Greece has a troubled past regarding its many children who were sent abroad supposedly as orphaned Greek adoptees during the dark days of civil war and the difficult decades afterward. Many were not orphans at all but were taken from their parents and “sold” outright to unknowing families.
Although some adoptees who had left the country as far back as the Revolution, in order to escape the ravages of war, rose to great prominence in the US and other lands, many of the most recent wave of adoptees were not given up voluntarily by their parents, but were actually stolen from them.
As in the famous case of the Patras Orphanage and other such institutions, some children were taken from their mothers after being told that their son or daughter had died soon after birth. After the child had been spirited away, they would have been told by their new adoptive parents that their parents were likewise dead.
This was the case for Linda Carol Trotter, whose real name is Eftychia Noula and whose mother had indeed not given her up voluntarily. Like so many others, Linda Carol, who grew up in Texas in a loving home with her adoptive parents, had been told that her biological mother was no longer alive back in Greece.
DNA Testing Much Less Common in Greece
Now Linda Carol is devoting her life to a mission to link these adoptees in any way she can with their birth families so that they can finally discover their own roots, and she spoke with Greek Reporter this week to tell us more about her most recent quest.
Initially using genealogical and orphanage records to make the connections, as part of her nonprofit called The Eftychia Project — a very meaningful title since that was her birth name, meaning “happiness,” and the emotion she gives to adoptees when they finally discover their biological families — she is now using DNA to do so.
“It all started when Greek families began to come to The Eftychia Project to ask for help in finding their lost children, either children they knew had been given for adoption, or in most cases, they suspected the children they were told had died at birth or shortly thereafter had been taken in an illegal adoption scheme,” Linda Carol explains.
“In many of these cases, there was often no birth certificate or death certificate, and the parents were never allowed to see the body of the child. When these families began approaching us in ever-increasing numbers, it occurred to us that most of them had likely never done DNA,” she adds.
With the burgeoning interest in DNA testing in the Americas, many US citizens take it for granted that they will find close relatives when they send in their sample, since so many have taken part in this revolutionary testing. However, Trotter says that Greek-born adoptees experienced yet more disappointment after having their DNA done, “getting nothing closer than 4th cousins when they did their DNA tests with the 3 major DNA platforms,” she notes to Greek Reporter.
“While many Greek Americans, Greek Canadians and Greek Australians do DNA testing, it didn’t seem to be a ‘thing’ for actual Greeks in Greece. So, it was obvious to us that something needed to be done to increase the number of actual Greeks in Greece in the DNA pool,” she says with her typical determination.
DNA Helps sisters rediscover each other
“That was the start of our DNA kit distribution program. Our thought was that maybe, just maybe, one of the children these families were looking for was one of us. And knowing that the cost of a DNA kit might be prohibitive for many Greek families, why not make them available for those who come to us for help ?” she asks.
The nonprofit also makes DNA kits available for adoptees who might not be able to purchase them. Last year, in the middle of the pandemic in July, The Eftychia Project purchased 12 DNA kits, from both 23andMe and MyHeritage. Trotter then took them to Greece on a trip that spanned part of July and half of August, collecting the first 12 samples.
“A month later, in September,” she relates, “one of the MyHeritage samples reunited Pitsa, an adoptee from Thessaloniki who had never left Greece, with her two older sisters. And unbeknownst to the three of them, they had been living 80 kilometers apart for seven decades. After that, we decided this was something we needed to continue.”
All those who now ask how they can contribute toward The Eftychia Project are requested to donate DNA kits. “After all, the more Greeks in Greece in the DNA pool, the better, even if we have to do it one DNA test at a time,” Trotter says.
Every Greek trip still emotional for Eftychia Project founder
That was only the beginning of her travels around Greece to distribute DNA kits to the Greek families and adoptees who had approached the organization for help.
Taking an average of one trip every other month, incredibly, her next trip will be her 30th to Greece in just a little over four years, she notes. So far, her quest to reunite Greek adoptees with their birth families has taken her all over Greece – Athens, Korinthos, Patras, Kavasila, Zakinthos, Kefalonia, Igoumenitsa, Kerkyra, Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Larissa, Volos, Chalkida, and Crete.
“In the beginning, the families write in Greek to me and I answer,” Trotter explains, as she writes and reads Greek better than she speaks the language. “But when I meet them in person, I’m often without anyone who speaks both languages, so I have to wing it on my own. But the people I meet are so kind and gracious,” she adds.
The tireless researcher just returned from her most recent foray to Greece, which lasted from August 10 to September 14, 2021. While there, she collected 15 DNA samples, with seven of those “collected on a whirlwind trip toward the end of my time in Greece, she relates to Greek Reporter.
