The problem many people experience in researching their Greek heritage often lies in locating Greek records that go back more than two or three generations.

Often, the original Greek surname was changed or shortened, meaning that trying to locate older records in Greece is nearly impossible because the names don't match. Original Greek surnames can offer potential clues to a family's specific Greek lineage, as many of the prefixes and suffixes designate geographic areas within Greece.

For example, the suffix "akis" often designates a family from Crete. Similarly, the suffix "ellis" often means a family is from the island Lesbos, and "oudas" means from northern Greece (Macedonia). The prefix "Kondo" often designates a family from a Greek island (kondo means short").

Surnames weren't adopted in Greece until the fifteenth century, and even then they weren't always hereditary, although most were patronymic in origin. Parishes of the Greek Orthodox Church are valuable resources for Greek family records, and searches can begin with a family's church in the United States, if applicable. Greek immigrants tended to settle together and create self-sustained Greek communities, complete with their own coffee houses, grocery stores, Greek Orthodox Churches, political clubs and benefits societies.

The first actual Greek colony established in America was in New Smyrna, Florida, in 1768. Although this colony was disbanded by 1777, many of the original Greek residents moved to nearby Saint Augustine to become merchants, building a school and chapel there. The next major wave of Greek immigrants to America occurred between 1890 and 1917 due to low wages and high unemployment rates in Greece. Greek colonies were established during this time in Lowell, Massachusetts, Manhattan and Chicago.

The second great wave of Greek immigrants occurred between 1965 and 1999, mostly due to the 1965 Immigration Act that made it easier to emigrate to America. This is why census records, passenger manifests and immigration and naturalization records are all important tools for the family researcher. These records often list the Greek village or town where your ancestor came from, giving you a specific place to start with Greek records searches.