It is very pleasing to now be able to report that my little 'project' of sorting and editing the contents of Merrill's computer files is now complete. These are all the files and notes that Merrill wrote and typed up during the formative years of the museum, when it was known by the blue-painted signboard as the "Sutton Exhibition and Resources Centre".
That title was not really the misnomer it seems now ... for what a resource Merrill made it! When the museum funds bought the PC now in the museum, Merrill & Peter bought one of their own too, the exact same model. Merrill used both machines to do her various types of work, both research docs of pure Sutton & Wawne history, and admin docs to do with making posters, arranging talks, as well as minutes of all the volunteer meetings, and more besides. She did a lot of work at home, and used both a Zip drive and floppy discs to transfer up-to-date files to the museum machine on Fridays. In doing so, as most of us did in the early days on Win 3.11 and Win 95 learning about ‘folder trees and structure’s, there were many duplicate folders, or directories as they were then known, making a huge mass of information that took some trawling through.
As we gained and used laptops more, we stopped using the PC in the museum quite so much. Fearing material may be lost through a disc failure or other well-known computer problems as machines age, I copied the whole of Merrill’s ‘MyDocs’ folder to a large capacity memory stick some time ago, and thence to two laptops. As it happens, the old PC still works (very slowly!) so we still use and access it, and so now we have all that material saved several times over, on two of my machines, plus another laptop belonging to the museum, and a large external hard drive as well.
It has taken me some time to launch into the task of going through it all and deleting duplicate files, being sure first that they are truly duplicate and taking note of the file sizes, as well as the dates when they were created, saved and updated. I always knew, from first glancing through a selection of folders, that there was wealth of information in there, as one would expect. What has taken me rather aback is how complete it all is, and despite looking rather haphazard to start with, how organised it really was. It was only the existance of the repeated folders in lower tier sub-folders that made it appear haphazard.
At long last, I have pared it all down now to a stage where it is easy to find material, historic or admin, and it isn’t quite the minefield it was. In doing this, I slowly started to realise that much of the printed material we have on the museum shelves in folders, was already saved in Merrill’s folders. This being the history of Sutton and Wawne told in various ways via the story of the farms, the big houses, notable families, the churches and schools, and many family histories along with census records, etc, most of it as a result of Merrill’s own meticulous research. Far from needing to be scanned and typed up, we pretty well have the originals. I have fairly tormented myself this past 5 years or more about the amount of historic information that could potentially be lost in the event of a minor disaster, or a box file going missing. Only to realise that I need have worried not … we had them all the time.
It is an astonishing amount of work, compiled over several years from round about 1995 onwards, up to perhaps 2015 or so when Merrill last actively did any document updates or admin before she retired her post as museum manager. Our villages have benefitted hugely from such professional perserverance and dedication to her task of preserving everything she could find out from existing sources, and everything she could learn from today’s residents, their stories, legends sometimes, a great deal of folklore mixed in with family history, but all now saved for posterity.
There may be less files in those folders now than before, but the whole still amounts to some 10Gigabytes of documents, data, and photographs. It was 29Gb before I started ! There are just over 8,000 files now, in 148 folders. To put that in some meaningful context, as a techy website explains, a 10Gb data plan would allow you to browse the internet for around 120 hours, to stream 2000 songs or to watch 20 hours of standard-definition video. It's a helluva lot, especially when the biggest proportion is just plain typed text. We can now find any part of Merrill's research almost at the drop of a floppy disc - well, perhaps with an hour or so notice.
And we should not forget that Merrill was helped in her task a great deal by husband Peter, who did a huge amount of photographic work, copying and printing photos, documents and maps for the various displays and folders on our shelves. Taken as a whole, it is a more than impressive body of work, and should rightly be honoured as such. Surely, in another sphere, their work and achievement would have gained a masters degree in local history!