Saturday, December 26, 2015

Listening to the Past

It's been a busy year. Aren't they always? This was a year for working around the house to prevent it from falling into shards around our feet. Deck work, garage work, basement work, replacing ovens and microwaves and washers and dryers. You know, annoying stuff like that. Stuff that gets in the way of the important work like... genealogy.

But once in a while, you have to do a little 'maintenance', or water and wind will damage your genealogy materials and no one wants that.

I had been on a pretty good run scanning my photographs, I had made it all the way to 1989. I was feeling pretty good about my progress, but you know what happens when you get cocky. A few years ago, my father-in-law had passed away and my daughter had inherited her grandparents' photo albums. 

She has begun the monumental task of scanning them along with the postcards and recipes and other such ephemera. As she's been doing those as well as her own original photos from her school days she has been passing the completed digitized files along to me. Then I fold those photos into the date-sequenced master digital photo albums I've been keeping. 

Well, that sounds easy, you may think. Not bloody likely! Dating and identifying photographs was not a trait widely shared in our family. Once in a while, certainly, but only enough to be tantalizing.

From another direction, my brother who is MUCH older then I am (although slightly better  looking) began passing me the digitized files of his slides which date back to 1965. And then to add a topping to that cake, my sister-in-law very graciously allowed me access to her photo albums and suddenly I am awash with a target rich environment.

After a brief bout with catatonic immobility, I asked my family which of the thousand things on my list to do next. My daughter's sound advice was to do those things which will deteriorate first and possibly be lost. Pretty good advice, huh?   

So I reluctantly stepped away from photographs and into the loving embrace of analog recordings. The oldest items were some reel-to-reel tapes previously owned by my father in-law. 

In November 1966, he had purchased an Astro-Science Concertone 804A Tape Recorder. This 47 POUND machine was used by his family for years but it had gone silent the last 10 years or so. When he died, I brought it home with his remaining tapes which were mostly music, but a couple marked 'family'. So I had stored it all away for a few more years thinking I would have to get the tapes digitized professionally as I had my own old tapes. 

When I turned the Concertone on and it didn't work I wasn't surprised. However, further examination revealed the flywheel had been locked with transport screws. Once free, it started right up and operated like brand new. A nearly 50-YEAR-OLD machine without a single computer circuit in it and there were the 40-plus year-old voices sounding fresh and new! But why send the tapes away, if I could convert them myself? So, I downloaded a free audio product called NCH WavePad and digitized them. Fortunately, I had all the right connecting wires so I didn't have to buy a thing. It had all just been waiting there for me.

Next, I turned to a pile of cassette tapes. For a few years, my mother-in-law had gone through a phase of taping her phone conversations with her relatives so others in the family could hear them as well. These tapes were even easier to convert, also using WavePad.  

The last big hurdle was VCR tapes. There were vacations and school functions hiding in there that went back to the eighties as well as some work-related tapes that I had appeared in. The solution I chose here was Diamond One Touch Video Capture which is an inexpensive hardware and software combo. I just dragged one of my old VCRs up next to my computer, sent the video signal through the little hardware converter and was able to see the image on my computer screen and used it to know when to stop and start. Since I had only eight or so tapes to convert, this worked well for me. I'm sure some people have hundreds and it wouldn't work as well for them.

So, now the delicate, fragile, soon-to-be-lost stuff is done! Yay! Now I can return to photographs with a (relatively) clear conscience. Happy 2016!   

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