A Cautionary Tale of Digital Loss


Daniel Ramon Costello & Barbara Ann Deno Costello, my granduncle & grandaunt at their home in Spokane, Washington.



I am sick.


Like, really, really heartsick.

Almost four years ago I went on a trip to Spokane, Washington to visit my Grandma and interview her.  I saw, and also interviewed, other family members including my Uncle Dan & Aunt Barbara, and my fabulous Auntie V.  It was a fantastic trip.  My sister and Mom drove up to be there too.  I had brought along a digital audio recorder to capture all of the conversations.

Grandma told me stories I had never heard.  She talked about being a single mom in the 60s.  She described being a rescue diver for years and the moment she decided she couldn’t do it anymore.  She answered questions about family members who she knew, but my Mom and I did not.  She described people and places.  She went over photos with me identifying people and adding details about those people and the events in the photos.  She talked about how hard it was when her father went to prison for a year.  We talked and talked and talked.  I captured it all on my little digital audio recorder.

Uncle Dan and Aunt Barbara told me about John Costello and Mary Brown Young, my great grandparents.  I knew Mary, but John died when my mother was a child.  They shared how sorry they were in later years that they hadn’t asked Grandpa Costello more questions about his family in Spain before he passed.  Uncle Dan talked about his time in the service during WWII.  Aunt Barbara started to tell us about how sad my biological grandfather was when he and my Grandma divorced before my Mom and aunt cut her off.

My Auntie V shared some insights, when we were alone, about various family members from the past.  Her “unvarnished truth” to balance what Grandma had shared.

My Grandpa told me detailed stories from Viet Nam that are so fascinating.  I’ll leave it at that since he is still living.

All of these gems and much more were recorded on my handy little digital audio recorder.

I returned home from my trip and was immediately swept back up in daily life with my children who were 16, 13, and 2.  I was able to process some new data and information, but my trusty little audio recorder didn’t make the cut.

More than a year passed and one of my uncles from my dad’s side of the family needed to borrow my audio recorder for a family reunion I wasn’t able to attend.  I wrote up a short list of instructions and stood holding that recorder, struggling with whether or not to leave the micro sd card inside.  It has an internal memory that was more than sufficient, but what if the contents on the sd card were somehow erased?  After going back and forth I popped that oh-so-tiny micro sd card out and set it on my dresser.

I think.

Here is the moment in the book where you want to scream at the character, “No!  Don’t do it!!”

The recorder was used by my uncle at that reunion and then returned and placed on top of my dresser.

I think.

This week I am going back up to Spokane to help with an archiving project, among other things.  I will see Aunt Barbara, my Mom, Auntie V, and Grandpa.  Grandma and Uncle Dan have both passed away.

I need to be able to record and I debated – do I use my digital audio recorder or do I use my phone?

I pulled out that recorder and thought I had better pull the audio files off of it.  I plugged it into my computer and searched the files.

There were five.

Four nonsense practice files that last just a few seconds and a 33-minute file from the reunion.

That is all.

I must have checked the micro sd card slot at least 15 times hoping for something to appear that simply wasn’t there.  I even used a flashlight just to be certain.  I went through the folders on the internal memory over and over hoping to find something more but coming up empty every single time.

Panic set in.

I started tearing apart every place in my house I could imagine myself considering “a safe place” for that teeny-tiny-little micro sd card.  (Carefully, of course, but definitely fervently.)  All the while I was racking my brain and praying for a memory to pop to the surface.  Did I really just set that invaluable sd card on my dresser?  That miniscule, but more precious than gold, fragile tiny card on the edge of a dresser?!

That seems like a terrible decision.  And the thing is, I don’t know for sure what I did.  I just know that there is not a micro sd card inside of that digital audio recorder.

So far I have found one micro sd card – but not the one I need – but seriously, where did that come from? – and one regular sd card.  What is happening here?  Why aren’t these properly stored?  Why is my organizational system falling apart?!  What on earth?

Why didn’t I transfer those files immediately after my trip?!

Why didn’t I transfer those files while I was still on my trip?!!!!!  I had my laptop with me.

And this is the point where I could ramble on and on about my laptop being super full and being a busy mom with big and tiny children and being the Relief Society President in my ward and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

You know that moment I mentioned, the one where we all want to scream at the character, “No!!  Don’t do it!!”?  Well, I didn’t listen.  If I could have even had a tiny glimpse of my present anguish, I would have moved mountains to get those files transferred to AT LEAST two other places.

