by Peter W. Dickson
Among all the discoveries that I have made since 1985 in uncovering the amazing history of the Tsintzinian pioneers in America, I find it humbling and even perplexing to admit that none may equal the most recent discovery which is so fantastical to be almost beyond belief. The following account explains how I inadvertently stumbled upon the existence of a family in Texas which actually carries as a family name the name of our nine hundred year old village.
As we all know, many families have existed in Tsintzina since it emerged sometime before the twelfth century. Some families have lived there almost from the beginning and many others settled in Tsintzina after 1500 after coming from some other part of Greece or the Greek islands. It is easy to identify the later arrivals because of the character of the names clearly indicates they came from Crete, Chios, Messina, the Mani or other parts of the Peloponnesos.
Over the centuries, no one has ever heard of anyone taking as a family name the name of Tsintzina itself. This would not have been unusual because of this phenomenon of a place or geographical name becoming a family name is well known among all cultures. Among Greeks, we have Smyrniotis for Smyrna, Rumeliotis for Rumely, and of course Tsakonas for Tsakonia. But we have never heard or even imagined that there could be a family with a name derived from Tsintzina. Until now.
The detective story begins with Vanessa Andris who at the 1990 Tsintzinian Convention told me that she read about a weathly family named Zizinia from Egypt. She directed me to the February 1990 issue of Architectural Digest which noted that a prosperous and beautiful section of Alexandria was Zinzinia after a wealthy Greek family of this name.
After reading this article, I told Vanessa that I had come across this Zizinia family several years earlier when I read a famous book about the aristocratic Greco-Genoese families of the Aegean island of Chios written by Philip Argenti. The book in French but published by Oxford University Press in 1955 makes clear that this family was one of thirty that had their own coat of arms and a long history on the island going back several centuries. The family tree of the Zizinia family going back to the 18th century was in volume two of Argenti's book which is English is known as The Golden Book (Libro d'Oro) of the Noble Families of Chios. Some Zizinians went to Egypt in the 1800's.
However, I now realize that I was wrong when I told Vanessa there was no connection between the Zizinia family and Tsintzina the village. During a visit to the Library of Congress on May 27, while pursuing research on Christopher Columbus and his connection to Chios, I decided to take another look at the section of Argenti's book on the Zizinia family. On the page showing the family coat of arms, I noticed on the left was the Italian version of the name (Zizinia). On the right, however, was the original family name in the Greek language which I stupidly and amazingly overlooked ten years ago. The original Greek name was "Tsitsinias" which is the ancient and correct spelling of our village's name. Later, a second "n" was added and the second "s" became a "z" to produce Tsintzina.
The Zizinia family name reflects the obvious linguistic need of the Italians, in this case the Genoese who ruled Chios from 1346-1566 to substitute "z" for "ts". This is how "Tsintsinia" and "Zizinia."
Furthermore, Argenti's discussion of the family history supports this interpretation because he stated that the origin of this family is a mystery. He speculated that the Zizinians came from the Peloponnesos or some other Greek island. He notes that the name never appears in Genoese documents, the family came to Chios relatively later after 1600, and the name is obviously not of Hellenic origin. Argenti's last point is correct. Tsitsina or today Tsintzina is a Slavic word or name for a thorny bush found in our ancestral mountain village. Many other villages in Greece have names of Slavic origin.
In any case, the family with this name first appears in Chios in the 1600s and the first identifiable person is a Stephanos Zizinia born in Chios in 1730. The family after the massacre of 1823 moved to Constantinople, Eqypt, and Marseilles. One small branch settled in the New York area in the late 1800s and eventually moved to Texas. This is the only branch in which the Zizinia family name survives. I have made contact with them and have invited them to join us at our annual convention in Jamestown.
The connection between the village and this family is unmistakable. There is only one Tsintzina in the entire world and the Zizinia (Tsitsinia) family arrived in Chios more than 300 years ago from some other part of Greece. This long lost connection has to be the most amazing, nearly unbelieveable story in the long saga of the Tsintzinians. One has to wonder whether the Tsintzinians, many of whom became extremely wealthy in Alexandria at the turn of the century, ever bothered to ask about the origins of this other prominent Greek family living in the same city.
One has to marvel at the fact that this family name would only survive in America (Texas) and also in the same country where the Tsintzinians stand forth as not only the oldest group of people originally from one town or place outside America still maintaining their social bond in this country over 120 years. This fantastical story is a candidate for Ripley's Believe it or Not!