The author, journalist and television host learned about her family history while appearing on Ancestry's IGTV series, Questions and Ancestors: Black Family History

By Dory Jackson
May 05, 2021 03:10 PM
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Elaine Welteroth
Credit: Joshua Kissi

How did Elaine Welteroth get to where she is today?

The Talk co-host, 34, recently had the opportunity to explore her origins while appearing on Ancestry's IGTV series, Questions and Ancestors: Black Family History — and she says learning more about her heritage helped her better understand her overall direction in life.

"Each role has uniquely prepared me for the next, if that makes sense. I feel like I wouldn't be where I am without every single job that I've had before this," Welteroth tells PEOPLE. "I know that this is, in some ways, still just the beginning and there's so much more ahead of me, but I know that I'm right where I'm supposed to be and that the lessons I'm learning in this moment are preparing me for what's ahead."

"I do think that knowing where you come from informs where you're going and it gives context for where you find yourself, you know?" she continues. "So I think that applies to my career as well."

Elaine Welteroth/Nicka Sewell-Smith from the Ancestry IG TV series “Questions and Ancestors: Black Family History"
Credit: Ancestry/instagram

In the early days of Welteroth's journalism career, she worked for publications such as Ebony and Glamour before making her way to Teen Vogue in 2012. Nearly four years into her run at the magazine, she was tapped to be the editor-in-chief, making her the second Black person to ever hold the title at a Condé Nast publication.

Today, she's a New York Times bestselling author thanks to her 2019 memoir, More Than Enough. She's also a judge on Project Runway and joined The Talk as a co-host last December.

"I started my career at Ebony magazine and I worked there for a number of years learning how to use my platform and my skills to elevate Black voices and Black culture and Black beauty. I feel like I have been translating those skills ever since in mainstream media, whether it's Glamour, Teen Vogue, Project Runway or The Talk," she says. "It's so ingrained in me because it's where I started. It's where I came from. I think the same is true as we talk about family history. It's important to recognize where you came from and who you came from. It gives you a deeper sense of purpose."

Welteroth also says writing her book made her "even more curious" about her family history. "It's important from a sense of when we talk about pride in our identity, uncovering those stories of our roots is so important," she says. "It grounds our pride, you know what I mean? It gives us context for where we find ourselves today."

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Welteroth is most certainly a trailblazer in her industry, but she isn't the first pioneer in her family. During her appearance on Ancestry's IGTV series, she learned that her fifth great-grandparent, Jesse Wooten, was registered to vote in August 1867, just five years before voter's rights for Black men were protected under the 14th Amendment.

"Those records [from the] post-Civil War and Reconstruction era are so difficult to track because so much was destroyed, especially in the South. He lived in Georgia," Welteroth, who comes from a biracial background, tells PEOPLE. "So the fact that [Ancestry host] Nicka [Sewell-Smith] was even able to uncover those records and show me his handwriting — I actually got to see his voter registration — I mean, it was incredible."

"He was 40 years old. He was a former slave. He just became free two years prior," she adds of her late relative. "He was a farmer. He had his own land. He had 50 acres of land, he grew corn and potatoes, he had pigs. All of that is really distinctive for somebody who was, you know, formerly enslaved. It just showed me what kind of resilience this man possessed."

Elaine Weltheroth
Credit: 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Ancestry's Questions and Ancestors: Black Family History launched April 20 on Instagram. Throughout the series, host Nicka Sewell-Smith, an expert in Black genealogy, helps everyday individuals and leaders within the Black community explore their own roots, uncovering the untold stories of their ancestors. And like Welteroth, other members of the Black community are invited to use Ancestry's services to learn more about their own heritage.

"Ancestry is actively working on making databases available that Black people can use to uncover more about their family history," Welteroth says. "I really want people to know about [it] so that they can take advantage of it."