Who are you again: Turks go crazy over genealogy service

Published 17.02.2018 00:00

For a country whose population is a rich mix of different ethnicities, paid genealogy services in Turkey oddly failed to catch up with the rest of the world. Nevertheless, a new e-governance service launched earlier this month changed this.

Within days of the launch, millions flocked to www.turkiye.gov.tr to find out who their ancestors were as the government made the genealogy archives online. It was previously available only to those personally applying to a civic registrar's office. The new service cut the red tape and enabled the public to trace their lineage with just a few clicks.

Officials said that more than 8 million people used the service since it was first launched on Feb. 8. But, the website crashed due to overwhelming traffic that day, forcing the authorities to suspend the service, only to relaunch it last week after improvement. Between 11 p.m. and 07:45 a.m. on Thursday only, some 3.1 million people used the service, bringing the total number of users to 8.1 million since Feb. 14.

The "Lineal Kinship Inquiry" service as it is officially titled, offers information about one's ancestors, up to the 19th century. Signed up with their national ID numbers and a free password provided by the citizenship services, users can learn a lot of details about their ancestors, from names and last names, dates of birth and death as well as the town, village or city of origin as well as marital status. As the preservation of civic registers has been a well-maintained practice only in later centuries of the Ottoman Empire, many can trace their ancestors only to early 19th century. The records also confused some users who pointed out that some of their great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers who lived and died before 1935 had last names but Turkey only adopted the practice of giving surnames that year. Another inconsistency in the records was the living status of some deceased persons.

Meanwhile, the genealogy information has been a popular fodder for humor online with one user describing how his ultranationalist friend was astounded to find out his grandfathers had names that did "not sound Turkish." Another social media user shared a screenshot of the name of a couple in his lineage who were conveniently named Adem and Havva (Adam and Eve in Turkish). Photo of people in a bus holding printouts of family trees while chattering on the phone to their friends about their newly discovered ancestors was among the images that went viral after the service was launched.

On the other hand, experts warn that sharing screenshots of genealogy information on the digital citizenship website had security risks. Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Yavuz Selim Yüksel, a cybersecurity expert, said openly sharing the information online about one's details can benefit hackers and con artists who can use the information to forge IDs. "Hackers, for instance, dig up every data about their target and plan their attacks accordingly. They can find out about your mother's maiden name [a common question asked by banks to online customers and customers calling the call centers to confirm the authenticity of their identity] through the genealogy screenshots you share," he said. Ali Keskin, another expert, says information on the social media about one's ID data can be used to produce fake IDs and warn that criminals even use the personal data to set up fake businesses for the purpose of fraud.

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