“In four days, I visited Kerkyra (Corfu), Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Larissa, Volos and Athens. Each place I went, the families went out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable, often inviting me to their homes,” she says.
To reclaim part of a “lost Greek childhood I never knew”
“These meetings, while emotional for the families, are also emotional for me. No longer am I communicating via Facebook Messenger or email to names on a screen without a face, I am sitting face-to-face with living, breathing human beings who pour out their hearts and their heart-wrenching stories of loss and longing to be reunited with their lost children,” Trotter explains.
“I have shed more than a few tears with all of them, for as a Greek adoptee myself, I feel their pain. And once we have collected the DNA sample, with me often encouraging them “μόνο λίγο περισσότερο σάλιο!” (only a little more saliva), they invariably ask me to share a meal with them.
“This is perhaps the most touching thing of all, and why I have often said that I think I get more out of this DNA kit distribution program than they do,” Trotter acknowledges to Greek Reporter.
“I am seated with their family at a table loaded with delicious homemade Greek food, and we laugh and talk and drink their homemade wine and tsipouoro. But for me, it is far more than just a friendly meal — it is confirmation that I belong, that I am accepted, that I am loved as a fellow Greek.
“It is what, had I grown up in Greece, would have happened at the family meals, and it is an opportunity to reclaim a little piece of the lost Greek childhood I never knew,” she says with great emotion.
“I meet these people at their homes, at the kafeneio, at a taverna and sometimes, in my car. The last DNA sample I collected on this trip was in Rethymno, Crete. My husband and I stopped there on our way back from spending the afternoon at the archaeological site of the palace at Knossos, which my husband had never seen.
“I have dreamed of my sister my whole life”
“I pulled up into a parking spot at a local supermarket in the middle of town and telephoned Stavroula, the woman who would do the DNA test. In a few minutes she arrived, getting into the back seat of my car to do the test, Trotter recalls.
“She said she was looking for her sister, born healthy in the hospital of Rodos. Her mother saw the baby for a few days, then was abruptly told the baby had died. The family was not given the body, nor is there a birth or a death certificate. Once she had given the DNA sample and it was sealed into the bag for its trip to the lab, she took my hand and began to sob.
“‘Thank you, thank you. I have dreamed of my sister my whole life. I have dreamed of finding her, that she is out there somewhere. Maybe the DNA is our only chance to find her,” Stavroula told Trotter.
“Her parents are older now, she said, and they regretted never questioning the doctors. Her one wish is to find her sister before her parents pass away. I am not stoic enough to remain detached — I dissolved into tears, too,” Trotter tells Greek Reporter.
Another incredible story of loss — and possible redemption — is that of Aristidis, whom Trotter met at a café in Agia Paraskevi and who is searching for his twin brothers. The twins were born at Mitera hospital, both alive and seemingly healthy.
In another very questionable episode in the ugly history of Greek adoptions, Trotter explains that his mother saw only one of them, one time; three days later, she was told that one of the twins had died. Just six days after she had given birth, she was told that the other had also passed away.
In an echo of what happened so very many times to unknowing Greek parents, she never saw the bodies of the twins, since the hospital said they “would take care of them.” Both of the boys had supposedly been baptized as “Konstantinos” and “Aristidis,” but there was no birth certificate for either of them, nor has any death certificate ever been found.
“How is this possible?”
When the boys would have turned 18, however, Aristidis’ parents received a bolt out of the blue when they got a letter from the Greek Army, telling both boys — using these same birth names — that it was their time to appear for military training.
“’How is this possible?’ Aristidis asks. ‘How can these boys be called to the Army if they were never registered?’ The conclusion, of course, is obvious. Someone must have registered them, but who? DNA may be the only way we ever find the truth,” Trotter states to Greek Reporter.
Some adoptees have found real leads back to the old country, giving them a firm idea of who their birth family might be. Trotter also collects DNA on behalf of these adoptees who have found persons in Greece who may be related to them and have agreed to do a DNA test.
Adoptee Jill Pidgeon, who was adopted from the Patras Foundling Home, is one such person. The Patras orphanage, through which AHEPA made many adoptions, has very little documentation available on the children who passed through its doors.
Given the name Eleni, Pidgeon has been trying to find her biological family for years. DNA has led her to several possible names, and she has even been able to pinpointed the area in which she may have been born.
“I made a trip on her behalf to a nursing home in the mountains north of Diakopto and to the city of Patras to collect DNA. DNA is often the only tool for those adopted from the Patras Foundling Home,” Trotter explains.
DNA will help long-lost Greek adoptees discover family
“Records are few and far between for these adoptees and many were labeled ‘foundlings,’ with no clue to the names of their biological parents, she adds. “Time is running out,” Jill told Trotter with a sigh on her most recent trip. “I hope and pray that these results will bring me closer to my biological family. I hope for answers this time. For people like me, DNA is our only hope.”
