The word “transcription” comes from a Latin word meaning “tedious.” OK, not really, but it should. Transcribing audio is a mind-numbing task, but it’s a necessary one if you have a trove of family audiotapes. Before you transcribe your tapes, use a service (such as iMemories or Everpresent) to digitize them. Fragile audiocassettes or reel-to-reel tapes may snap or shred if you play them. The data may still be salvageable, but restoration costs a lot more than digitization. Digitize your tapes first, and then use your digitized files for transcription.

In transcribing audio, you have a few options. For free or for less than $5, you can buy an app such as Transcriptions or F5 Transcription. Many, such as Trint, now have multi–voice recognition technology. The app will generate a raw file for you. The transcript may require significant corrections, but that process is easier than starting from scratch. Better apps are available for $50 to $150.

Another option is to enlist the help of your family and close friends to transcribe your tapes. Place all the digitized files in Dropbox or a similar file-sharing app, and ask family members to go in and “claim” one or more recordings. Each helper can then listen to the tape and do the following:

  • Transcribe the tape (or correct the app transcription)
  • Identify the speakers
  • Note the topics of discussion
  • Estimate when the recording was made
  • Note (by citing the time stamp) any amusing or dramatic snippets that might make good additions to your obituary or virtual memorial

If you can persuade anyone outside your immediate family to help with the scutwork of transcribing audio recordings, your powers of persuasion are astounding. Quit your day job and start selling timeshares post haste.