Weaponized Genealogy

Woodcutters know that occasionally a whole tree can land on your head. Clonk! So can family trees.

A lot of people found that out when the 2030 GOP platform declared war on anchor babies and marriages of convenience. Only the descendants of documented immigrants should be United States citizens. A “one bad apple” clause even said that all one’s immigrant ancestors had to be documented.


Some redneck was raving that it wasn’t enough. “I don’t want some immigrant’s kids polluting my neighborhood. Even if they are documented!” Behind him, a number of good American citizens were waving their fists in the air. I wondered how many of them could document all their ancestors.

“What about grandkids?” asked the lady with the microphone.

“Same thing!” he screamed.

Behind him, someone screamed “NO!!” and lifted an assault rifle into sight. He was wearing a black ball-cap with a swastika on it.

My wife, Caroline, was shaking her chestnut head, just the way I imagined she did for her high school history students. “Citizen used to mean just resident, someone who lived in the city.”

“Is that what it says in the history books they make you use?”

She gave me the Look that usually meant I was an idiot. History had been a political football for years.

“They didn’t used to have the paperwork. Just got off the boat.”

“Can you talk about this in class?”

“Not in the curriculum.”

“No current events?”

“By the time they’re approved, they’re not current.”

I was an accountant. No politicians telling me how to do it. They didn’t interfere with my hobby, either. I did genealogy, mostly for the family. But sometimes…


My elevator pitch for the VC Speedfest was short and sweet: “Posthumous documentation for politicians’ ancestors.”

That was enough for Victor Argelis to say, “He’s mine,” stand up from the table of venture capitalists, grab my elbow, and pull me into a breakout room.

“I can see it,” he said. He was a middle-aged fellow in an expensive suit with a plain blue tie. His hairline was almost out of sight. “My sister married a Mormon, so I know about their posthumous baptism scam. Now tell me more.”

“I’m a genealogist,” I said. “It was just a hobby until…”

Argelis was nodding.

“Texas,” I said. “Travis Crockett declared for governor, and his Democratic opponent, Adam Burton, claimed he couldn’t run because he wasn’t a citizen, according to his own platform. His Irish great-great-grandmother wasn’t documented.”

“What about Burton?”

“He said he was covered. As a descendant of slaves, his ancestors were documented on bills of lading. His great-grandmother was a Native American, but they aren’t immigrants.”

Argelis laughed. “Crockett loved that!”

“And he called me. He wanted me to find some undocumented branch on Burton’s tree.”

“Weaponized genealogy.”

“It astonished me. I never dreamed a genealogist could be a political operative.”

Argelis did not ask whether I’d found what Crockett wanted. “And then you made the Mormon hop.”

I nodded. “I filed for the patent immediately. Then I asked Immigration what forms I’d need. They had no idea, but after a couple of months they said they could see the need.”

“Anything yet?”

“We agreed that starting with the first US census in 1790, anyone listed in two censuses in a row, at least until we had Ellis Island, should qualify. Not that everyone got censused, but then there were military records, court records, tax and real estate records. And most of it’s online, these days.”

“Hmm.” Argelis rubbed his chin. It was late enough in the day to make a scratchy noise. “Public records.”

“That’s genealogy for you. Most people haven’t a clue.”

“And what’s the income stream look like?”

“Politicians to start with. There’s what? Twenty thousand state and federal. Another half million local. I’ve been charging them 500 for each ancestor I have to document, and a lot more for oppo research.”

“You don’t need venture capital for that.”

“Ordinary people are going to need it to vote. So that’s another 300 million customers.”

“In a rush, if that GOP platform turns into law.” Argelis opened his tablet and began to type. I could just see that he was working in a spreadsheet and a browser. Checking my figures. After a few minutes, he asked, “How much do you need?”


I was chuffed. Big time!

I rented office space, bought computers, and hired fifty fresh-out-of-college researchers. As soon as a few states turned that part of the GOP platform into law, we got busy.

For a couple of months anyway. Then it seemed that each new customer took less time to process. And generated less income.

I called a meeting and asked the team leaders, “What’s going on? Are people getting lazy?”

Angela Foamonwater said, “Graph theory.”

It rang a bell from college, and Angela had been a math major. After a moment, I said just, “Family trees.”

“Are graphs.” She nodded. “And they share nodes with each other.”

I saw it instantly. “People share ancestors. So the longer we stay at this, the less we have left to do.”

Someone else asked, “How long do we have?”


“That didn’t last long,” said Caroline.

I sighed. “Long enough. We can retire early.”

“Or just go someplace where teachers can teach. A new house would be nice.”

Victor Argelis wasn’t upset. We’d done very well for a while, so he’d made his money back. I had money in the bank too.

I was upset, though. I was an accountant. I was supposed to understand numbers. How had I missed how limited my big project really was?

I felt like a family tree had landed on my head.

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