Episode 97 - MyHeritage Founder Gilad Japhet Shares His Vision

podcast episode Jul 27, 2015

Fisher opens the show with Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors, David Allen Lambert.  David talks about using Find-A-Grave and Billion Graves to create a burial lineage chart.  He also talks about the NASA "New Horizon" mission to Pluto and how a significant individual's human remains are on it.  Listen to the show to find out whose!  Plus, David tells you how you can go to Europe without leaving North America.  (Honest!)  Then, David shares with you another free database and Fisher fills you in on what's happening with "Who Do You Think You Are?" "Turn: Washington's Spies," and Henry Louis Gates' "Finding Your Roots."  (Hint: It's all good news!)
Fisher then shares part one of his interview with genealogy visionary Gilad Japhet, founder of MyHeritage.  He talks about his passion for genealogy, his idea for a technology based company that makes it easier than ever to research, and the founding of MyHeritage.  He then begins to explain MyHeritage's new game changing translation software.
In part two of Fisher's interview with MyHeritage founder Gilad Japhet, Gilad goes into the significance of MyHeritage's new translation software and explains how it will work for us here in America, as well as for researchers across the globe.  He also explains the significant residual benefit he expects to result from the release of this new software.  It's a rare interview you won't want to miss!
Then Tom Perry, the Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com, answers a listener question about salvaging an important VHS videotape from a damaged VHS cartridge.  Tom explains how professional outfits can save the tape, and how you can do it at home... if you dare!  
That's all this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 97

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 97

Fisher: Hello Genies! And welcome back to another edition of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. I am Fisher, the Radio Roots Sleuth, on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. Well hopefully you’ve been making some progress, discovering, preserving and sharing. I’ve been working a lot on the preserving part this week. Taking old family tapes, digitizing them and making sure they’re preserved on a couple of Clouds, disks and with other people, as our Preservation Authority Tom Perry has preached for some time. I’ll tell you what, it makes me feel much more secure knowing these priceless tapes, including an hour long visit with my grandfather who was born in 1886, are preserved in multiple places. Well, as we recently told you, our friends at MyHeritage.com made a game changing announcement recently. Having created new matching software that translates words and names from dozens of different languages, to yours! This is one of the reasons I’m so proud to have My Heritage as a sponsor on the show, they’re doing amazing things. Well, back in June at the Global Family Reunion, I had the chance to sit down and visit with Gilad Japhet founder of My Heritage. And you know since most genealogy companies are websites, I think we sometimes miss out on getting to know the real people behind them.  And I’m excited to tell you that this week you’ll get to hear two great segments with Gilad Japhet, explaining how he started My Heritage, how his team works their long term goals to make genealogy easier for you, and how this amazing new translation technology works. He’s one of the great visionaries in genealogy today, so I know you’ll want to hear what he has to say, coming up in about seven minutes. But right now it’s time to bring in my friend from Boston, the Chief Genealogist of American Ancestors and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, David Allen Lambert. Greetings David!

David: Hey Fish, how are you doing?

Fisher: I am awesome! Enjoying the great summer and getting a lot done. How about yourself?

David: Great! You know it’s funny we did that little story about people wanting to get a house over in Sicily for free. I’m going to tell people how they can visit Europe and not even leave North America.

Fisher: Oh sweet! Okay.

David: And it’s also good for Trivial Pursuit Night! The only part of North America still left from the old French dominion, which is technically still France, are two alas, Saint Pierre and Miquelon. They are north of Nova Scotia and south of Newfoundland. Ever heard of them before?

Fisher: No I hadn’t. But your accent was enormously impressive!

David: Well, it’s the wee bit of French that I have. The reason the islands are interesting to me is because my grandfather was born there.

Fisher: Ha!

David: He was born in 1887. James Albert George Lambert. And my great grandfather was a merchant and he was from Nova Scotia, and his wife was from Newfoundland. They weren’t French. The Trans Atlantic cable was going through, so they had English and Canadian workers there. So they had a need for a merchant who spoke English and ran a store. My family was there from about 1879 till 1902 when they were deported for being spies. But that’s a story for another day.

Fisher: Whoa! Yes! Want to hear that one, one of these days!

David: Well, Saint Pierre and Miquelon have some great archives. They had a fire back in 1992 and some of the records got scorched, and some lost. But online they’ve recently launched a website, so they started putting digitally online things like censuses, and that includes censuses from 1863 right to 1897. And remember, on Extreme Genes Twitter and Facebook page you’ll find all the links that I’m talking about so you don’t have to waste time scribbling them down now.

Fisher: Right.

David: So that’s good. And that leads me to a Vita Brevis post I did on… Vita Brevis is NEHGS’s little blog. And I talked about identity as far as nationality. Now, Fish, what’s your nationality?

Fisher: Oh boy. Well, American for a couple of generations, my mother’s parents came from Sweden and Norway. But Dad’s lines are English if you go way back, and then French and some German.

David: See? If you ask a non-genealogist what their nationality is, you’ll be surprised what they might say. They may pick one nationality or multiple.

