Ohio Historical Society bringing its records into the 21 st century

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They sit in boxes, file cabinets and folders, these ledgers from the late 1800s, brittle handwritten pages slipped into plastic sleeves and yellowed computer punch cards with a few lines of notes.

The records detail nearly every object the Ohio Historical Society owns.

They tell stories of a Dayton doctor who removed a shawl pin from an 8-year-old girl’s throat in the 1860s, or of Jesuit priests who gave cobalt blue porcelain sticks to American Indians as a sign of respect in the 1700s. One such stick was found by a Portage County farmer, who donated it to the historical society in 1933.

Those stories give meaning to each item in the historical society’s collection, but they are scattered and sometimes hard to find. Curators work like detectives to match an item with the document that tells its story.

Sometimes, as with the porcelain stick or the shawl pin, they’re lucky. Sometimes objects are orphaned, separated from their stories for years.

Next month, the historical society will begin linking the two once more. Workers will sift through thousands of paper records and consolidate them in one computer database. Each record will be linked with its object, and eventually, the information will be available in the society’s online catalog, located at www.ohiohistory.org.

The two-year project is partially funded by a $150,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The historical society will pay the rest of the $330,000 cost.

"It’s about preserving the story as much as the object," said Clifford Eckle, assistant curator and collections specialist.

Similar projects are going on across the country, as museums and libraries preserve information contained in decades’ worth of written documents.

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