Since 1891, Connecticut SAR has collected artifacts, documents, imprints, images, and ephemera relating to Connecticut’s Revolutionary War history, genealogy, patriotic service, and the activities of the organization. It’s hard to say exactly how many items we have, but probably several thousand. When we add the growing collection of digital images, that number grows even larger.
Connecticut SAR’s Collections Catalog Project
Keeping track of “the stuff” is the job of every museum and historical society. It’s always been a challenge, but thanks to a grant from the Middlesex County Community Foundation, Connecticut SAR is getting some help. We received funding in 2010 to purchase collections cataloging software called PastPerfect, which is used by thousands of small and large museums worldwide. With input from our museum consultant and hard work by a summer intern from Central Connecticut State University’s Public History program, we now have the start of our first professional, accessible collections catalog.
Why is this important? First, a catalog allows Connecticut SAR members and outside researchers to find items of interest. Second, we can keep track of what we have, where it is, and what condition it’s in. We can also link particular items together, and relate them to other resources inside and outside our collections.
This last point refers to what historians call “context.” Let’s look at an example. When we started cataloging manuscripts material, we found a crumbling newspaper account of the dedication of the Minute Man statue at Compo Beach, Westport CT, a separate photo of the statue, and some handwritten notes. The newspaper account was undated and unattributed (please, when you save newspaper clippings, either save the whole page with the title of the publication and date, or note on the piece where it came from and when!), but with a little research we were able to figure it that it was written in 1910, sometime after the dedication of the Minute Man statue on June 17, 1910, and contained the text of a speech delivered on that day by then Westport Historical Society president and Connecticut SAR member William H. Burr. It turns out that Burr had asked Connecticut SAR to raise the money for the statue, and they contributed $2,100 (the State of Connecticut added $700). The statue, commissioned from sculptor Harry Daniel Webster, commemorates the battle between local “minute men” militia with Gen. William Tryon’s troops returning from the Battle of Ridgefield on April 28, 1777. So why did Connecticut SAR choose June 17, 1910 to dedicate the statue? Turns out that the Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17 – and there’s no denying that the weather on the Connecticut shoreline is much nicer in June than in April.
By linking the newspaper clipping and photo of the statue in the catalog record, we’ll always know that they’re connected. And by linking both to outside information about the statue, Compo Beach, and William Burr, everything takes on a larger historical meaning.
Given our funding, our current priority is to catalog the collections relating to the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in East Haddam. We’re looking for volunteers to help with this project. Please contact us if you’re interested and willing to come to East Haddam. We’ll highlight other interesting items that we find as we continue delving into what we’ve got!