But I didn’t.

And now I am heartsick.

So terribly heartsick.

Real tears have been shed several times now as I continue to search and continue to come up with nothing.


There are two very small glimmers of hope.

One, my Mom interviewed my Grandma about 2 years ago and still has that recording – that I will immediately move heaven and earth to transfer to AT LEAST two places the minute it gets into my hot little hand.  There are two major disappointments with this – one, I love you Mom, but I ask better questions 😳 – and two, my Mom says it’s all fiction.  But let’s be real, would I know the difference?  And is my Mom’s opinion of Grandma’s stories accurate or fair?  I don’t know.

Two, I just might still find that micro sd card.  I believe in miracles.  I’ve experienced miracles plenty of times.  I don’t know if I actually need a miracle this time or just more time searching, but I’ll take that treasure anyway it comes to me.  So I’ll hold out hope that somehow, someway, those hours of audio files will make their way back to me.  And no matter the path it takes, I will consider it a miracle.  But I have learned a VERY BIG lesson.


Good preservation requires having multiple copies in multiple places.  So guess what I will be doing over the next month?  Assessing and addressing my current level of preservation of family photos, home movies, and priceless papers and artifacts.


But I still really, really, really want to have that oh-so-precious and oh-so-tiny micro sd card back.  Please.


I’ll take any good vibes, happy successful treasure hunting thoughts, or prayers you want to send my way.  I could definitely use them.


And friends, I hope you will learn from my mistake and avoid a similar bout of sorrow and loss.  What do you need to digitize, duplicate, or store in another place today?  Don’t wait.  Please, don’t wait.

Good luck.



44 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale of Digital Loss”

  1. My heart actually hurts for you right now. I’m so sorry! Maybe this story will give you some hope:

    The diamond in my grandmother’s ring fell out the day of my grandfather’s funeral (I know, right?). All five of her children (and several grandchildren, and some more extended family besides) searched her entire house for it, and even went so far as to put a fresh bag in the vacuum cleaner and vacuum the entire house. No luck.

    She found it months later in the hosiery drawer of her vanity.

    Sometimes tiny things DO reappear. <3

    1. Oh! What a sad event on a funeral day!! But you are definitely right – sometimes tiny things do reappear. I am hoping that will be my privilege as well. I’m happy for your grandmother’s sake. <3

  2. Oh Amberly. I want to cry too. I know how much it must have meant to you to have all those stories recorded. I so hope the SD card turns up. I’ve had similar “misplacements” and almost all have turned out ok, so I’m sending the most positive thoughts I can, wrapped up in a virtual hug.

    1. Thank you, Su. That means a lot. I’m hoping for the best, even if it will take time. I think some serious, but slow and careful, spring cleaning is in order around my home. <3

      1. If anyone can find it, it is the mother of boys!!! I don’t know about you, but I spend my life finding lost stuff because I can take “a mummy look.” Fingers crossed.

  3. Don’t give up hope that you might one day find those files. I lost two diamonds from my engagement ring and later found both of them.
    The first I found years later wrapped ever-so carefully in an old pair of socks while I was waiting for the new setting to arrive at the jewelry store. The second was lost from the replacement ring that my husband bought me, which fell out while I was attending a football game in an 88000-seat football stadium. I located it that same day in the sink of a bathroom of the stadium.
    So don’t abandon hope. Learn a lesson but know it could happen to you too.

    1. Wow! I am so surprised about the success of finding a diamond in a sink in a stadium! That is remarkable. Thank you for your kind words of hope. Here’s hoping for my own miracle. <3

  4. Oh, wow—I am so sad to read this. I hope you have at least notes or some memories of the contents of those conversations and that you can write down what you remember ASAP. The problem with modern technology is that even when we can locate the files, someday the technology needed to read them will be obsolete. Who ever thought that LPs would become just dust collectors? I can’t bear to think of all the information I have digitized, but not in hard copy. But who wants to print out 1000s of pages or barely legible documents? Nothing is permanent.

    I sure hope you can find the SD card. I ache imagining how you must feel.

