When researching our family history it is natural that we start to collect the information which is most obviously important for us to get things moving – all the paper documentation we can find; birth and death certificates, marriage and baptism records etc. We visit our elderly relatives, and have them relate to us the same old stories we might well have heard so many times before. Of course, the difference on this occasion is that we actually want to listen to them, and make sure that we extract every last bit of detail out of the tales of their early lives. Time waits for no man (or woman) as they say, and very often we will reach the point where we realize that the history of our family is important to us all too late, and the best source of our family data may be lost to us forever.

During the visit we will undoubtedly sit in rapture on their couch as we listen with intense interest to our relative, nibbling on custard creams while we scribble details into our notebooks and pore over the folder of old photographs we have brought with us to try and jog their memory.

As I said previously such visits are vitally important to our continued research. However, this is not the only type of family information we should be asking about. When I first started collecting my family history data together, I thought that the most important thing for me to do would be to obtain a photograph of as many of the people within my tree as I possibly could. After ten years research, I’m reaching the point now where I can truthfully say that I have almost reached that goal. However, I’ve also realized that there is another, more important archive, which we should not ignore.

And that is the archive of sound.mary_dunn_flowers

MARY DUNN – LILY OF LAGUNA (click here to play)

The soundclip above is a short extract taken from an old cassette tape of a Christmas family party in the D’annunzio household in Childwall, Liverpool. It was recorded in 1981 and features Mrs Mary Dunn (pictured), my wife’s grandmother, doing what she loved to do best and singing ‘Lily of Laguna’ at the top of her voice with her family around her. I was one of those present with her on that December evening, playing my guitar and singing along with the choruses. It was a wonderful party and hearing this clip played even now, I can close my eyes and I’m back there again.

In this modern digital age, where nearly all of us has a phone fitted with both a still and a video camera, it is easy to forget that it was not always like this. There was an old thing called analogue – where we recorded sound onto cassette or reel to reel tape, or even directly onto acetate discs themselves.

It should be remembered that some of these items might still be around – tucked away in a shoebox and kept in Auntie Minnie’s wardrobe. You won’t know unless you ask the question… but one thing is certain, you should be asking it now, for neither your Auntie Min nor the tapes will be around forever…

In part two we’ll take a look at what you can do with your discs and tapes once you’ve tracked them down….

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