John (Ioanni) Alfieris and Maria (Marigoula) Chlentzos-Alfieris

  • 1883-John was born in Kytherian village of Potamos, the capital of the island.  He died in Oakland, California, in 1966, at age 83.
  • 1881-Maria was born in the Kytherian village of Christofornianika.  She died in Concord, California, in 1968, age 87.


Potamos and Christofornianika are small villages dotted with many stone and mud dwellings.  Because of the many earthquakes in Greece, most have fallen or are in disarray and totally uninhabitable.  This is a 2005 photo of the Alfieris family home in Potamos where John lived until he immigrated to America.

PapouHouse2 PapouHouse3

Maria and John were both from large families.  Of all his siblings, John was the only one who came to America.  Some stayed in Greece; most of the others went to Australia.

Maria and John’s fathers were farmers, as were most men on Kythera.  The mothers cooked, cleaned, and raised their families.  Bread was an important staple; the women baked in a community oven that was built outdoors in the central square of each village.  The only available food was what they could raise on the island, so they had an abundance of fruits, vegetables, chicken, goat (for meat and milk), and wine.

The summers on Kythera are wonderful; from April to September it’s a warm, Mediterranean island with gentle sea breezes and endless pristine beaches.  But the winters are harsh—cold and damp—so the islanders had to preserve the food they gathered in the warm months for the winter.  By our standards, it was an extremely difficult life—no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity until the 1920s.

The Greek Orthodox religion played a central role in their lives.  Every single village (there are a lot of them on the island) has its own tiny church, built by hand by the men of each village.  Religious holidays played a huge part in the villagers’ lives—they were in church almost every day. The seated child in this photograph is Maria, age 9 or 10.


Maria and John were minimally educated and did not progress past grammar school, but both could read and write Greek.  They were savvy, innately intelligent and deeply religious.  Family came first, always. They instilled in their children and grandchildren the value of unbreakable family cohesion and loyalty, and their progeny maintain those bonds to this day.

Maria and John married at age 19 and went to Alexandria, Egypt for a few years.  During those years, they had three children:

  1. Giorgio (George) born in Alexandria, Egypt, who died at age 3
  2. Konstantino (Gus) born in Alexandria, Egypt 1905
  3. Spyrithoula (Lula) born in Alexandria, Egypt 1907

John came to America alone  in 1903 to earn money for the passage of Maria and their two remaining children, Konstantino and Spiridula, pictured below.  He went directly to Oakland where he had a sponsor for his immigration.  Maria and the two children followed in 1907.  They all came through Ellis Island.


In America they added five more children, making a total of seven in all.

Haralambos (Harry) born in Oakland CA 1909
Aspasia (Alice) born in Oakland CA 1910
Efrosini (Florence) born in Oakland CA 1913
Evangelia (Angie) born in Oakland CA 1915
Miltiades (Milton) born in Oakland CA 1922

1918onLog 1925Gus&Harry 1919Alfiers 1916grapes 1914YP&Girls













1953. John and Maria in 1952, in their Oakland,California, backyard with all their children and their spouses just before they visited Kythera that year.  They only returned to Kythera once.

Maria’s faith was deep, unshakable.  She insisted all her daughters be married in the Greek Orthodox Church.  She participated for decades in church life and established lifelong relationships with many other Greek families in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She was extremely social, as was John.  He was continually asked to act as Master of Ceremonies at weddings and large gatherings (he was also a comedian).

An example of Maria’s faith: In 1960, just as one of her granddaughters was about to be married in the Greek Orthodox church San Francisco, Maria pinned a tiny cloth packet to the bride’s wedding dress where it couldn’t be seen.  She explained it held a clove of garlic to ward off the Evil Eye from people who would envy her granddaughter’s happiness and youth.  Her granddaughter didn’t dare object.  Along with the fierce belief in God, Maria (and countless other Greeks) believed the Evil Eye came from the Devil himself, through people who could plant a “curse” on anyone they envied.  And this curse could only be countered with wearing garlic and/or a cross necklace.  If anyone succeeded in transmitting the Evil Eye, the recipient fell ill, sometimes even died.  Maria and her peers knew many counter measures to kill off the Evil Eye.  One such strategy was to place a knife under the affected victim’s bed and stay by the bedside praying for God’s help, cursing Satan, and offering certain teas and foods until the victim recovered.  Maria related many of these stories to her children and grandchildren, and she was dead-serious.

Years after they immigrated to Oakland, California, and were established in the Greek community, they, along with other Kytherian immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area founded the Kytherian Society of California in 1950 specifically to keep their island ties alive.  Many of their children belonged to that group during their lifetimes, and their children and grandchildren, along with their Kytherian cousins, keep the organization alive today.

Photos of their children