Part of digitizing a family’s memorabilia is acknowledging when to let something go. Not every thing can be retrieved. You can continue to regret what is lost, or accept that it was just not meant to be discovered. Folks really do try to assist you in your quest, but despite everyone’s efforts, some things will not reveal themselves to you. Focus on what you have instead of what remains elusive. Keep moving forward.
A Single 3.5” Floppy Disk
My sister provided me with a select number of items to digitize on behalf of her family and our family. One item was a 3.5” floppy disk labeled, simply, “Grandma.” We imagined it to be a transcript of an interview that my nephew conducted with her, or a school paper he had written about her (she died in 2017, after living with Alzheimers for over a decade). My nephew graduated from high school in 2008, so we assume the disk dates to the 2000s.
Over four years ago, at a prior workplace, someone lent me a USB floppy drive that enabled me to read a bunch of 3.5” work disks. I would have borrowed it again to read this single disk, but I don’t work there anymore or even live nearby. The work experience did assure me that many floppies can still be read successfully, and that most of the documents on them can be opened in word processing software. Based on this past experience, I was optimistic.
I researched buying a USB floppy drive. I would only be using the drive to read a single disk, so buying one seemed impractical. My husband suggested I locate a business that specializes in outdated media. I found Reborn Audio/Video. I called first, and was told the charge would be about $20.00. I took a USB drive with me so that they could copy any files found on the floppy onto the USB drive for easy access by me when I returned home. They even said they could finish it up that same day, as long as I dropped it off early. This was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so they were only open one day a week. I called later that same day and was told that there was nothing retrievable on the disk – that it appeared to be blank. I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed. I had expected to encounter difficulties actually opening and reading files on the disk, but it had not occurred to me that the disk itself might be blank.
I picked up the disk and the USB drive and brought them home. I returned to the idea of buying a USB floppy drive. Maybe a different drive would yield better results. Maybe the person at the shop hadn’t done a thorough job. They ended up not charging me, so I began wondering, “How do I even know they tried? What if they got distracted by another project and just told me there was nothing on it to get me out of the shop?” So, I researched purchasing a USB floppy drive. I came across a helpful How-To Geek article from May 2020. I was happy to see I am not alone in still trying to retrieve data from old media.
The article provided terminology on what kind of device to search for. I considered eBay as well as B&H. The item at B&H was out of stock; I returned to eBay. My husband pointed out that the quality of an older device from eBay would probably be better anyway. I could buy a USB floppy drive for a few dollars more than what the gentleman at the shop had quoted me if he had been able to access and copy the files. So, why not? I made my first eBay purchase. The drive arrived in the original box, with original packaging and even instructions! It worked when I connected it to my iMac. But, alas, when I inserted the floppy – it did indeed read as a blank disk.
I am sure the employee at the shop really did look at the floppy. I just wanted to believe there was something he had failed to do, or that his hardware couldn’t read the disk properly, or something. But, it was not meant to be. It’s blank. Maybe it always was. Maybe the Grandma file was lost years ago. Per the text exchanges below, my nephew doesn’t even remember what was supposedly on this disk.
As I write this, the disk is propped up on my desk. Once I post this, it will be time to dispose of the empty Grandma floppy disk. Whatever story it held (or never held) is gone. I’ll focus instead on the many memorabilia items that we do have.
An Idora Park Transcript
In August 2015, my 89-year-old father was interviewed by a graduate student at Ohio University. The title of her research was, “Remembering Idora Park.” Idora Park was an urban amusement park on the south side of Youngstown, Ohio. My father grew up in the nearby Fosterville neighborhood and worked there as a young man. Idora Park’s famous ride was the Wildcat wooden roller coaster (per Wikipedia, in 1984, it was still ranked among the top 10 roller coasters in the world). I recently finished a book about Youngstown titled, Steelworker Alley: How Class Works in Youngstown, by Robert Bruno. The book mentions wildcat (i.e., unauthorized) steel mill strikes multiple times, and it occurred to me that this is probably where the roller coaster got its name. The book notes there was a local high school baseball squad with the name Wildcats.
