A Few Key Aspects of Identity and Genealogy Today
Richard S. Dick, Ph.D.
Personal Name and Identity
I wish to focus on a just few key aspects of Identity. First is our own actual identity, of living persons. A central feature of our own identity is our actual, legitimate and legal personal name. Personal names across the globe are far more complex than most people in our modern era would imagine. That fact is true for our current nationalities all around the world, but it is even more so as we begin going across the globe and also back in time over centuries and millennia. Also, personal names have, in many cases, been changed one or more times (e.g. Cassius Clay vs. Muhammad Ali - as just one modern famous example) during a person’s lifetime and therefore this adds further complexity in determining, with a high degree of certainty, who someone is as a statement of fact. Therefore, we must have an infinitely extensible data structure for defining the initial and core feature of establishing – the data “Field” called: “Personal_Name.” To amplify that statement, the infinitely extensible data structure must be sufficiently flexible to accurately and completely store the full name(s – yes plural as they can have many) of any individual, in any language across all time, in any nation, in any culture across all time! The same could be said of relevant stored dates as well (e.g. Birth / Marriage / Death), being flexible enough to accurately store any date in any calendar, in any language, in any culture, in any period of the world’s history!
So one might ask: “What is the language used for storing this instance of a person’s actual Personal_Name?” It is crucial to know and be able to accurately store that aspect of any instance of a person’s Name.
Language is very interesting and it is a crucial element for Identity. First, there are what are known as “Living Languages” – those languages which are currently in use in various parts of the world. Greek for example, is the oldest Living Language in the world, dating back to before 3,000 BCE, though it has had many changes over time.
Then, there are Extinct Languages and Dead Languages: An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers, or that is no longer in current use especially, if the language has no living descendants. Extinct languages are sometimes contrasted with Dead languages, which are still known and used but usually only in special contexts such as in written form, but not as ordinary spoken languages for everyday communication. It is important to be able to track and store the actual official list of languages and the Library of Congress helps the ISO to maintain such an official list of languages across time.
Fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, we cannot actually legitimately, change our actual lineage, after the fact. The “line of ancestors” (e.g. who we came from or our progenitors) is much like the modern “distributed ledger technologies,” whereby we cannot legitimately change or alter that actual “line” from whence we came! It is just a fact of life and historically proven, that in virtually all cultures, one’s lineage is a major part of each individual’s identity.
Sometimes our ancestors include those of less than noble reputation or stature as history may judge them. But since we cannot choose our ancestors (an established fact of history), it may become crucial (yes, sometimes even essential to survival) to avoid negative opinions being formed by what might be called “Guilt by Ancestry!” For example, most persons today, would not like to be identified as a direct descendent of Adolf Hitler or other “infamous persons.”
Privacy and Consent
A person that is now living should be able to limit access to their list of ancestry, for whatever reason they might deem appropriate or legitimate. Therefore, empowering choice and use of legal consent, must be a meaningful, even a foundational element of capturing, maintaining and access to genealogical data. This is especially or particularly germane concerning some cultures and regions across the world today, as well as in the past. Unfortunately, history is replete with numerous examples of “Hate and Grudges” being held and maintained going forward for millennia! In order for privacy to be maintained, access to one’s genealogical data must therefore be enabled via appropriate authorized consent.
Identity, Buttressed by Ancestry
In addition to the “Personal Name,” in the past or historically, those from whence we came, (our lineage or ancestry), has been an important part of establishing one’s actual identity. It is important to note that in our modern era, knowledge of details about certain individuals among our ancestors can also be used to establish higher levels of certainty about one’s own identity today! For example, knowing specific details / stories / events about certain of our ancestors that others do not have access to, can help today in establishing much higher levels of certainty about one’s own actual Identity! Here is yet another example of why access to certain details about our ancestors should be able to be kept private and exposed or accessible to only those with appropriate authorization or consent.