Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Volunteer learns a few lessons

I spent a pleasant few hours at my historical society last week learning how to use their photo database software. As I did so I handled some amazing images of people and places from the local area.

What struck me was the huge number of images that the society holds and that are searchable through this database. I think that presently the society has around 10,000 images digitised and catalogued in this collection that is only available in the society rooms.

This set me to thinking what I might be able to find if I visited local historical societies in the areas where my ancestors lived. I tend to visit genealogy societies when I am on the road but I should include historical societies.

So what did I learn at my society last week?

* That the society has an impressive photo collection
* Skills with a new software application
* That there are photo collections not available on the web via Flickr
* That I should remember to visit historical societies when I undertake a genealogy jaunt.

Have you checked out the photo collections in relevant historical societies?


marycolbert said...

Hi, I am a genealogist who volunteers at the local historical society. I stopped by one day and asked what they had. They had a lot, but no catalog, so I'm helping to catalog the collection. In addition to photos, they have a truant officer's book, scrapbooks, funeral director's books, church membership list and more. It's fascinating. I always recommend people go to the historical society. I'd also be interested in knowing how they digitally store over 10,000 photos.

GeniAus said...

Mary, The originals are in fireproof safes. The digital images are stored in hi-res on site (storage is cheap). The software used to catalogue them is called Perfect Pictures. For a society that is strapped for cash (and which isn't)I would be using something like Picasa or Flickr. I need to ask the question about off-site backup when I go in this week.

Linda said...

Just curious - I thought the standard for NSW historical societies cataloguing was Mosaic - much as Victoria in DB Text/InMagic. With all photos in Victoria best managed within the larger InMagic catalogue.

So - does your historical society have three-dimensional items managed in Mosaic (or no such items at all), and if it does have Mosaic, is it managing the photos with another program? Do you know if this is the common response in NSW?

Louis Kessler said...

Excellent post, Jill. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone else promote Historical Societies as a source for genealogists.

But I can vouch, as a former president of our regional Historical Society, that archives are the central function of an HS, and an HS does whatever it can to make those resources available.

Of course, many HSs are non-profit and limited by funds, meaning you don't have big searchable databases on their website. But if you visit in person, call, or email, you can often get an archivist more than willing to help you.

Visiting a genealogy society is still a good idea. But you are less likely to get access to the scope and size of archives and research material like you would at the local historical society.


Linda said...

Perhaps I should have also added - it would be good to ask your society about the five things they would most like genealogists to do before/when visiting their collection. We had a bit of a talk about it here once, resulting in this:

Australian Family Tree Connections said...

Hallo Louis and Jill
Australian Family Tree Connections magazine has always recommended that family historians and genealogists visit Historical Societies (as well as family history and genealogy organisations).
Michele Stephens
Australian Family Tree Connections

Australian Family Tree Connections said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Australian Family Tree Connections said...

I should also have added that we have always offered members of Family History, Genealogy and Historical Societies a discount off the cost of annual subscriptions as our way of encouraging people to join Societies. We are often contacted by people new to tracing their family history and always recommend they join their nearest Society for at least a year to be shown how to do it in the most efficient and cost-effective way. On those occasions we also take the time to provide contact details of the Societies.
NOTE: this is NOT advertising. It is presumed that everyone who reads this blog is NOT a genealogy beginner.

Infolass said...

In Victoria some local history groups are uploading content to Victorian Collections at

In the past local history groups also partnered with public libraries and contributed to Picture Victoria which can still also be accessed via Trove

Infolass said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda said...

Plus, in addition to those pointed out by Liz, also in Victoria, many societies have listed some of their holdings in the Victorian Local History Database - although unfortunately not with matching images, but it IS a good starting point.

GeniAus said...

Linda, I didn't notice a comment where you "advertised your blog" on my original post.

Thanks for your contributions and the info about Mosaic and the situation in Victoria.

Linda said...

Thank You!

This conversation is rather important, and needs to be had from time to time. Historical Societies have a slightly different focus from Genealogical Groups, whose reason for being there is primarily to help each other research families.

Historical Societies are often more than willing to help family historians, but those enquiring need to realise the focus of the society is on research into the area. In one where I work, the members who are helping them are giving up scarce time that would be used for that work - so family historians need to remember they need to compensate for that time - either with an exchange of information, or a payment to help with resources. One recent one who asked "have I made your day?" was a little surprised when I explained that he had not, and had he not been there, I would have been able to catalogue twenty more photographs.

I don't think he expected that, or realised we had other purposes that did not include listening to him talk about his family!

It does not take that much more for researchers to provide written notes to leave behind when they visit. Which also means the family is better recorded locally


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