Written memories are really nice, but audio ones are even better. My paternal grandmother passed away more than 20 years ago now. Several years before her death, my dad spent time interviewing his mom about her life and recording her responses on cassette tapes.
I learned about the cassettes one Sunday when I told my dad that I couldn’t remember what Grandma’s voice sounded like. I don’t remember who first brought up the idea, but I decided to change those cassettes into digital format. I knew from experience that cassette tapes are easily broken and degrade over time. I don’t remember when I last owned a way to play one, either.
Finding the Technology
First, I had to find a way to change these cassettes into digital format. I didn’t want to spend a lot, so I found a device on Amazon for about $20. Since I had a limited number of cassettes to do (about 6), it didn’t matter that the device stopped working after 6 months. If I’d had a lot more tapes, I would’ve spent more money on the technology in the first place.
The actual technology for the conversion is pretty easy. It looks like a tape player but has a USB cord to plug into the computer. All the parts I needed came with the converter: no hunting down extra stuff to make it work.
Using Audacity for Editing
The device I bought recommended using Audacity to edit the sound files. (Download it for free here.) I had never used Audacity before, but I found it to be pretty user-friendly and more than sufficient for my needs. I did the following for each cassette:
- Converted to digital format. (This involved putting the tape inside the player, plugging it in to the computer, starting Audacity, and pressing play. It was ridiculously simple.)
- Deleted any blank spaces that were longer than a few seconds.
- Cleaned up the background noise. (This gets worse as time goes on, and these cassettes were about 15 years old at this point.)
- Divided the recording into 10-minute tracks.
- Saved the tracks as mp3 files with the date and track number.
- Burned the finished files onto CD’s to distribute to family members. (It was 2013. If I did this again, I’d skip this step.)
- 7 years later, I saved the files into my Google Drive to share again with family members in a more updated format. Technology changes so quickly! I no longer have a way to play CD’s or DVD’s in my house.
After digitizing the audio, I decided to transcribe my grandma’s words so the words of her stories would be searchable. It took many hours and lots of editing, but I saved the completed files in Google Drive so I could easily share them with family members. I was also able to share individual stories on Family Search under “Memories”. Grandma talked about her ancestors, so I added to their memories as well.
Don’t let the technology scare you: digitizing audio is a pretty straightforward process that is well worth it. I’m glad I took the time to preserve Grandma’s stories. Now, I can listen or read what she said, and I’ll never forget her voice again. Who knew that some dusty cassette tapes would turn into such a treasure?
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