Teenage genealogist has a gift for linking your past to your present
Meet Eric Schubert, whose childhood passion for puzzles and love of exactitude in all things serves him well, at 18, as a genealogist-for-hire.
Eric Schubert became a genealogist because he loves doing puzzles, solving mysteries, and chasing facts wherever they go.
He discovered his avocation-turned-vocation about eight years ago, when he was a fourth grader stuck at home with pneumonia and in desperate need of something — anything — to occupy his mind and keep his mother from losing hers.
Fortunately for both of them, Schubert immediately took to genealogy, a pursuit generally associated with folks who are more conscious, shall we say, of their lack of immortality than are younger people.
“Genealogy is something that naturally fits with me,” he says. “I love solving the mysteries in family trees. I’ve always been interested in doing puzzles, and genealogy is a great big puzzle.
“My friends call me the ‘world’s oldest teenager.’ I get a laugh out of it. And I get it, too,” says Schubert, who turned 18 in April and graduated from Shawnee Regional High School in June.
“As a joke, I like to say I spend my spare time stalking dead people."
Schubert researched family trees as a hobby for about five years and established his business, ESGenealogy, in 2016. His earnings are modest but they’ll help offset the cost of freshman year at Pennsylvania’s Elizabethtown College, where he plans to major in education and history.
“I’m not surprised at all he’s taken it this far,” Eric’s mother, Lisa, says of her son’s work. “He was always the kid [who] if he found something he liked … he did it 100 percent.”
I meet Schubert at Lakes Coffee in Medford Lakes, where he arranges his lemonade and laptop on a table. He suggested we chat at the lively little shop because “it’s less than a five-minute walk" from his parents’ home.
By the time our conversation ends, another example emerges of the detail-oriented approach he takes with his work: When I ask what Schubert’s brother does for a living, he fact-checks by calling up his older sibling’s Facebook page. Just to make sure.
“Obviously, you want to get it right,” says Schubert, who worked on Shawnee’s student newspaper and was a member of the photography club during his high school career. He’s made only two errors in the 1,000 genealogical cases he’s closed in the last three years, both due to incorrect information he was given, he said.
Sometimes a client comes to him after utilizing a home DNA test. Others involve adults who were adopted as children and want information about their birth identities and heritage.
Schubert connected his own father, whose mother had been adopted, to biological relatives he didn’t know he had. “He was able to find out who my grandfather actually was, and I now have a whole new branch of my family, which I find really neat,” Joseph Schubert tells me by text message.
One of his son’s recent clients was Samantha West, 52, of Gloucester Township, who was adopted at four months old. “Eric found out much more than I thought he would,” West says in an email, describing the young genealogist as "kind, intelligent, and genuinely interested in the ‘mysteries’ he helps solve.”
Schubert sees genealogy as something that can help people and enrich lives. So having empathy is essential, particularly given that adoption-related genealogical research, like home DNA tests, sometimes yield unexpected or upsetting results.
“I had to tell somebody their biological parents were killed in a murder-suicide,” he says. Twice, he had to inform people that they were conceived during sexual assaults. And in another case, a client who had known a family member as her aunt discovered the woman to be her half-sister.
“There can be a lot of heavy emotional stuff with this work,” says Schubert.
He once got a request to trace the family trees of the enslaved Africans a client’s ancestors had owned. He declined the case mainly because records kept by slave owners often are scant and of poor quality. And for all clients, he generally stops when a tree gets to the early 1700s; earlier records tend to be unreliable.
“If I can’t take a case as far as I would like, I refund their money,” says Schubert, who plans to continue his genealogy work during college.
But he doesn’t intend to make it his career.
“High school history teacher is the current plan,” he says. “If I had to change it, I would definitely [major] in business administration or communications.”
Sounds like any future genealogist (or biographer) who traces the arc of Eric Schubert’s life and career is going to have plenty to work with.