NJ teen’s summer (and year-round) job: Unearthing family trees
MEDFORD LAKES — When Eric Schubert needed to find a summer job a couple of years ago, he felt lazy. He didn't want to work in retail or food service or have regular hours. But then he realized he could employ himself by turning his hobby into his full-time business.
Now 17, Schubert runs ES Genealogy, which provides both paid and free services to people seeking more information about their ancestry. Schubert's own interest in the topic started around the age of 10, when he was home sick with pneumonia and his mother suggested he research his family tree as a way to stave off boredom.
What he found was surprising. Since he had no living grandparents, gaining firsthand knowledge was difficult. But after two or three years, he cracked a dormant family detail: One of his grandmothers was adopted.
Schubert continued to probe, building a list of genealogy sources through letter-writing, emailing, free and paid websites and Google searches. When he began to assist others in finding their relatives, Ancestry.com found out and tweeted about his work.
"I've helped somewhere upwards of 1,000 people, in that ballpark, in the last two years, between volunteer work and paid work, so it's kept me busy," Schubert said. "I set my own hours, I'm my own boss, and I do something I love."
A common misconception about the big-name sites like Ancestry.com, Schubert said, is that they'll do your research for you. That's not entirely true; you pay to access their records, but you then have to know how to make something out of what you're given. Much of Schubert's work revolves around that — not necessarily showing people their family trees, but showing them the skills to find out for themselves.
He also gives free presentations and speaking engagements at places like senior centers, and has branched out into adoption research as well.
Whatever Schubert's clients ask of him, he said they are almost always surprised to find out he's still just a teenager.
"My favorite thing is when people come to pick something up and I open up the door, and they think I'm the person's son or something. It's hilarious," he said. "People have no idea that I'm 17, for the most part. So I love shocking people with that."
As Schubert moves toward adulthood, he plans to continue ES Genealogy, which maintains a presence on Facebook and its own dedicated website, and help even more people in New Jersey and beyond find out things they wouldn't have otherwise known about their families.