Cataloguing history in Carbonear
Like a puzzle
The old post office in Carbonear was alive with activity in recent months.
Natalie Austin and her team of summer students were busy studying and cataloging pieces of Carbonear’s history for the town’s Heritage Society.
Austin, a Carbonear native, is the museum director and archivist for the society.
From old documents to an early record player, they’ve been making sure everything has a place in the upper annals of the post office.
Located in the heart of downtown on Water Street, the lower level of the post office serves as one of three museums in Carbonear.
It is a process that was started two summers ago and has been at the forefront of Austin’s work ever since.
Her office is testament work they’ve been doing.
Walking into the office, it is not hard to notice the shelves full of catalogued documents on the left wall. The adjacent wall holds much of the same.
On her desk, there are two electronic scanners, one full-sized while the other one is a hand scanner.
“We have all of the basic information here on an item,” said Austin. “We have a picture of the item, where it’s located. Some items are in the archives here, and some are in the other two museums as well.”
Each item is also given an identification number. This allows for researchers to quickly identify the items, plus all other information about the item.
“We get the description of it and if we’re lucky we know the where it came from,” said Austin.
To assemble this information, Austin and her team have been using a computer program called Past Perfect.
This database application assembles all of the information into a cohesive file.
“It’s great for us because it is more of a catalogue style,” said Austin. “It kind of works like an Excel spreadsheet.”
She said Past Perfect plays an integral part in “putting the puzzle together.”
Using the program, Austin can connect date ranges for items, similar fabrication materials and the dimensions of the items.
“Maybe that makes a difference to finding other items and linking them all together,” she said.
For the Carbonear Heritage Society, the current archives has never been at this level.
In the past, not all items had storage units because the society did not have storage units.
The society has started adding units for items over the past number of years.
“It comes a little step at a time,” said Austin.
The society acquired a number of storage units last year, while the year before, it constructed storage units.
This year, a shelving unit was purchased from an estate sale and that is capable of separating and organizing a large number of documents.
“This is enormous for us,” said Austin. “A document centre where we can pull them out and locate them all together.”
While the archival work has been ongoing for the past two years, Austin was not a part of the project.
In our description and in our information, we were adding it. So, we’re really bulking up
what was done before.
She is responsible for building the archive, taking the information from the previous project and putting it together with hers.
“The information is there, but what happened is that (the item) had to be relocated,” said Austin. “Some of the items that were there, we did not know all of the provenance behind it because it was catalogued as an individual item.”
She would be going through items and realize that some items belonged with each other.
“In our description and in our information, we were adding it. So, we’re really bulking up what was done before,” said Austin.
Carbonear Heritage Society workers Anna Finn (front) and Caitlin Adams catalogue an item at the old post office in Carbonear. The two students, along with Ahila Karaunanithy, worked alongside Carbonear Heritage Society archivist Natalie Austin cataloguing artifacts this past summer.