Eric Schubert’s friends call him “the world’s oldest teenager,” and maybe they have a point. The 17-year-old senior at Shawnee High School in Medford Lakes runs a thriving business in a field that’s more likely to attract people planning for retirement than fielding college acceptances. When he isn’t studying or volunteering (he helps oversee two nonprofits), he spends his time tracing family histories and tracking down long-lost relatives. He launched his company, ES Genealogy, in early 2016, and over the past three years has unlocked family mysteries for hundreds of clients across the country.
Those mysteries might have been unsolved were it not for a bout of pneumonia Schubert suffered in fourth grade. Stuck at home for days, he felt as sidelined by boredom as by his illness. His mother saw an advertisement for the genealogical website ancestry.com and suggested he check it out to pass the time. “I was always interested in history,” says Schubert, who had already committed to memory all the presidents and their terms of office in chronological order. “As soon as I figured out that genealogy was history, I was hooked.”
Initially, he concentrated on tracing his own family history, discovering, for example, that his family surname wasn’t originally Schubert, but Grzegorzewski. (“Thirteen letters, very Polish,” he says. “My grandfather changed it before he got married.”) But after four years, he figured he had learned most of what there was to know about his personal ancestry. He might have given up his hobby for good, but luckily, he needed a job.
“At 15,” he says, “there wasn’t much I could do.” So either he or his mother—the two can’t quite agree on this point—decided he should find out if folks in the community might want to hire him to research their family trees. “I thought it was a great idea,” Schubert recalls, “but I didn’t think there would be that much interest. Boy, was I wrong.”
Soon he was riding a wave of genealogical fascination generated by sites like Ancestry and MyHeritage and DNA services like 23andMe. In fact, based on data from 2016, genealogy is America’s second most popular hobby (the first is gardening). Since launching his business, Schubert has delved into the family histories of more than 1,000 clients, compiling custom scrapbooks and family trees. He’s learned that the Internet will take him only so far, and that sometimes, only an old-fashioned letter will secure the information he’s seeking. Among the secrets he’s uncloaked are a client’s relative born at the same time and in the same small Austrian town as Adolf Hitler, and for an adoptee, the unsettling fact that her birth parents died by murder/suicide.
He hopes he can keep the business going over the next four years while he attends Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. “I can never stay away from it for too long,” he says of an enterprise that’s also clearly a passion. At college, he plans to study social studies education and—no surprise—history.Click here to leave a comment