Fisher: Right.

David: And for me it’s, give me an example. I’m dual citizen with Canada, so I’m Canadian and American. My mother was born in Canada and my father was born in America. So I have that, so I’m half. But if I go back to my grandparents, I’ve got one grandparent born on Saint Pierre, so he’s French. My other grandfather was born in England. One grandmother was born in Canada and my other grandmother is America. So I’m Canadian, American, French and British. But if I go back to my great grandparents the French disappears completely because my great grandparents were born in Canada and they weren’t French.

Fisher: [Laughs] Right.

David: So when someone says what their nationality is, as on what level? So that’s a blog I put on and I’ll give a link to that. I as you know probably have spent more time in cemeteries living than most people will do dead. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So I’m reading gravestones and what not. But there’s one grave I can’t visit. Obviously the news has been great with the news about going out to Pluto the planetoid. And you might remember Clyde Tombaugh discovered it way back in 1930. Well Clyde Tombaugh has been dead since 1997, but if you want to go to his grave now, you’ve got to go way out there because he is on the new horizon satellite.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: His cremated remains are attached to the vessel, and so he is the furthest from earth for a grave that you can visit.

Fisher: Wow.

David: So if you marked that you have visited Clyde Tombaugh’s remains, you have a really interesting thing to talk about on “FindAGrave” or “BillionGraves” and that leads me to my Tech Tip, which I find that using FindAGrave or BillionGraves, the great added advantages is for genealogical research. Because besides being able to find a grave you can also connect your family.

Fisher: That’s right.

David: You can link parents and children, and grandchildren. And on one of my accounts on FindAGrave, I go back eight generations linking gravestone, to gravestone, to gravestone. It’s a great way to do research.

Fisher: It really is. And you know, it’s obviously not well documented, but it gives you something to work from that’s just going to be terrific.

David: It really is. And on other news, my free website for the guest users of AmericanAncestors.org, we’re offering the Irish immigrant advertisements from the Boston Pilot from 1831 to 1920. These are really interesting, Fish. They list ads for people that are looking for family that may have come over years earlier, or somebody back in Ireland. But the key thing is it tells you where they usually come from, a county or a town.

Fisher: Wow! All right, great David. Thank you so much for joining us again! By the way, “Turn: Washington’s Spies” has been renewed for a third season. It’s going to be back on AMC starting in January. “Who Do You Think You Are?” is on TLC this weekend, and Henry Louis Gates with “Finding Your Roots” will be returning to PBS for a third season in January. So great news for everybody who loves these shows! Coming up next, it’s an interview you won’t want to miss, with MyHeritage founder Gilad Japhet in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 97

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Gilad Japhet

Fisher: You know if you are researching your dead, even some of the living, there’s never been an era quite like this. Hi it’s Fisher, we’re back, and it’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. A couple of weeks ago, of course, we were talking about the game changing announcements that we heard from MyHeritage.com about how they can now provide you matches in your research across languages, across forty three different languages. And so, if you look up the name “Peter” here in the United States, you might find a matching name of Peter in a different language, that you might not otherwise find. And so it seemed appropriate that now would be the time to share with you my incredible visit with Gilad Japhet, the founder of MyHeritage.com, just a few weeks ago in New York City.  We were both there for the global family reunion and the first thing I wanted to find out from Gilad was, where did you get your passion for family history? And how did that lead you to found MyHeritage.com? Gilad, tell us about how you started all this because you’re kind of a mad man of technology in this field and I remember the first time I used my MyHeritage account and started getting all these record matches with an accuracy I had never seen before. How do you do this?

Gilad: Okay. The way it started, probably at the age of thirteen, everyone in Israel at the age of thirteen has to do a school project about their family history and if you don’t submit it you don’t go up to the next grade. So I did mine with a great passion. I still have it. And the teacher wrote, “This is a role model for projects like this.” But it was an unfinished business because there was a lot more I felt I needed to research. So at the age of thirteen where most kids move on with the rest of the studies, I still had a longing to get back to my family re-research and continue it. Then I went on the regular course of life in Israel. You finish school, you go to the army. It’s mandatory in Israel. Completed the army, went to study at the Teknion Institute of Technology.  We like to call it The Israeli NIT. Working full time in parallel to my studies, and then I joined a company, travelled to California and to the company, went public.  I was able to make some money and I returned to Israel and I married my girlfriend. And I asked for her permission to take a break from life and from the career race and get back to my unfinished business, for the genealogy. I asked for a six months break and she said, “Sure! Why not take the whole year?” We had some security because of the IPO of the former company so I was able to afford not working for a while. And my wife insisted that I rest because I was working 24/7. So she said, “Pursue your hobby and take a rest and be happy.” What happened then was, I went back to family history and genealogy and immediately started looking for software on a website to compile my own genealogy. There was Ancestry, there were perhaps a few desktop programs back then, nothing that I considered satisfactory. I had dreamt of very advanced technology for genealogy, like facial recognition that would find other pictures of my grandparents that other users have, and nobody had it. I was thinking of bilingual and family trees and connecting all the family trees of humanity into one, none of that existed. And so, to the dismay of my wife, I started working 24/7 on programming my own set of tools for my own personal use because I have a background in engineering and product management. And I thought this would be for my own use, and then she said, “Gilad you are working even harder than before this break of yours.”

