When it comes to the family tree, nobody can climb branches better than Bob Kunkel.
Kunkel, 48, a Tamaqua native, has spent the last 26 years not only searching his family tree, but developing his own special method of archiving relatives.
He's assisted other genealogists and has provided assistance to the popular online database Ancestry.com.
His method, the Kunk system, keeps track of ancestors and allows for "new finds" along the way. It also provides a way to add births that occur in the family as time goes on.
Perhaps the best part is that Kunkel typically has no need to travel to conduct his research.
"I have my own library," says Kunkel, now living in Schnecksville.
And while the search for people, records and addresses is his avocation, the hobby is reinforced by his primary occupation Kunkel is a U. S. postal carrier working out of the Tamaqua post office. He has a keen sense of names and addresses.
The whole idea of searching the family tree started innocently in 1984, born of a young man's curiosity to learn more about his parents and their families.
Kunkel's mother was the late Eleanor Geissinger of Tamaqua, wife of Harold Kunkel, a native of West Penn Township, who passed away in 1979.
Kunkel remembers the day he started thinking about his ancestors.
"My mother took me to her aunt in Chalfont."
The trip sparked curiosity in the young man. He wanted to learn more about his aunt, along with other relatives, and so he started diagramming a family tree.
"I started out with an 8 by 10 sheet of paper, then taped other sheets together."
His mother was supportive of the hobby. Sadly, she passed away three years later. At that point, Kunkel was still in the early stages of research.
Eventually, though, he became familiar with standard genealogical methods. One particular issue he discovered is that standard methods of archiving don't make it easy to insert additional family members when discoveries are made along the way.
To solve the problem, Kunkel developed his own system. He took a chance in creating a method which he felt made sense and would be more flexible. His system uses index cards and a numbering scheme that almost resembles the Dewey decimal system except it makes the whole Dewey decimal thing look bland.
That's because the Kunk system is more intricate and colorful. It involves the use of colored-coded dots.
"A yellow code means I've personally corresponded with the person," says Kunkel.
"Green means I have a tombstone photo (of the person's grave site). Blue is when I have a death certificate. An asterisk means I met the person. Code P is for picture. O is if I have the person's obituary and W is for the will."
Kunkel says he's been able to trace his lineage back to 1379 with the help of a copy of the Magna Carta which he first saw at a Bucks County library. For Kunkel, the discoveries have been enlightening as he researches and documents 77 generations.
The results of his efforts are compiled in large, three-ring binders. One devoted to Kunkel and his family is entitled "Designer Genes, 1379-1993".
"I'm descended from Charlemagne's son Pepin, who had many wives," he notes.
His scrapbooks represent a direct line of ancestors with verification and authentication by way of records, photos, marriage certificates, death certificates, Social Security records and even maps indicating where each ancestor resided.
He also enjoys collecting family heirlooms, and is particularly proud to own his great-great-grandmother's china closet.
Along the way, Kunkel has amassed a collection of resource material. For instance, he owns an extensive collection of old high school yearbooks, telephone books and city residential directories.
He regularly saves newspaper clippings of obituaries, class reunion photographs and other family-related reports which appear in the TIMES NEWS.
He's done research at places such as the University of North Carolina, poring over countless documents and books. He's visited numerous libraries and other repositories in Schuylkill, Carbon, Lehigh, Berks, Bucks, Northampton and Luzerne counties, and regularly spends his vacation time visiting cemeteries.
He is so well regarded in the field that Kunkel has assisted other genealogists and has lent a hand to Ancestry.com.
Kunkel agrees that his hobby has consumed a great deal of time over the past two-and-one-half decades.
"I have worked faithfully almost every day." But it has its benefits.
In fact, genealogical research proved to be therapeutic to him one year ago after he was critically injured in a car accident.
On Nov. 5, 2009, Kunkel was driving home from work along sharp curves of Route 309 near Schnecksville when his vehicle slid on wet leaves and collided with a pole.
"I had a concussion, collapsed lung, broken clavicle, broken arm, pelvis and eight ribs," he says.
Kunkel had limited mobility and was off work for five months. His interest in genealogy helped to keep his mind relaxed as he underwent weeks of rigorous rehabilitation.
He is delighted that his own unique archival system works well proving that it sometimes pays to go out on a limb.
Kunkel is married to wife Kimberly, a native of the Bethlehem area. She works as a phlebotomist at St. Luke's Hospital. Kunkel is the father of four, and has one granddaughter. Kimberly has three children.
More information about Kunkel and the field of genealogy can be directed to Robert L. Kunkel, P. O. Box 235, Schnecksville, PA 18078.