Faces of NextGen: Meet Eric Wells

Eric Wells, 38, Missouri

What five words would you use to describe yourself? Three instead: Just plain awesome.

Why genealogy? Genealogy was the unintended result of trying to assemble a photo book for my grandmother. She wanted to pass on hundreds of old original photographs to her five children, but ran into a problem when one or more photos needed to be given to more than one of her children. I had no idea this was a big desire for her, nor did I know she had been stuck for decades with this roadblock. At the time I had no idea that taking on this project would inevitably lead me to make connections between the people in the photographs. Diving headlong into my own family’s genealogy was enough to make me love the work.

What’s the coolest discovery you’ve made? On my wife’s side of the family, I discovered the parents of her great grandfather. It took hours upon hours browsing through early twentieth century records from Alabama and Georgia to build up enough circumstantial evidence to create a plausible theory. It took locating her distant relatives and running DNA tests to confirm the connections, the result of which deepened her family tree back to the early nineteenth century as well as widened it by discovering that her great grandfather actually had a half brother and a half sister.

What are you working on this week? I am researching a client’s family tree in an effort to produce heritage books and family tree posters for an upcoming family reunion.

What’s the number one secret to your success in genealogy? Thinking outside the box. Following the trail of census and vital records is the backbone of the research, but the real fun starts when those sources don’t have the info one needs to solve the problem. Thinking outside the box has helped solve more problems than I can count. It often requires having to take the time to learn and understand the time period, culture and geographical area to discover new resources and records which are not normally used.

What superpower would you want to help you uncover your family history? Easy, time travel (with a camera and spare batteries). Burned counties could be saved, ancestors could be seen for the first time, and thanks could be given to those who prevailed through the tough times. I’d like to get to know the deadbeats and the black sheep to understand why they did what they did. Unfortunately I am not (yet) endowed with that superpower, so I’ll just have to live with my own impressions and use my imagination to re-animate our ancestors.

What are we most likely to find you doing when you’re not researching family history? Fixing and remodeling houses (especially my own), some social activism, listening to podcasts, catching up on the latest discoveries in science and archeology, and working my way through a list of the top one hundred greatest books.

Anything else you’d like to share? This is may be a bit macabre, but genealogy is a way to bring people back from the dead. Not in the Frankenstein way, but instead it brings the people back to life within the memory and the minds of those exposed to the work I do. One of my favorite quotes is a recent one from the artist Bansky. He said. “…they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” As odd as it may sound, genealogy is currently the best shot at immortality.

The NextGen Genealogy Network is made up of young genealogists with diverse backgrounds, interests, and experiences. Faces of NextGen showcases a different member of our community each month. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming feature, simply complete our questionnaire and submit a selfie.