Five Reasons Why You Should Transcribe Your Family Stories

The stories of our lives and those of our ancestors bring a greater sense of foundation and meaning to those whom they are shared. As we race to preserve the life stories of aging family members while they are still living there is a case to be made for transcribing everything before you back up your files to external backup drives or cloud storage.

Here are five key reasons why you should transcribe your audio and video files of family members telling personal stories:

Transcribing helps you remember what you have in the recordings. You can see what you have. They help you remember the work you’ve already done and maintain the value of those preserved family stories. If you never transcribed the 1980s era cassette tape of your great grandmother discussing how to make her beloved baked macaroni and cheese casserole, then you risk losing those stories forever as technology changes, becomes obsolete, goes missing or breaks. Once you have a printed transcription it’s easier to reach for the memory than it is to find old equipment to play it on. It is also a reminder to continually preserve those audio or video files.

Transcribing gives you options. Once you transcribe your audio and digital files, you can begin to work on other projects. You can storyboard videos, create blogs, capture favorite expressions, or outline a book. The ideas are endless.

Most older relatives don’t speak in a concise or chronological manner, even when you give them a dedicated list of questions or topics to discuss in an order. When they remember a key detail they will tell you at the moment they remember it. You may already be talking about a whole other topic, but they’ll want to bring up one tidbit of information about a previous story. It throws off the cadence of the interview but, with a transcription, you can bring that information together where it belongs when you’re outlining or storyboarding.

Transcribing helps you capture the expressions of a family. Every family has its little quirks in conversation. They travel through time. In the transcriptions you will see those expressions come to light. Have fun with it.

Transcribing your digital files gives you another form of back up – Subscribe to the 3-2-1 method of preservation: three copies of your files, on two types of media (i.e. digital files + transcriptions or one external hard drive + one flash drive) and one stored offsite (i.e. cloud storage, a safe, or shared with a relative). A 30-page transcription from a two-hour audio interview can easily be posted on free cloud storage, such as Google Drive or Dropbox. If something happens to the master files you’ll at least have a transcribed backup. 

Transcribing your digital files helps develop follow-up questions and research needed to confirm details and tell a story fully. As you listen to your files slowly new ideas will flow. You’ll think of questions you wish you had asked. You’ll make notes about researching facts and other background, like trying to find family documents or old photos. Always be asking yourself: What more do I need to know?  By developing follow-up questions and research, you will improve your storytelling skills. The more you ask, the more you’ll know.

The risk of not transcribing your files is to threaten the value of the recorded family history and the projects you once created. Some media that our current digital files are store on, such as flash drives, SD cards, and old external drives, are easily lost in a household. Taking your projects to the next level with transcriptions will keep them current and accessible.