    1. Thank you, Amy. I do have notes for sure and plenty of memories. But it was a particularly detailed few days and there were some really treasured (bonus) stories that I won’t recall. But one thing I keep thinking about is the fact that we can’t possibly record/use/preserve everything and the most important stories and facts are preserved. Everything else on those files was the beautifully precious icing of a very large & sturdy cake. If I never find it, it will be okay and only I will know what was lost. But here’s hoping I still find it!! <3

      1. I hope you do, but meantime you have the right attitude. Somewhere in you are all those memories, and if you start writing them down, I bet others will come back to you. Don’t give up hope!

  5. I’m so sorry. I do really hope it turns up. You may find it when you least expect to! One other thing you might want to look into before you use the SD card that is in the recorder any more is to run an SD card recovery software in the off chance that the files were on that card previously. I have successfully reeovered files on Compact flash cards using similar utilities. Here is an article that describes a similar approach:

    1. Great idea! Thank you so much for this, I will give it a try. I have actually wondered if there is some trace of the files in the internal memory of the recorder. Maybe a digital wizard (of the human and alive variety) can help me work a miracle. <3

  6. I feel so sad for you! Am holding out hope that you will find the tiny card while cleaning or reorganizing, when you least suspect it. I lost a precious piece of my grandmother’s embroidery while I was preparing to take it to the frame shop, if you can believe it. I still hold out hope that it will be found some day.

  7. I’m so sorry to hear about the disappearance of the microSD…we all do what you did. These things can just show up, though – I had a thumb drive disappear at work. Tore my drawer (I don’t have a desk) apart several times. Nada…1.5 years later, I reached into a box of paper clips and lo and behold, there was that darned thumb drive. Sending positive vibes your way that your microSD will make its way back to you…I know that heartsick feeling losing something so precious that can’t be recaptured.

    1. Thank you, Teresa! I’m hoping for the same kind of simple recovery. I imagine it is just within my grasp somewhere in my home if only I can see it. I think some detailed, but careful and methodical, spring cleaning is in order. I’ve already started. <3

  8. I know the pain of that kind of loss. Because of the situation I only had original documents, photos and notes which were in boxes in the storage units which were lost when I couldn’t pay the rent. I have hope that you will find that microSD card, at least if it was in your house it probably still is – somewhere.
    Margaret Crymes above mentioned that the diamond fell out of her grandmother’s ring. I was taking my mother to her doctor’s appointment and had my three youngest step-children along. While walking down the hall at the medical building my mother noticed the diamond missing from her ring, we all carefully searched the hall, were let back into the exam room and searched the lobby, the parking lot, the car and figured it was gone for good. When we got back home I walked into the kitchen and turned on the light and there was the diamond on the kitchen floor just under one of the chairs. Keep seeing that microSD card, it may just turn up, you never know.

    1. Thank you for the hopeful story! I feel guilty over my sorrow when I consider the magnitude of your loss with your storage unit. Every time you mention it my hearts breaks for you all over again. Great big virtual hugs to you!! <3

  9. I hope you can find it! I have a recording made by my grandfather on a casette tape. I keep telling myself to find someone who can transcribe it for me. I guess Now is the time. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Ellen, I hope so to!! Good idea! You may want to have it digitized before having it transcribed just to have another copy. I hope you find just the right steps for you to preserve that precious recording. Good luck. <3

  10. I feel with you. Photobucket recently deleted photos at my blog because I had not updated to a pricier plan. This was without notice. I was gutted. In your case the loss is permanent due to misplacing the memory chip. There is a problem when we permit ourselves to be so amenable to others and so attentive to them. We lose vital focus and foresight. It is true that we all have responsibilities but it is up to us to put on the brakes and take time to think about what we do and remain aware. This is a hard lesson for you but I hope in future you come up with a solution.

    Knowing how important that recorder was to you, could you have turned down the request to loan it out and make an alternative suggestion? Sometimes saying “No” is not easy but it is necessary.

    1. Thank you, EmilyAnn. Saying no is definitely not a strength of mine. In the case of loaning the recorder, I didn’t worry about it a bit because it’s my uncle who I see every week, who our families take turns hosting Sunday dinner, and who lives just down the street from me. While not loaning it out would have helped for sure, I’m realizing that I need to be a bit more methodical with certain preservation efforts. I definitely should not have waited to make copies of those files for four years!! But your point is very well taken. We can’t do or be everything and saying no (or in this case not offering…) would have helped to prevent this loss. <3

      1. Amberly, Saying “No” is not my strong point either. The only suggestion I can offer is to save files to several mediums. I take many photos with my phone
        One solution was suggested to me to email the photos to my Gmail account from the phone
        I download to my lap top to save them there. Then I copy to a flash drive. I also include them on the backup to an external hard drive. I think you could copy and send your sound files in a similar way. Perhaps even save to a cloud storage of service like Dropbox.

