Backstage Pass: Transcribing Oral Histories

by the Oral History Queen

There are approximately 260 tapes in the oral history tape collection, covering a time span of about 1970-1995.  The subject matter, interviewers, and interviewees vary, but what is gleaned from the interviews is always pertinent to Napa County history.  For example, recently transcribed tapes provide information about the lives of Joseph Lazarus, George Yount, and the descendants of James Clyman.  “Indians in Calistoga” is the title of one of the next tapes to be transcribed.

The interviews were taped at NCHS meetings, in the homes of the persons being interviewed, and over-the-air at Napa’s KVON Radio Station.  Unfortunately, there are some interviews that I cannot transcribe because the speaker simply cannot be heard clearly.  For the most part, the interviews taped at KVON are of the best quality and the easiest to transcribe.

I transcribe the tapes on the Panasonic dictation/transcription machine owned by NCHS and currently residing in my home near my computer.  Each tape takes approximately two hours to transcribe, with about another 45 minutes required to correct misspellings and other typing errors I have made while typing what I am hearing in an expeditious manner.

I make no corrections to facts I know or believe to be erroneous but, when possible, I do provide additional, minimal information about people or places mentioned during the interview.  An example would be “Sam Fish,” mentioned in a Joseph Lazarus interview.  Mr. Lazarus stated Mr. Fish’s residence address during the interview but I could not hear it clearly.  I searched for Mr. Fish in Napa city directories and found his address in Napa during the appropriate time period and entered that information, italicized, into the text of the interview. When each transcription is completed, I forward it by email to NCHS Research Librarian Alexandria Brown to add to our files.

[Ed. note: The next big step in the oral histories project is to digitize the cassette tapes. One day soon you’ll be able to hear the oral histories as you follow along in the transcripts. If you’d like to be a part of this ongoing project, fill out our Volunteer Application Form. – Alexandria Brown, Research Librarian]