Super Sleuth Intern Goes on the Trail of the Missing Numbers
By Siobhan Heraty, Museum Collections & Exhibitions Registration Intern
One of my tasks as this summer’s registration intern required me to do some detective work on old accession records for photographs, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and prints from our sister unit, the Special Collections & Library (SC&L) team. These records give a description of the object and the name of its donor. Sometimes they even give the donor’s relationship to the subject of a photograph or give background information on the subject beyond just their name.
These records help situate the object in Kentucky history, tell the story of the object and trace the ownership of the object backwards from KHS. The records also provide a numerical identifier, the accession number, which is made up of the year the object was acquired by KHS and the donor number.
But what happens when the records can’t be found in the PastPerfect database (the software for museums that KHS uses to manage its vast collections)?
Over the years, the records in my box from SC&L became separated from the accession files. Most missed the migration of records into the PastPerfect database. Aside from the paper card on my desk, there was no record of the accession and it was not clear if the accession number written on the card was actually correct.
Fortunately, each of the records provided clues as to where information regarding its original accession number could be found. While some listed multiple possible accession numbers, others listed incomplete numbers. Many records listed locations of the “House,” “Senate” or “Rotunda” to indicate where they were displayed in the Old State Capitol when the pieces were there. Almost all of the records included a brief description of the object and had a photo of the object attached.
I used these clues to track down the original accession numbers for these records and to re-associate the records with their numbers.
There were four ways that I could search for a record’s original accession number. The first was simply to check if the accession numbers listed on a record could be located in PastPerfect. Second, the records that provided a location in the Old State Capitol could be checked against the old KHS catalog. I also checked in the accession files to see if the record had an existing file.
If none of these searches turned up results, I performed a “keyword search” in PastPerfect based on the record’s description and photo of the object. A few objects that were listed as found in collections in PastPerfect matched the descriptions of my records, and I was able to easily reassign the record to its original accession number.
In spite of all my searching, I came to the same deduction for most of the accession records – no matching PastPerfect or accession file existed. I added these records to PastPerfect under the earliest, and most likely original, accession number listed on the record and created an accession file.