Own thy name

Today I received a mail via Geneanet containing this phrase: “I just happened to look into my family tree, which by the way I started many Years ago, and discovered change of ownership. What I like to know is; what gives you the right to claim ownership over a family tree to which you’re not related?”

Where does one even start to put an end to this confusion?  I could not help making a quip about the genes on his side of the family not being very friendly. Then I referred the man to the Geneanet help-desk, hopefully they can sort him out.

However, this incident has left me with a question. What does “ownership” mean in this particular case? A particular stake on Geneanet? Obviously I did not take over any family tree, he must have come across  my name because the same names are in my tree. Or a claim to exclusiveness on information about my great-grandmother who bears the same name as this irritable guy? I collected all this information by myself from Dutch archives, but then he might have done the same. Or the right to exercise administrative power as pater or mater familias to the family tree? Is my name mine or someone else’s? As it happens,  my official name is not the name that I was born with, and I do not feel I own either name; I am, in fact, nameless. There is a beautiful Dutch poem about not being named.  I will post it below . It has meant different things to me at different times of my life.

It is strange how I felt compelled to defend myself against this alleged theft of ownership, without knowing what the word actually means in this particular context.

The Dutch poem I referred to just now:

Mijn moeder is mijn naam vergeten.
Mijn kind weet nog niet hoe ik heet.
Hoe moet ik mij geborgen weten?

Noem mij, bevestig mijn bestaan,
Laat mijn naam zijn als een keten.
Noem mij, noem mij, spreek mij aan,
o, noem mij bij mijn diepste naam.

Voor wie ik liefheb, wil ik heten.

Author:  Neeltje Maria Min, 1966 

In translation: My mother has unremembered me/ my child is not yet aware  / now who am I? Name me, confirm my existence/ let my name be a like a chain/ name me, name me, address me/ o, call me by my deepest name. For you my loved ones, I will have my name


This story has an unexpected ending. You remember me somewhat acidly suggesting to the guy who wrote me the email, about his gene pool not being very friendly? As it turns out, he is a very friendly guy AND family. He knew my maternal great-grandparents; he was their nephew. He emigrated to Canada many years ago. We are in regular touch now.

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