasos-mouroufas-bookMy grandfather, Augustus “Gus”  Vasos, was born in Messini, (“Nesi”)  Greece, a small village on the Peloponnesse to Helena and Vasilios Mouroufas.  My siblings and I were fascinated by Grandpa, Greece  and the Mouroufas name. Sometimes we’d use Mouroufas instead of Vasos and imagine a completely different life for ourselves far from our midwestern roots.

Grandpa never told us why his family name was changed and we assumed it happened at Ellis Island in 1907 when he immigrated from Greece to America. It would take years to discover the truth. He arrived in the United States when he was 17, eventually settled in the small town of Carroll, Iowa , worked for the railroad and married Myrtle James.  He and Myrtle raised three sons one of whom was my father.

In the sea of Irish and German settlers in Carroll, Grandpa stood out with his olive skin, dark eyes, and Greek accent. Most people in Carroll knew one another and were often related.

Grandpa’s family was a mystery. In 1975 I visited Greece to find out more about them.

Grandpa had died a few years before my trip and had  told me all the relatives in Greece were dead. It didn’t matter.  I was determined to go.  I went to the vital records office in Kalamata, the county seat for Messini to ask about my “papoo” and any Mouroufas relatives.  I expected them to check  records. Instead the clerks repeated the name Mouroufas over and over like a song to one another until someone appeared at the front desk who knew the family. There were no documents. I was told to go to Restaurant Tselios near the railroad station in Messini where the owner, Vasso knew the Mouroufas families.

Grandpa was wrong. There were relatives still living in Messini and shortly after I walked into the restaurant, his first cousin, Kostas  Mouroufas came to meet me. We toasted our newly discovered connection and with the help of a patron who translated, Kostas gave me enough information to draft a rough family tree on a napkin. He took me to his home and the adjacent building where Grandpa was born and lived until he left for America.  Kostas  had a son living in San Francisco and  told me  descendants of Grandpa’s brothers were living in Michigan.

I met all of them after 40 years of no contact between the families.  I felt like a bridge between them.  I learned why Grandpa changed his name and much more and in 1991 published a book – Echoes of our Ancestors, The Mourufas/Vasos Family Line available at the Carroll County Public Library and the Iowa Genealogical Society.

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