Bertillon Management

The first step in compiling this project is to inventory all of the Bertillon Cards in the New York City Police Museum. The majority of the cards are stored in letter/legal boxes, and in sequentially numbered blue envelopes. Each five-digit number corresponds to a person, as do the contents of that specific envelope. Half of the envelopes are empty, however, under instruction from the museum, they are still inventoried and preserved. The other half contains Bertillon Cards and other interesting correspondence. Currently, there are six boxes full of an estimated twenty-four hundred envelopes. This requires a full time individual, and a considerable amount of time, in order to get a handle on the amount of material that needs to be digitized. One of the most interesting, and most difficult, aspects of this project is the variety of mediums that need to be digitized. Very few envelopes will be digitized (once you have seen one, you have seen them all). An envelope can contain newspaper clippings, index cards, correspondence, and even copies on tracing paper. In this paper, the term “envelope” pertains to the total contents of an envelope, unless otherwise indicated. The Bertillon cards are cardboard with the photograph glued to the front, and the measurements and identification information printed in ink on the back.

The next step is to select a sampling of envelopes. Out of 2,400 envelopes, approximately twelve hundred have cards, and eight hundred have extra material. Of these 800, a sample of six hundred envelopes will be digitized. Inventory, preservation, and selection will require one full time individual and one volunteer intern working for the duration of the selection, about one year. Cards of both men and women will be included. Envelopes that contain a high volume of material on a specific person are important as an example of the depth of police research and investigation.

After the 600 envelopes are chosen, technology is considered. The main mediums that need to be digitized are paper, newspaper, cardboard, and sepia gel print images. At this point, at least three staff members are needed. This should include: one project manager, one head archivist, and one person specializing in digitization. At least one intern will be hired to help with the digitization. When the inventory is done, then the first intern can transfer to digitization.

Copyright issues are not as important as privacy or ethical issues in this project. The photographs were taken before 1927 and belong to the New York City Police Department. It is fairly certain that all those individuals in the collection are deceased. Upon further consultation with other Bertillon collections concerning personal issues, the New York State Archives reported no problems with this, so it is not a major concern. The site will be ready to deal with any cases on an individual basis. Although it might be embarrassing to find an ancestor among the cards, it is also a crucial link to the past that should not be ignored.

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