But for more connections to be made for Greek adoptees, many more Greeks must have their DNA tested. The practice, now so common in the US, is less so in Greece, especially after the many years of financial hardship from which citizens have recently emerged.
In addition, the three major DNA companies — 23andMe, Ancestry and MyHeritage — really don’t advertise to Greeks, although MyHeritage has become more visible in the last couple of years, Trotter explains.
Another reason is that, like most people everywhere, most Greeks will tell you they certainly know who their family is and they don’t need DNA, she adds. “As an adoptee, I beg to differ – you might have someone like me in your family that was the big family secret, or the worst-kept family secret, as it was in my case,” she states.
Since DNA testing is generally not marketed to Greeks in Greece, they are also simply unaware of the power of DNA testing, which would enable long-lost Greek adoptees to finally discover their own biological families.
Unlike the DNA testing that is performed when paternity cases pop up, which can be very expensive, the DNA tests from these companies will compare your genes with millions of individuals, as many as are in their vast databases — not just one individual.
This makes DNA testing relatively inexpensive, considering the technology used.
Additionally, Trotter says, “If we use either 23andMe or Ancestry, we have the advantage of being able to upload the DNA file from either of those to My Heritage and GedMatch, giving the potential to match thousands of new potential relatives. At this time, you cannot upload My Heritage to either 23andMe or Ancestry, nor can you upload Ancestry to 23andMe or vice versa.
DNA project not a part of government research or experiment
“I think our biggest challenge is educating Greeks on how these DNA tests are done and how just a tiny tube of saliva or a scraping of the inside of someone’s cheek could reunite an adoptee and a biological family separated for decades,” Trotter explains to Greek Reporter.
Another issue is that, as she notes, “we also need to allay some common misconceptions of Greeks that their DNA will be used by some governmental agency or in some sort of research or experiment. There is always the ability to opt out of research or banking your DNA.
“We’ve also been made aware of Greeks who don’t want to do DNA because they’re afraid they will discover some ethnicity in their ancestry that, for whatever reason, they are not happy about. These ancestry estimates provided by the DNA companies are just that — estimates. These estimates are based on the people who are in that company’s database.
“For example, my own ancestry estimate on Ancestry.com, after the most recent update, has changed quite a bit from the previous estimate,” Totter explains. “I am now 54% Greece & Albania, 32% Aegean Islands and 9% Southern Italy. Essentially, I am 95% Greek. Before, there was no mention of the Aegean Islands and there were several odd groups that had nothing to do with Greece, but as more Greeks get into the database, the ancestry estimate can only become more accurate.”
Trotter shares that so far, The Eftychia Project has distributed 75 free DNA kits to Greek families and adoptees, but there is a great, ongoing need for additional kits now as more and more Greek families and adoptees ask her for help.
They accept donations of DNA kits from any of the three major platforms: 23andMe, Ancestry and MyHeritage. If any readers are moved to donate, they may send kits to the following address: The Eftychia Project, 1224-B Columbia Avenue, Suite 110, Franklin, TN 37064.
“In a perfect world,” Trotter says, “we wouldn’t have to ask for donations of DNA kits. In a perfect world, the Greek government would collaborate with us to help provide these kits, free of charge, for adoptees and families.
“But we don’t live in a perfect world, and so The Eftychia Project will continue its efforts to advocate on behalf of all Greek-born adoptees and Greek families for a collaborative DNA database, as well as the vitally important issues of transparency, open records and Greek citizenship for all Greek-born adoptees.”
The organization’s board of directors — all of whom are adoptees from the Patras Orphanage — who help make this possible are Maria Heckinger, Secretary; Merrill Jenkins, Treasurer; and Stephanie Pazoles, Intake Coordinator.
The Project says as part of its mission statement that “We believe that the knowledge of their roots and their biological family origins are basic human rights of all adoptees.
“We believe that Greek-born adoptees are entitled to unfettered access to Greek court, orphanage, institutional and organizational records, public and private, related to their adoptions, as well as their birth records and copies of ALL of their adoption-related documents.”
Trotter says that her organization indeed has been successful regarding the birth records issue for Greek adoptees, meeting with the department head of Orphanages and Foster Care in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. As a result of that 2 1/2 hour meeting, they are beginning work on a centralized, streamlined process that will make it easier for all of us to request our records, she states with satisfaction.
The tireless campaigner tells Greek Reporter that her mission continues unabated. “We will continue, on every trip to Greece, to collect DNA and increase the number of Greeks in Greece in the DNA pool, one DNA test at a time,” Trotter says with determination.