Using a Filemaker Pro To Organize Your Information

A database is ideal for controlling data describing your collection. Economical database applications are Microsoft Access (Windows) and Filemaker Pro (Macintosh). PastPerfect Museum is a widely used database in local history but the price is steep. You might want to talk with your county’s historian about this or other databases.

Objective: Record the data of your collection electronically.

As discussed in Whelming Operations, there are 5 distinct categories of metadata that you should include:

  • A unique name for each item of your collection (I use a 6-digit number assigned sequentially to each item). A digital picture of each item (a picture of a book is not essential for historiography, but is a great help in finding the volume on your shelves!).Detailed information on where the item is to be stored. Detailed information on where the item came from (establish provenance).
  • Detailed description of the item and relevant details of the time in which it was created.

This is a typical sheet from the database that we designed for As you see, it has five parts paralleling the items identified above:

  • The metadata ID is 100222, located in the upper left corner and used throughout the record. This number is supplied automatically for each new record and will remain constant and unique through the life of the database.The space for a digital picture of each item is on the top right, and the content can be inserted by a simple copy-and-paste.Current format and storage information is in the box below the ID and notes that the original picture was returned to the source. There are also boxes for value and validation of properties which are owned by the organization.Source information is in the first, full-width box and establishes the provenance of the item.
  • Content description is in the final box.
A typical sheet from the database that we designed for Northern Catskills History

A typical sheet from the database that we designed for Northern Catskills History

Think of the flexibility this gives you:

  • All boxes have a scrollbar feature and can hold an immense amount of information that you can print out on demand. For instance, this database includes all the articles that appear on this web site.
  • The entire content of any box is available for searching even though it may not “appear ” in the face of the box.
  • You can search for individual descriptors — for instance, searching for “school trips ” would lead you to this record, and seven others that are in the data base (some photographs, an artifact, and two articles).
  • You can search using combination of descriptors — a search for “Faulkner” and the “Rexmere Hotel ” would not identify this file, but would refer you to a news article about the Gilboa baseball team at the Rexmere.
  • You can search for interfaces between these boxes of information — for instance “school trips” and a “1930± ” source date.
  • Likewise, you might want to identify the best sources for photographs — you can sort the list of people who have loaned you photos by number of entries in the past.
  • Heavens forbid, but you might want to create a list of items that were lost catastrophically . . .
Gerry Stoner

Gerry Stoner

This article is one of several to help you document local history. Other articles will help you convert your interviews, documents, pictures, and artifacts into documentation of your local history that can be shared with your community.