Thoughts from the Jamboree of last weekend

I spent three days at a table showing off digital recording tools to passers by at the Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree and Resources Expo (which I’m calling Genealogy Expo for short) last weekend. Here’s a recap of conversational snippets and observations from the Jamboree, along with follow-up of discussions at my booth.

imageFor people who have recordings that they made already—how to get them from tape (cassette, reel-to-reel, microcassette) and into digital form: I talked to many people who’ve already done recordings that they have on cassette or even micro-cassette. Which reminds me, I want to get some resources for digitizing reel to reel tapes (one person said they have the tape, but not the recorder/player) and another who’s working off the original microcassette to transcribe the interview. I told the person to minimize wear and tear on the actual tape and get it transferred to digital format ASAP, and then do the fast forward and rewind on the digital version. The digital file won’t stretch, snap and break like the tape might.

My Go-to person on this is Richard Hess, formerly based in Glendale, CA and now based in Aurora, Ontario Canada, and he’s got a list of resources.
For Cassette and microcassette, His cassette and microcassette page with links to people who can digitize the tapes. The local (Pasadena, CA) expert on microcassette is Wes Dooley. Oh, I hope the person I talked to comes back to the site and sees this note.
Reel-to-reel tape Richard’s page on reel to reel tapes and resources of those who can do transfer is here.

Opportunity gained and lost, and a lesson about intimidation and video cameras A man came by the booth and told me a sad story about oral history. His wife went to school in Cuba; she was taught by nuns. She discovered, lo these many years later, that one of the nuns was located in Northern California. So they went up north to visit the nun, who was quite elderly by this time. It was a joyous and happy reunion. They wanted to interview the nun,and record it. They brought along a video camera for the purpose, and set it up on a tripod, and got everything ready, and sat Sister down in front of it. Where she froze. The camera lens upset her, and not only did the interview not happen, but Sister had to be taken back to her room to calm down. Alas, the nun died six months later, so the opportunity to have a conversation and hear her recollections never happened.

I’ve been a proponent of audio interviews. It’s a bias I’ve got through opportunity and happenstance and not having a TV in my household. Audio interviewing is easier. There’s not as much stuff to deal with. And, depending on the microphone—especially with a lavalier/lapel mic, it’s easier to forget that it’s there there and just have the interviewee go on talking. Video cameras can be more inimidating, and this story is a stark tale of how the recording device, rather than recording the interview, stopped it from happening.

One other thought on video: I was asked by JD Lasica, author, videographer and co-founder of the site OurMedia (where my podcasts are hosted), why I don’t do video. I told him of the session I recorded with my great aunt a coupla summers ago: She wore her robe and we sat in the living room while she told me numerous stories. If I had a video camera, would the interview have been that easy? There’s the preparation and the primping. Video is totally doable, but there is an additional barrier between “want to do it” and “getting it done.” (I do want to overcome my biases, though, and cover video on this site. Audio first, though.)

But she just clams up! Speaking of intimidation, I heard of other stories of difficulties of getting people to talk. “Oh, but she’s so funny and engaging and she loves to talk. But if I were to put a recorder there, then she’d just clam up!” There was a discussion about stealth recording, which I find troubling (but I did mention stealth recording devices I’m aware of.) because I think that the agreement to tell stories should be on the up and up and out there. And to show the influence of reading the Oral Historian mailing list for the last few years, a recording made by stealth is good only for the person who creates it. What happens to it later if someone decides that it’s worth donating to a library or historical archive? They wouldn’t be able to use it. Now for someone who says, “But I can’t get my Mom to even talk to me!” thoughts about where to give the recording are the furthest thing from someone’s mind.

If you have any experience with this, please describe it in the comments. I haven’t had any interviews that were hard to make for the “clam up” reason—in fact, my mother came to the show on Sunday and we did a demo of an interview right then and there. My problem was helping my Mom zero in on a brief story to tell that’d be fitting in a trade-show demo environment (i.e., tell me a great story, Mom, but do it in under 3 minutes. I had to keep holding the directional mic in front of her mouth because she (rightly) turned her head to tell the story group gathered to watch. I then took that recording (made straight into the computer) and burned an audio CD of it then and there via iTunes. That was fun, to show off the start-to-finish part of creating a digital archive of a conversation. Steve Danko got a photo of my Mom and I and put it in his report on the Jamboree (“I recognized you from Susan’s site,” he told her. which prolly took my Mom back a bit wink)

I’ll be posting more about other people I met, equipment and software I did brief tests on (Olympus digital recorder and WMA) and software to work with it, and more on CD media and how to store them, and other people I met, including Drew Smith of The Genealogy Guys podcast. He interviewed me for a podcast, and it must be up, because I’m getting quetions about my recording kit. So I’ll write about that and then come write another post about other vendors I met and the Coolest Trade Show! swag! evar!! (who’d’a thought I’d get it at a genealogy jamboree and not a high tech trade show)

[That photo of me and my booth was taken by Debbi K. Swanson Patrick. Her website and blog]

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 15, 2007 in • Do it: Hiring HelpDo it: YourselfGenealogyRestoration
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