Updated: Dec 31, 2022
Cemeteries and graves are a wonderful source of family history information, especially Kytherian graves. During the Kytherian summer of 2022, my husband Michael and I ventured to Kythera. Whilst on holidays I embarked on the Kytherian Grave Project. The plan was to photograph and document each grave I could find on the island.
With Michael as my driver and maps in hand, early each morning Michael and I would venture to a new village and a new cemetery and take photos of every grave. Michael would go for a walk and tour the village and surrounds while I took at least two photos of every grave and the images of people found on the graves. Most mornings we would do two cemeteries, but some days there would be three. Often, we would randomly stop on the way to a beach or a restaurant if we saw a church that had a single grave in its grounds or a very small cemetery. Michael would regularly do a u turn or detour as he found another cemetery.
The wonderful thing about this adventure was we have now seen so much more of the island that we had not seen in all the years we have been traveling to Kythera. We have been to places we did not know existed. Another wonderful part of our adventure was meeting and talking with people. Many were at cemeteries that would tell you a story or inquisitively ask about our endeavours. Our project became a talking point as locals and holiday makers would approach us daily about our adventures and updates as we frequented the kafenio for our morning refreshments.
Some fun facts and statistics
In total we came across 49 locations where graves were found on Kythera. This ranged from a single grave in a church ground to the Potamos cemetery that had well over 180 graves.
I took almost 7500 photos and found approximately 2000 graves.
Total days spent researching graves was 25
Over 2000km were travelled on our small island.
The oldest cemetery we found was probably Kousounari. It had a few graves from the 1800s, although Viaradika had a few graves from the late 1800s as well. The oldest grave was found in Kousounari cemetery and was for Papa Dimitrios Andronikos who died on 13 May 1842. This grave is literally built against the side of the church.
Kythera can be a harsh place to adventure, roads are narrow, often unsealed, bumpy and in some instances undrivable or requiring a long slow reversal to get back to the main road again. Bushes and scrub can be dry and prickly. The days are hot, dry, and sometimes windy and dusty. The major issue was the heat. Most days were above 30 degrees celsius. Structures in Kythera, like a lot of Greece are made of shiny stone, marble and rendered walls, mostly finished in white. Heat along with sun reflection was a big issue and almost all graves face East so navigating the morning sun was another challenge, hence I could not be in cemeteries for more than a few hours each morning because the heat and sun would become unbearable and the cicadas making their presence known.
Some of the cemeteries were not well kept with sharp, spiky plants growing between graves that would cut and scratch my legs. Each tree would contain dozens of cicadas and when I got too close, they would fly out and spray and spit at me. Also, the position of graves can be challenging. Some graves were positioned right against walls with harsh overgrowth so I could not stand in front of it to get a decent photo while others are very tall, and I had to climb on other graves to get a photo of the top of the grave.
Nevertheless, I took almost 7500 photos of almost of 2000 graves. This was a mammoth task, but the information found has proven to be invaluable.
I discovered Kytherian cemeteries are not as old as I would have thought. Most cemeteries only had graves from about the 1950s onwards. Of course, some were older, but most were not. A grave from the 1920s or 1930s was a novelty in most cemeteries. This makes sense as a cemetery was normally in the grounds of the local church. Most churches are in the heart of the village, and this is not the ideal place for a cemetery today. It is obvious the cemeteries were moved. Notice how the town squares are always near the church? This is probably where the original cemeteries were. We did find a few monuments on the grounds near churches or in cemeteries that were memorials to those who remained in the old cemetery when the cemetery was repositioned. Many of these repositioned cemeteries had spectacular views or wonderful surrounds, others were just peaceful locations fitting for a cemetery. We also found a special vault in Chora cemetery that was dedicated to those buried at the old Cerigo British Cemetery. This is a fine example of acknowledging British occupation on the island.
Most of the graves are large and made of marble or stone and above ground, but a few just had a cross positioned at the top of a plot of earth where the bodies are obviously buried.
A grave typically has the name of the deceased, death age or date and sometimes birth years or dates. The great feature about a Kytherian graves is there is often multiple generations in the one grave and there are quite often photos of some of the people in the grave. For a family historian, this is priceless. Because of this I have found details of people whose birth records no longer exist, matched wives to husbands, and found photos of people that have withstood the harsh Kytherian weather year after year, often for decades.
But of course, there are always problems as well. Lots of graves would just have the name of the eldest couple in the grave. We know the rest of the family would be in the grave as well, but there is nothing on the grave. Also, some graves just had a name. No other details. It is impossible to determine who these graves belong to. There are also graves where there are names engraved on the tombstone for people who we know died in Australia. Some may have died in Australia and their bodies sent to Kythera for burial, but others are known to be buried in Australia. There are also people whose name appear on their family tombstone and again on their spouse’s tombstone. How can we be sure any person on a tombstone is buried in that grave?
Some graves also had names of people who are still alive. It is obvious that a person has died, and the spouse has engraved their name as well so when they die, all that is left to be done is engrave the death date. There are also dozens of brand-new looking graves that have no engraving at all on them These were not photographed.
I have spent the last few months organising the photos and analysing the information that can be found on each grave. Many graves have been added to the resource page of our website already. Hopefully in the coming weeks the last graves and images of people found on these graves will be added. We hope this will be a resource that many people will appreciate and will be viewed for many decades to come.
I have been doing my person family history for over 14 years and I discovered the graves of two sets of my great grandparents that I did not know existed. Have a look and see if your ancestors are there. There is always something new that can be discovered.