2013 Graduate Scholarship Recipient

Katherine Jarvis

My Family’s History on Kythera

       The discovery of my Greek heritage and my family’s ties to the Island of Kythera has been a recent one.  I have not grown up with the awareness of where my family came from.  I knew that my heritage was a complex mélange of European, with some Greek, Irish, Welsh, Italian, Spanish, and German.  My maternal aunt, Toni Cavalenes, undertook the daunting process of researching the Cavalenes family’s roots, and much to all of our surprise, she discovered that the name Cavalenes (also spelled Cavallini and Kavallini) has ties to an historical house on the island of Kythera, and that we have distant Greek relatives living in Australia!

         My Aunt Toni continued to research our family’s history, and with the help of a distant Greek-Australian cousin, Pauline, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together, revealing our family’s history.  The historic Kavallini house in the Bay of Avlemona, Kythera, was also known as “the house with the sun dial.”  It was initially purchased by a Kytherian family called Koundourioty in the early 1800’s, and it was used to safeguard the family’s ammunition and supplies during the Greek War of Independence.  Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for some 500 years, but the Ottoman army was defeated in 1822.  Kythera somehow avoided being occupied by the Ottomans, except for a period of 20 years in which Kythera was occupied by Venetians, and then 60 years by the British.  My earliest Greek ancestor, Angelo Kavallini, migrated to Kythera from Genoa, Italy, and purchased the house in Avlemona between 1821-1827.  He married Rose Vithy, converted to Greek Orthodoxy, and they had 5 sons and 5 daughters, whom they gave Greek names in order fit in with the culture.  Angelo was a Naval officer who had important diplomatic duties in establishing the new nation that is modern Greece.  His family remained in the house and used it as a customs house for trading in the harbor of Avlemona.

        The house was passed down to the next generations and is currently owned by John Claudanios, the great-great grandson of Angelo, who has made modern renovations to the house.  In the early 1900’s, 3 of Angelo’s grandchildren immigrated to America (Chicago, IL) and one immigrated to Australia, in search of economic opportunity.  One of the immigrants was Theodore, who is my great-grandfather.  At this point, our Greek heritage started to become lost, as Theodore raised four children in the Great Depression and tried to assimilate and survive in the United States.  One of Theodores’s children was my grandfather, John.  His family named him Yannis and called him John, but the name was lost in translation and his birth certificate said “Lawrence.”  Yannis’ living cousin, my great-uncle, George Cavalenes, is living in Chicago and is in his late 90’s.  He is still excited to find out information about his ancestry and has a vague memory of certain Greek customs from his childhood, such as eating the Greek Easter bread. 

          My mother, Cynthia Cavalenes-Jarvis, has been fortunate enough to travel to Kythera to explore our ancestry and experience Kytherian culture first hand.  Recently she contributed to the creation of the first ever public library on the island by donating bookshelves from a library in our hometown of Alhambra, CA.  I have seen pictures and heard wonderful stories about the island and I am hoping to join my family in a trip to Greece after I complete my Master’s program in Occupational Therapy.     

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