Regina Runge had no idea she was even missing a VHS tape containing the memories of the first year of life of her only child, Taylor, who is now 21.
5 Urgent Things to Do to Preserve Video Tape Memories
We’re running against the clock. Most homemade video tapes 10 to 25 years old probably won’t see the end of this decade. Unlike photographs, video cassettes have a special set of longevity problems. Old video tape, VHS, Betamax, SVHS, VHS-C and Hi 8 share one thing in common: they are all magnetic media. In addition to the hurdles of repeated playback, winding, and re-winding, most magnetic-based media will eventually fade away – forever.
Lest you think this isn’t a problem for you, here’s a cautionary tale. In the summer of 2016, Franklin Ritch bought an old VHS tape while shopping at a Goodwill store. A family had accidentally donated it with the VCR, leaving the video tape buried inside. It was a family treasure of a daughter (Taylor’s) first year birthday.
1. Find Those Old Videos and Set Them Aside
Accidents happen and hidden video treasures are everywhere. Regina Runge had no idea that her VHS tape of her daughter Taylor was missing. “We’d gone through several moves in the last few years and kept giving away things to Goodwill because our house kept getting smaller,” Regina said. The Runge family donated an old VCR to Goodwill and thought nothing about looking inside for the hidden video tape.
Most home-recorded videos aren’t so lucky. Many end up in landfills as people die, family homes are emptied and relatives, for whom the films may be meaningless, throw them out. Corporate archives are also at risk. A fire destroyed four decades’ worth of film and video footage at Ottawa’s CJOH newsroom. Long-time news anchor Max Keeping who was retiring and had hoped to keep his best memory archives was devastated.
Without knowing the video was missing, Regina commented to a friend that she wanted to do something with the 10 or so VHS tapes that the family had stored. “I’d just been telling my friend last week that I needed to convert the VHS tapes of Taylor into DVDs and that we needed to get it professionally done,” Regina said. “Had I gone to that box and known it was missing I would have been so upset.”
2. Watch the What’s On the Video
Franklin Ritch, an independent filmmaker, had a strong appreciation for old memories caught on VHS tapes. He bought the VCR for less than $10 at the Goodwill store for his grandmother who wanted to watch old family video tapes.
Many months later at the request of his grandmother Franklin pulled out the VCR from his grandmother’s garage. “I plugged it in and turned it on and the tape popped out,” Franklin said. “It had on it a label that said ‘Taylor’s first birthday, first steps, first Christmas and first Halloween.’”
“I saw on the tape that her first birthday was in 1996 so I had a realization that Taylor was probably about my age,” Franklin said. “And I had this thought that if my mother had lost a tape like that she’d definitely miss it and want it back.”
Franklin played the VHS tape to see whether he could hear a last name or recognize anything in the tape to help find its owner. “As soon as that tape popped out of the VCR I knew I had to find these people and I wasn’t going to stop until I did.”
3. Share Your Video Online
RetrOntario is a Toronto-based YouTube channel with the express purpose of having a place online for people to post found video footage. (No affiliation with Overseas Video Lab.) There is a real fear that if people don’t store these old videos online that they will be lost forever. Not only is there a threat of fire or the garbage can, but improperly stored film can turn into a form of “film vinegar” with 20 percent or more disappearing over time.
Franklin did the next best thing, he posted a screen grab of the video on Facebook. One of his friends, a news producer for the Jacksonville, Florida TV station WJAX/WFOX, saw Franklin’s Facebook post and offered to help spread the word about the lost tape on-air and on the station’s Facebook page.
Lucky for Regina, the same friend she talked to about converting her VHS tapes saw the news station's Facebook post. She asked Regina on Facebook, “Is that Taylor?” Regina wrote her back and said, “How do you know?” Luck, indeed. “It was really a shock,” Regina recalled. Her friends recognized the age, saw a photo of Taylor on Facebook, and just thought she would ask. “She had no idea.”
4. Convert Those Videotapes to DVD Quickly
Regina met Franklin to receive the tape with a big plate of homemade cookies and a huge dose of appreciation. “It all turned out pretty exceptionally,” said Franklin. Regina now plans to get all of her VHS tapes converted “as quickly as I can.”
She is “so thankful” to Franklin for reuniting her with priceless memories. “I remember everything on that tape,” Regina said. “It wasn’t just such a special video for Taylor but my parents are in there and they’re in their late 80s now. “My father is a musician and for Christmas she’s sitting on the bandstand with him while he was playing,” she said of one clip on the tape. “When I remembered that was on there I broke out in tears.”
5. Keep Video Tapes in a Safe Place
Ultimately, the best way to preserve your home video VHS is to transfer them to a more stable medium. However, if that is not an option for you, there are a few other basic steps you can do to slow down this inevitable film loss.
Store your tapes in a cool and dry environment with a stable temperature. Our research indicates that even if you store your video tapes well, they will still experience a 10 to 20 percent loss over the next 10 to 25 years – which only gets worse with each passing year.
While a 20 percent loss is not like losing the entire video, it can make all the difference between enjoying an old memory and simply displaying a series of broken video segments. So the sooner you digitize your video tapes, the more you preserve them.
Looking for a Film Transfer Service?
Franklin and Regina’s story had a happy ending. Their story is exceptional. Every story is. There is no shortage of stories of lost video tapes or lost footage due to decay. The best thing you can do is to protect those memories and to digitize your video tapes.
Overseas Video Lab will take the care and professional devotion to preserve video tapes of all kinds (VHS, SVHS, VHS-C, Hi 8, Betamax) and transfer them to DVD or another digital media source. We can also post your old home movies, video tapes or film to You Tube or another online service for you. We've been in business for over 30 years and we love what we do. We’re THE experts.