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Quest for Sound Memories

Kate Volkman
Project Associate

1500 - That's the number of messages we received on our Quest for Sound voicemail over the last year. That's how many of you found a cassette, 78rpm record, wire, acetate, or CD holding audio treasures - grandmothers singing, fathers sending letters home during the war, you playing disc jockey, an uncle telling a family story.

As I listened to message after message on the voicemail, I realized there's a lot to be said for making an audio record. It's something so precious that you'll always be thankful for. So many of you told us about a loved one who passed on. And in your voices there was a sense of sadness, but also of fulfillment - that you have something of that person - something you can hang on to forever - something you can share with future generations.

Your recordings are rich with history and emotion, and just plain good stories - funny stories, sweet stories. Like the one where a woman called to share an answering machine message she received from the daughter she had given up for adoption. Or the one where an Irish-American man told the story of his coming to America. His father was already here saving money to bring his wife and 5 children over when his sisters secretly arranged an appearance on the TV show "It Could Be You." The show paid for the family's entire trip and topped it all off with Christmas gifts for their new life in the U.S.

The story I find myself telling over and over again as I describe the Quest for Sound is the Gettysburg Eyewitness. It was one of the first Quest stories we told on our weekly Lost & Found Sound segment. It's a recording of William Ravthon, who as a nine-year-old boy watched and listened to Abraham Lincoln deliver his address at Gettysburg in November 1863. He later told the story in 1938 on 78 r.p.m. record which was brought to our attention by his relatives. This is history. No other Gettysburg eyewitness is known to have recorded memories on record.

Although not all of your recordings may be as publicly and historically important as Ravthon's, they are important to you. And I realized that they are important to me as well...because they encouraged me to make my own recordings.

While on family vacation in August, I interviewed my grandparents about their early life experiences. Their parents were born in Germany and emigrated here in the early part of this century. When my grandmother was 18 years old, she and her mother returned to the old country to visit relatives. She described their homes, their faces and their names. As I sat next to her on the porch that night at the beach, I wanted her to talk forever. And now that I have her on audio tape, she will.

Kate Volkman
Project Associate

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Jay Allison Darcy Bacon Viki Merrick Art Silverman

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