Genealogists of the Past – Kale Hobbes

Genealogists of the Past – Interview 2

Hello there! Our blog writer, Tyler, is starting a new series of blog posts called “Genealogists of the Past.” This series will be a collection of interviews from people who were young (early teens to early 20s) genealogists from different decades! Our first interview comes from experienced genealogist and book writer, Ben Nicholls! So, if you began genealogy as a teenager or a young adult in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, or beyond, please consider contacting our co-founder, Tyler, for an interview.

A little Info on Kale…

Kale Hobbes, better known as “Leprechaunrabbit” on his social media venues, has been doing genealogy research for nearly 50 years! He began his genealogy journey back in 1972; his grandmother and 3rd grade teacher helped introduce him to family history research when he was only nine years old. In the time since, Kale has become a very successful genealogist, running his own blog site, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” He is also very active in the genealogy community on Twitter and Instagram, being an #AncestryHour Ambassador and is involved in #genchat. Now, Kale has agreed to be the second interview of Tyler’s “Genealogist of the Past” series to talk about how the past five decades has changed the field of genealogy.

The Interview Questions…

  1. Give us a brief introduction about yourself.
  • On Twitter, I am the long-eared bunny bartender from #genchat and an #AncestryHour Ambassador: SirLeprechaunrabbit® I can be found on most of the social media venues, as “leprchaunrabbit.” 
  • I happily promote all genealogy discussion groups as I find them; and I try to participate in their discussions – my German is improving (my Tante E would be so proud!). 
  • I embrace all ages and experiences of those who hold an interest in genealogy. We have all started out with nothing and built up our documented collections; it is just the lucky few who started out younger than most. 
  • I am married to MiLadyRabbit; it will be 18 years this July. From our previous marriages, she has a daughter, and a son and two grandchildren, while I have my “trio of Army men” (sons) and one grandson.

2. How old were you when you began your genealogy journey? 

  • I was only nine years-old and innocent. I did not foresee the dark, apocalyptic endeavor that would slowly take over my life! It has survived marriage, divorce, a military career, a cross-country move and fourteen computer crashes.

3. How did you get into genealogy? Did you do it by yourself or did someone help you?

  • My Grade Three teacher is to blame! Madame Gallant exposed me to genealogy, but it was Gramma Rabbit (AKA my paternal grandmother, Emily MOREAU, year-1975) who made certain it would be fatal! 
  • Disguised as homework for social studies, Madame asked the class to draw our family tree! No explanations just draw. 
  • I was artistically challenged back then – and, yes, even to this day a big, smiley face is beyond my capabilities, so, I thought that I could do one better: bring it in for Show ‘n’ Tell! [BAD IDEA] 
  • I wrote on my blog how I failed my genealogy assignment, if you are interested to read it.

4. What was it like being a young genealogist in the early 1970s? Did you meet anyone your age at the time who also was interested in family history research? 

  • The Alex Haley movie ROOTS came out in January 1977. Everyone got bit with the genealogy bug, and they eagerly sought help from each other, but they would not consider any assistance offered from a 14-year-old with five-years research experience! 
  • “Go away kid, you bother me,” was their glib remark (but more often times a flippant W.C. Fields impression) that made my involvement very unwelcome. 
  • It had only been one and a half years earlier (June 1975), when my Gramma Rabbit had passed away; and with all the negativity from the senior-aged researchers around me, I was missing her very, very much. 
  • Half-heartedly I continued in silence, enjoying the quiet but loathing the loneliness, with only my school studies taking precedence. 
  • For years, Mama Rabbit tried to convince herself that it was just a phase I was going through. By the time I reached my 21st birthday, she gave up trying.

5. How do you think genealogy research has changed since you started back in 1972?

Drastically! 

– Most repositories had banking hours that conflicted with  

school hours. 

– Mail was via the postal services and took ten days for across 

town delivery and up to eight weeks for international replies – 

IF they replied! 

– Pens were NOT permitted in public libraries or archives.  

– White gloves were a must! 

– Internet access was limited to universities and R&D*  

businesses.

*[RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT]

  • At nine-years-old, my traveling was limited to public transit or walking.  
  • If money was involved to acquire proofs or copies, it could not go beyond a self-addressed stamped envelope or ten cents a page using the public library photocopiers! 
  • It was not until 1993, when I got access to a computer! 
  • The next major leaps forward were ZIP drives (1994), thumb drives (2000-2018), EVERNOTE® note taking software (2000), AXCRYPT® encryption software (2002), digital camera (2005), wireless headset/microphone (2012), external hard drives (2015), PHOTOMYNE® photo scanning app (2015) and multiple screens (2 in 2017, and 3 in 2019). 
  • As of 2018, I am now on my second laptop (fourth computer); and, as of 2019 my third cellphone with 64M extended memory. 

6. What were the challenges of searching for family back then?

  • Back in the early 1970s, with Gramma Rabbit leading the way, I would take gravestone photographs – long before it was cool.  
  • Trying to arrange meeting my eldest generations to talk with them. Once I got my driver’s license, most of them were already gone. 
  • Unfortunately, my mother and father’s generations did not want to talk when I asked them. When they finally did, I was either serving overseas in the army, or busy with a growing family of my own. 

7. How did you do your research with limited technical or less access to information? 

  • Extensive note taking! I went everywhere with two spiral bound books. 
  • One was a research log, while the other contained transcriptions, citations, postal addresses and observations. 
  • Obituaries were my first go-to, followed by family plots in cemeteries.  
Kale has extensive and well organized genealogical binders!

8. Tell us a bit more about your work as a genealogist.

  • It is still just a hobby. I would love to certify, but I have not seen a professionally prepared genealogy report to understand IF I could piece one together. (Yes, I am afraid of taking on too much and failing).
  • When I have less than an hour to do some (daily) research, I go online and look up obituaries; and whenever I have some spare time outside, I still take pictures in cemeteries. Sometimes filling requests, other times, capturing the artistic work of the stonemasons. 

Conclusion

To conclude, Kale has seen the field of genealogy change completely since he began family history research when he was nine years old. Although, some things being a genealogist never change, like visiting cemeteries or archives. I can definitely relate with Kale about not having family understand our passion for research. My grandparents also hope that my genealogy “stuff” is just a phase XD. It is also still good to be resourceful, even though technology and the internet has made genealogy easier than ever. You still need to know to do the “footwork” with genealogy, going to archives for records, visiting cemeteries, requesting family records and documents, etc. I really admire and respect Kale for all the work that he has done to build up the genealogy community online, with his professional blog, being involved with different things are Twitter like #AncestryHour and #genchat; it is a big inspiration to me.

Again – if you started researching family history genealogy as a teenager or young adult (early 20s) in a previous decade. Please consider contacting Tyler for an interview just like this one!

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