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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Vertebrate Zoology

Division of Amphibians & Reptiles

Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum
Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum Ecuador, Napo Province. Photographed by Roy McDiarmid

There are two basic types of data sources, primary and secondary.  Primary data sources are those data provided by the original collector or donor.  Secondary data sources are transcribed from the primary data into a standardized format for ease of use and retrieval.  Secondary sources sometimes have enhanced data (such as adding a county or latitude and longitude that were not included in the original locality data), or clarifications about the data (such as adding alternate spellings or place names).

Click to enlarge. Catalogue records for USNM 86481 through USNM 86505 in Amphibians & Reptiles Ledger XVIII. Photographed by Steve Gotte.

Primary Data Sources

  • Field notes
  • Specimen field tags
  • Collector’s jar labels
  • Correspondence accompanying a collection

Secondary Data Sources

Ledgers – Ledgers were hand-written from 1856 to Dec 1970 and computer generated from 1971 to present.  They contain the ‘what, where, when, and who’ about the specimens.  The ledgers provide a hard copy archival data source for the original catalog records.

Osteo catalogs – Osteological specimens (skeletons) were cataloged with a number series separate from the main Amphibian and Reptile Collection until as late as 24 April 1914 and the specimen records were maintained in a separate set of catalogs.  Most of the skeletal specimens from the osteological series have been recataloged into the main amphibian and reptile catalog number series.

Original museum jar labels and specimen tags – Before ledger cataloging began, data for the specimens were put on labels placed in the jars with the specimens or written on tags tied to the specimens.  Today we use computer generated jar labels to help us keep the collection organized.

Species and geographic cross-index card files – Before the collection data were computerized, specimen records were also stored on cross-indexed card files.  All searches were manual and the species and geographic card files were sorted by taxonomy and geography respectively to make determining our holding of specific species or places much faster than scanning through the ledgers.

Electronic Database – The current electronic database makes searching, sorting and displaying the specimen data relatively easy and therefore more widely useful. The database is continually being updated with information from the primary sources, the published literature, from staff investigations of all collection data, as well as changes in identification and taxonomy.

Other sources of data

The NMNH Registrar maintains correspondence and transaction records pertaining to the collections of specimens donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives serves as a permanent repository for historically important collection information transferred from the Smithsonian museums.


(rev. Jul 2018)

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