Voices from the Past, by Maureen Taylor

“I have some cassette tapes of my parents and their siblings and cousins born at and near the beginning of the twentieth century. I would love to be able to have them on CD to preserve them and in computer files to share with other family members via e-mail.”

If you’re like this reader, you have recordings of loved ones. In some cases they were left as deliberate oral histories, but you may also have spontaneous recordings on answering machines. From Edison’s first attempts to record voice to today’s MP3 explosion there are generations of recordings in need of being saved. The Library of Congress has an online article, Cylinder, Disc and Tape Care in a Nutshell with tips on preserving originals. But what should you do if you want to share these recordings with others? Help is out there.

Preserving Your Recordings
I recommend a firm that specializes in transferring audio. You can search the Web or look in your local phone book for companies, but make sure they deliver a product and know how to handle your original. I like to ask for customer references in advance of enlisting their services.

One such company is Photo Archival. Their prices start at $10.95 per cassette tape with editing services offered for a slight premium. They also offer a duplicate service–a “safe deposit box” for your recordings if you want to keep backup batch at a safe location.

If you treasure a particular set of voice messages, consider VoiceQuilt. VoiceQuilt offers gifts that can be personalized with voice recordings and voicemail messages. “A VoiceQuilt looks and works like an heirloom music box,” said Hope Flammer, founder of VoiceQuilt. “But instead of playing music when the lid is opened, the keepsake plays voice messages from family and friends.”

The company recently introduced a VoiceMail Rescue Service. “Some very happy grandparents can receive keepsakes that play touching voice messages from children and grandchildren–messages that were previously trapped in answering machines. For a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, VoiceQuilt recently extracted the wedding vows and pastor’s remarks from a cassette tape and placed them in a keepsake.

If this inspires you to create a new voice recording, VoiceQuilt’s selection of gift items makes a memorable present. Last year I had relatives call in with Valentine’s Day wishes for my parents. All they had to do was dial a toll-free number and speak. Now my Mom only has to lift the lid to hear their messages. I also have the recording as a digital file to transfer to CD or send to cousins.

SnapGenie on MyFamily.com
There’s also a twenty-first century technique for labeling photos. If your relatives complain they don’t have time to sit with a pencil to write names on the back of their pictures then interview them about the photos. Create a MyFamily.com website  to produce a narrated slide show. I did it. It really was a cinch. I uploaded pictures, called a toll-free number, and started talking. Think of each picture as a visual prompt for a story. According to promotional materials for the product, “members record stories of a lifetime (literally); recounting events growing up using those old scanned prints.”

Voice adds another dimension to your family history. Documents provide facts and photos images of the past, but listening to relatives voices long after they’re gone is an amazing experience.

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Maureen Taylor is The Photo Detective at www.Photodetective.com. Her work on identifying family photographs was recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal. Check out the calendar of events on her blog to see when she’s visiting your area.

5 thoughts on “Voices from the Past, by Maureen Taylor

  1. I enjoyed your “Voices from the Past” artical. It reminded me that when my sister and I were small children we received portable tape recorders as Christmas gifts.When my grandparents took us along to visit their older siblings we carried the recorders hidden in small travel bags. The recordings documented mundane conversations that brought my granparents (who lived out of state) up to date on the extended family.I look forward to rediscovering those tapes and hope that they survived their storage environment.

  2. Because of Ancestry’s recommendation of The Photo Archival Company, I decided to submit two microcassette tapes to them for digital conversion. There were some difficulties because of the age of the cassettes and the type, and I have never received such personalized attention from a company, particularly Internet based. They definitely live up to their claims on their web site in regards to promptness, care of the tapes, and ease of ordering. An excellent company! I can always depend on Ancestry to find and review sources that will be helpful in research.

    Incidentally, I am still looking for someone who has a working tape player or can recommend a repair company of this type of 30-year-old General Electric Micro II Cassette player, Model No. 3-5330A. It plays a specific General Electric Micro II C-40 tape, 30 minutes per side.

  3. Another treasure trove of great recordings is old aetate records – quite a few families used to record these at home. They are very fragile, and have a limited number of plays.

    I recently went through a stack of these I’d amassed over the years, and managed to reunite a gentleman with a 50 year old recording of him as an infant with an aunt and uncle. It was a herculean task to figure out who was on the record – the labels had been ripped off years ago, and the name was mentioned just once on the recording, which was really beat with age. But I managed to find the guy and return the record to him, to his great surprise!

  4. TO mcwasthere: I own a GE Model 3-5330 and it appears to be in working order, however I’m unable to open it! I would appreacite a quick oveview as to how it opens to expose the tape. Is the battery compartment also expose when the door opens?
    Does the cover somehow slide down, is there a release button? Any help would eb greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance…..CJ

  5. I have a GE 3-5330a recorder that works. The front cover slides straight down from the split below the stop button. There is no release button. It should slide freely. The battery compartment is under the front cover also. I have been trying to find a new tape to use in it. Does anyone know if anybody still makes a tape that works in them? I have an old Scotch RD 30 tape (15 min per side) but the quality is very poor.

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