Our Perfect Past

Terrace Park Historical Society article for A Walk in the Park Magazine

Circus Hat

Our Perfect Past

What does the Terrace Park Historical Society have in common with over 9000 other local historical societies? Well, history, of course. And collections of interesting items from the past. And shelves that overflow with yellowing letters and newspapers, all slowly crumbling away.

But wait – that doesn’t have to be the case. Now, these 9000 organizations, including the TPHS, have a way to preserve their collections. And not just preserve, but even make them available on the internet for the world to see.

That’s where “Past Perfect” comes in. Past Perfect is computer software that allows historical societies to keep their information safely organized and digitized, and above all, accessible to others. Now, archivists can keep up with what they have, where it’s stored, who donated it, and what it looks like.

Fortunately, when the TPHS was founded in 2001, some very far-sighted members recognized the value of Past Perfect. Although the software represented a major expense for the fledgling organization, board member Sue Porter received a Scripps Howard Foundation Volunteer Grant that provided funding for purchase.

Unfortunately, however, information does not just jump into the database all by itself. To take advantage of this powerful product, actual people are needed. People who understand how to use Past Perfect, but also people who know Terrace Park history, and can identify a photo or an old house, long since torn down. (The old movie “Desk Set”, portrayed the division of labor between machine and human intelligence that still holds today).

For many years, a single TPHS volunteer has been able to accomplish both of these tasks – Archivist Leslie Jones. She has worked diligently, not only managing the Past Perfect database of records, but making the necessary connections between people, places and events that allow the data to be properly stored. This is a massive job that she accomplishes so cheerfully and efficiently that it appears effortless, although that is hardly the case. Even when she has a stack of documents to process on the computer, Leslie is always available to answer questions about a time or place that she remembers.

To say that the TPHS couldn’t function without Leslie might be an understatement. But with more and more items piling up, she could really use some help. If you are interested in the way information from the past can be saved using technology “from the future”, please think about joining us as a volunteer, and help keep our history alive and our Past Perfect.

(Contact us at 418-1480 or tphistoricalsociety@gmail.com)