Volunteering from Home: Transcription & Description of the Collection

Christeah Dupont, Curatorial Assistant  & Jeannine Worthing, Visitor Services Coordinator 

Volunteers are a central part of the Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens team; they help maintain the gardens, act as interpreters for visitors, and assist with conservation of the house and its collection. With our temporary closure this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff had to get creative with remote volunteer projects.

There are currently two interesting projects that Point Ellice House volunteers are working on from home. The first is a transcription project which has been ongoing since April 2020. Volunteers are reading select letters written by the O’Reilly family and transcribing them into easily searchable online documents.

Peter and Caroline O’Reilly spent much of their marriage living apart due to Peter’s career – he was a magistrate, gold commissioner, sheriff, and judge, and he served as Indian Reserve Commissioner for approximately 18 years, travelling extensively around the province for his work. Both Peter and Caroline were prolific letter writers, a habit they seem to have impressed upon their children as well—there is no shortage of O’Reilly letters to transcribe.

While we have type-written transcriptions of some letters here at Point Ellice House, most correspondence is housed at the BC Archives. So far, volunteers have digitized the type-written transcriptions available to us on-site, which cover select letter series largely from the 1860s-1890s and comprise close to 500 pages of transcribed content. The next phase of the project will be to move forward into systematically transcribing the handwritten letters contained in the O’Reilly Family Fonds (MS-2894) in the BC Archives.

Arthur George Pinder (Or possibly William George Pinder?). From the Point Ellice House collection of photographs. PEH 1975.1.7389

The second project volunteers are helping with is a photograph cataloguing project. Point Ellice House has a large collection of portraits of individuals that were taken in professional photography  studios, as well as a number of pictures that were cut out of books and magazines which were collected by the O’Reillys. As per good museum practice, an artifact catalogue entry should provide dimensions, a detailed description of the object, as well as any historical context that might help further illustrate the story of the object. These details allow researchers and the public to learn about an artifact and its historical context. However, the entries for these photographs in the Provincial Heritage Artifacts Database are often blank.

This project begins with photographs being scanned and uploaded into a spreadsheet where volunteers can closely examine the high resolution images. Volunteers then write informative descriptions to help us better understand what is pictured. In many cases, research for the descriptions helps us understand how or why these photographs ended up in the Point Ellice House collection. Through these efforts, the database will be a more valuable resource for researchers and the public.

Our intention with this work is to open up access to our historical resources and learn more about the lives of the residents of Point Ellice House. To explore the results of these volunteer projects, check out the Provincial Heritage Artifacts Database and our Historical Resource Site.

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