Cataloguing an Historic House Museum

by Courtney Crum

This semester I am interning at the Ximenez-Fatio House on Aviles Street in historic, downtown St. Augustine. The Ximenez-Fatio House has a long history, dating back to the 1830s, of being owned and managed by strong, independent women. I am working to catalog the objects of the house in PastPerfect, a collection management software used by many museums. I have been interning at the Ximenez-Fatio House for almost two months and have already learned a great deal about cataloguing a collection. We are cataloguing the house, one room at a time, creating files on the PastPerfect system, as well as a hard copy files for the museum, for each object in each room.IMG_3963

The Ximenez-Fatio House has been owned since 1939 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, who maintain and operate the house. I began working at the house in January, reporting to and working with Dr. Owene Weber, a Colonial Dame, and Julia Gatlin, the Ximenez-Fatio House’s Executive Director. As we began preparing to catalog our first room, the Army Officers’ Room, I learned that there were several sets of existing files for the objects, two paper sets and one in PastPerfect. For our purposes, we would begin by pulling the old, paper files for each object, confirm the information was correct in the existing PastPerfect file, if any, and complete any missing pieces in the PastPerfect files. For those objects without an existing PastPerfect file, we would create one. I also took new photos of each object for the PastPerfect files, as most of which had existing photos were either blurry or the photographs contained several objects, rather than just the one being catalogued. Prior to beginning my internship, I had limited knowledge of the PastPerfect system, having not used it for over two years and at that time, using it for very limited reasons. I feel that we learned more about the program each time we used it, and have now developed an efficient pattern to our work.

IMG_4357Sometimes trying to catalog an item can lead to a scavenger hunt throughout the House. When a group of similar items, such as fireplace tongs, were acquired by the House, they were often originally catalogued together. In order to separate the sets of tongs into their own individual files, we would first need to locate all of the tongs. As the Ximenez-Fatio House is home to several fireplaces, this led to a hunt throughout the House to gather all of the sets of tongs. Once we had all of the fireplace tongs which were originally grouped together, we would create new files for each set, reflecting their correct location as well as file numbers which referenced the relationship to the other sets of tongs. Who knew fireplace tongs could provide so much entertainment?

Upon our completion of the Army Officers’ Room, we have moved on to the Downstairs Parlor. We have barely begun to work in the Parlor, but have already discovered many interesting items, including the family Bible pictured. Next week, I am privileged to have the opportunity to participate in an on-line training offered by PastPerfect. I hope to learn new techniques to make our cataloguing an even more efficient process.

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