        1. On my most recent trip, I recorded audio files using my phone. I found an app that allows you to upload to a whole bunch of storage accounts – including dropbox and google drive – right from the app! So this time I did that each day. Now I need to double check and make sure they all uploaded (a few were large and I just want to double check that there were no issues), but I have already begun working with the files. I’m feeling a lot better about my current preservation options and just hope that I find that microSD. ❤️

  11. Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching, when you lose memories like this – putting trust in digital storage, wondering what the heck’s happened to it. I’ve had similar experiences. Maybe you’ll still find the card…

  12. Ooh. I am so sorry to hear about this, and take your loss as my wake up call. I have on my smart phone an app called HiQ recorder. My husband tells lots of stories, and i use this to record them. I have it set to auto upload to a drop box file. I’ve used this on my family reunions, but i still haven’t transcribed them. When you get your new recordings, also make copies and give to a couple other people, in case your home burns down or floods. Best wishes

    1. Thank you! ❤️ For my recent trip I found an app that allows uploads to several different storage options including dropbox and google drive – right from the app! So I used that for my recordings and uploaded them each day. I’m feeling much better about my preservation options and now just need to find that tiny microSD. 🙂

  13. Busy lives are the culprit here. I grieve with you and I relate to these fine words: “I don’t know for sure what I did.”

    When we moved more than a year ago after 37 years at the same residence, I lost not one but two pairs of glasses. Amidst all of the flurry-scurry of the move I had to go to Lenscrafters for an eye exam and new glasses. (I’d have to drive blind otherwise!) We combed through the house umpteen times, even scoped the lawn with a flashlight at dusk to spot even the glitter of glass shards. Nothing! I have more hope for your recovering the sd card than I have for either of my glasses.

    Right now I am recording multiple drafts of my memoir WIP on my desktop, on an external hard drive, and several printed copies. I’m writing to preserve memories of my Mennonite life in Pennsylvania.

    You are a great storyteller, which obviously your blog friends can relate to. There’s still hope!

    1. Thank you for your kind encouragement, Marian. I’m still hopeful and even remembered something that may help me locate that microSD. This last trip, I found a great new app for recording that allows me to upload right to dropbox, google drive, and others right from the app! I did that each day. I’m feeling much better about my archiving options and now just need to find that precious little card. ❤️

  14. Amberly, I just commented in a FB group about this. I mentioned how you are inspiring so many of us to do better about this stuff. I so hope you find your memory card!!! xo

  15. Have you had fresh eyes look for it? Is there a child or other persistent soul you can recruit to look through that dresser and under it for you? Personally, I have a problem with thinking that I have searched a drawer, when I have really _seen_ only the usual stuff that I expected to find there. I seem to mentally dismiss the possibility that the usual stuff could be hiding it. It seems almost impossible for me to see _everything_ that is there. Unfamiliar eyes sometimes see more than we can.

    My own problem is a missing thumb drive, mislaid when I sold my house and moved to an apartment last year. Fortunately I didn’t have a disk crash during that time frame and had other back-ups, but it scares me that I let something that important get away from me. Why didn’t I put it in my purse during the move, for crying out loud? I need to get a brightly colored storage case for those things and keep them labeled.

    Best of luck with your card.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and suggestions, Marian! I haven’t done that yet. I have been very methodically touching, opening, etc each item. I have a bit more to do, but if I still don’t find it, I think I’ll recruit my sister to be my fresh eyes. (I have only sons and between them and my husband, they lose everything and I am the designated finder. Haha!)

      I got myself a brightly colored case for my thumbdrives and one for my flashdrives. It helps a lot!


  16. I have lost data also; so herewith a reminder to All – LOCKSS (locksis) or “Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Save”.
    Copies in different locations (external HD, Cloud, etc.) – also think Fire, Flood, hard drive crash, etc. etc.
    It is worth the time, effort and a few dollars to have copies in different locations, on different media.
    Peace of Mind.

    1. Yes, a great policy. But even when we do that, like I do, sometimes we slip and let something precious fall through the cracks. Here’s hoping we all do a bit better!

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