Georeferencing old specimens

Don McAllister mcall at SUPERAJE.COM
Sun Dec 8 17:43:39 CST 1996

In the Canadian Museum of Nature we had quite a few old collections,
though most are recent, when I recatalogued them and later computerized
all the catalogued material.

I found a simple solution. We worked out the latitude and longitude for
each collection, down to degrees, minutes and seconds (this was prior to
GPS).  A separate field enabled one to code in the precision of the data
- at worst case to >1000km.  Then persons wishing to plot the data or
use GIS methods, or go back to recollect the same locality could sift
out records of suitable precision.  Further, there was a "questionable"
data field.  As most museum people know there are a zillion Trout Lakes,
and many labels or catalog sheets contain ambiguous information.

It is very important to tag uncertain data.  Although the error has been
pointed out more than once, the ninespine stickleback does not occur in
Greenland, but is still occasionally cited for that country.

But it should be displayed on search screens and on printouts how data
precision is categorized.

I am leary of open access to museum data bases because local precision
is only one problem.  Many specimens have not had their identity checked
by an expert, or identifications were made before a recent taxonomic
revision was carried out.   And ecological, protected areas,
conservation and other people will have little awareness of those sorts
of problems.

Of course one solution is to lobby State and federal governments to
better fund museums so that those problems can be addressed.


Don E. McAllister             /& Canadian Centre for Biodiversity
Ocean Voice International          /Canadian Museum of Nature
Box 37026, 3332 McCarthy Rd. /Box 3443, Station D
Ottawa, ON K1V 0W0, Canada    /Ottawa, ON K1P 6P4
URL:  E-mail: mcall at
 (or: ah194 at Tel: (613) 264-8986, Fax: (613)

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