In addition to offering fun for the kids and families of Youngstown, Idora Park provided summertime employment; as someone who had visited the Park and worked there, my father was an ideal research participant. He signed a consent form for the research project, and he kept a copy. On the consent form, my father checked “YES” for agreeing that a written transcript of his recorded interview could be placed in an appendix of the final product of the study. He also indicated that he had been employed by the Park.
This was exciting! I wanted to locate the transcript, or perhaps even the recording. My father passed away in 2018, so hearing his voice again would be a true gift. I went online to locate the final product. OhioLINK has an Electronic Theses & Dissertations Center, where it was easy to find the completed thesis:
On page 9, the Table of Contents lists three Appendices:
My heart began to sink. “Appendix B: Interview Participant Basic Information” didn’t sound like it would contain full transcripts of those interviewed. I proceeded to page 205. My father’s name appears there (last name in image below), but the information is indeed basic:
OhioLINK does list the advisor. I went to the Ohio University (OU) site, and he is still at OU. I sent him an email, explaining the situation. He reached out to the author on my behalf. I was hoping that the detailed information was archived somewhere else at OU, but apparently not. The author did indeed get in touch with me. Unfortunately, for privacy reasons, she had deleted all relevant files after a period of time had elapsed. She didn’t include the transcripts in the appendix based on advice from her committee, due to length concerns. The author indicated that the only other place the transcripts might still exist is at her parents’ home. She said she will check next time she is there. She may or may not remember to do so; either way, I appreciate her taking the time to exchange a few emails with me about the situation.
The missing transcript is another piece of memorabilia that felt like it was within reach, but in pursuing it, I came to realize it would remain inaccessible to me. All I can do is take the time to read Megan Sympson’s thesis and capture a bit of what Idora Park was like for the many kids who enjoyed it and worked there over the years. A quick search for my father’s name indicates he is referenced several places throughout the thesis.
Negatives and Photos Tossed
My parents moved to a continuing care community in 2009, several years after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Within the first year or two of moving into the community, my father tackled the family photo albums. They were well organized by year, but without a lot of labeling. For the 1970s in particular, many photos had suffered from the self-stick album pages deteriorating over time. The images had yellowed considerably. I remember our father proudly telling me and at least one of my two sisters how he had gone through the albums and gotten rid of images that were, in his opinion, compromised.
I pleaded with him not to toss anything else, explaining that technology was getting better all of the time, and that images could often be restored. He felt very bad about the actions he had already taken. He had no way of knowing about restoration. He promised not to toss anything else, but of course many were already long gone. I was especially disappointed, as many of the images that had suffered the most (and thus been tossed) were those from my childhood. The images from my sisters’ childhoods (15-18 years older than me) had fared better (they were in the same crappy albums, but somehow benefitted from a superior development process).
The negatives were also gone. Scanning images from the negatives would have been perfect, given how compromised the prints had become. But, the negatives never made the move to the continuing care community. I know exactly where they were kept in my parents’ home. The back closet, near the screened-in porch. Upper right corner, on a shelf, same area as the photo albums. My mother always kept the negatives in the development envelopes and just continued to shove them up there when the prints came home. When did the negatives disappear? I don’t know. My mother kept them for years. Did she decide, one day, to toss them? Were they thrown away when a caregiver helped pack that closet prior to their move? I don’t know. I’ll never know.
Some prints from that timeframe do survive, and the others are just gone. There were no duplicates back then. By the 1990s, duplicates of prints were common. But not in the 1970s, at least not for my family. So I will have to learn to treasure the ones I have and to not dwell on the ones that cannot be recovered. I tell myself that the albums belonged to my parents. My father didn’t mean any harm. He thought he was doing us a favor, getting rid of items that, in his opinion, had no value anymore due to their deterioration. It was his right to redo the albums, reorder them, and toss things. It never occurred to him to consult us. What he did made perfect sense to him. As my mother would have said, “It is what it is.”
As I reflect on these lost items, I am also grateful. In the first two instances, individuals really made an effort trying to help me retrieve memorabilia. In the final instance, the harm done was unintentional. In each situation, you proceed with what you do have. Take comfort in knowing that you did your best. Some things are meant to carry forward with us, and others are intended to be lost to time. Treasure what is still with you and let the rest go.
And now for the final question: is anyone out there in need of a functioning 3.5″ floppy disk drive?