Fisher: Yeah, because you love it.

Gilad: Yes. I was really, really, passionate about it. And I started coding what is MyHeritage today. In fact that was the beginnings of MyHeritage. After taking that break, I went back to my wife and said, “You know, I think this could help millions of people, what I’ve just built. And would you give me your permission if I made this a start-up company, but I won’t be making much money you know with genealogy. I’m going to work from home, see the kids a lot and it will be a one man company.”  She said, “Sure, since it is so clear that you love it you have my blessing, go ahead and do it.” So I started MyHeritage. However, I became ambitious. So in the very beginning, I didn’t have plans to conquer the world but there is a saying in Hebrew, “Whether the food comes the appetite.” And as I was working more and more on this, I thought this could be really big. I think I had a tendency to do it on my own back then. I did not want to raise money. The company was officially founded in 2003 and I thought it would be a bootstrap. It’s a company that the founder finances all the way. However, two years in all my money ran out because I had a team of sixteen people by then. 

Fisher: Including the money you’d made with the start-up?

Gilad: All gone.

Fisher: Oh boy.

Gilad: All gone. And then the bank took a mortgage on all my property in order to give me an extra loan because I had no money.

Fisher: And they wanted to protect their own investment.

Gilad: That’s true. So with all my property mortgaged and all the money gone and being in debt, I told my wife, “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.” Now, I chose a business motto which did not exist back then but today it has a name, it’s called “Freemium.” You give everything for free and there are extra features that you charge money for. But I was focused more on the “free” then on the “mium.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gilad: And the intuition was good because all the products around were paid only and it was very refreshing to have free software and a free website with no strings attached and it was multilingual. Because I speak several languages and I realized that if you want to do a genealogy company it has got to be global. Because families have members all over the world and you can’t just target people in one country. What about their relatives in the other country? And you need to support the language spoken by those relatives.

Fisher: How many languages are you at like today?  Like forty?

Gilad: Today we are at forty three and we have run out of languages [Laughs].

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gilad: I mean the last languages we added were Macedonian and Armenian.

Fisher: And this beauty of this though is that people can still communicate and read it in their own language, yes?

Gilad: This is extremely important. We’ve had many cases where people connected. Where one person was in the United States and the other was in Latvia or Lithuania or Hungary. Because we supported the local languages there, that allowed those relatives to use MyHeritage. So the key to differentiators were support of many languages. It was free and you can’t beat that. You can’t beat free.

Fisher: Right.

Gilad: However, when everything is free, there are no revenues. And after two years when my money ran out I had to do something about it. And this is when I started looking for money, fundraising. Israel has a very strong ecosystem of venture capital firms and private investors. And probably there are more start-ups in Israel than all of Europe combined. And in NASDAQ, it’s the third country in a number of traded companies after the U.S. and China. And Israel is tiny. It has just a population of seven or eight million people. Tiny, but a passion for risk taking and start ups and that’s why it’s called the start up nation. I was able to raise money but it was very difficult. The first year I failed and I kept hearing “no” and “no.” I was a first time entrepreneur and it’s very difficult when you don’t have a proven track record. You don’t have that past experience as a successful CEO. And the other problem was that we didn’t have Ancestry as a public company then, doing so well as it is today so there was no precedence of genealogy being a lucrative field for investment. And probably the best investments are those that are pioneering. So actually those with foresight should have realized what a good opportunity it is. Now I could not even use Facebook and LinkedIn as examples because it was before their time. So I could not say, “Well Facebook is for friends and LinkedIn is or for business and MyHeritage is for families,” because I couldn’t draw on these analogies.

Fisher: That makes you a pioneer, I think, which is actually not the best place to be when you’re starting something out.

Gilad: It is actually the best place to be when you’re starting something up.

Fisher: But not to find money.

Gilad: That’s true. I actually shut my eyes and did not look at competing products. Because I thought that if I end up looking what the competition were doing, I would subconsciously be copying it. So I completely avoided reviewing what the competitors were doing. I came with fresh approaches. And one of the things that characterize Israeli entrepreneurs is chutzpah, the feeling that you can do everything and it includes a tendency to break the rules. So I’ll give you an example, all the genealogy software and websites supported the Gedcom format, so you could import existing data and export it. Gedcom was developed by the LDS, the Church. And you can’t have a technological standard being developed by a Church. So the standard is full of holes and contradictions and problems. And I wanted to tag people in photos, which is something that Facebook is doing today and its natural, but nobody did it in 2003 when I started and Gedcom did not support it. So I extended the format. Basically I broke the format.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Gilad: And I added syntax to tag people to photos. Because I didn’t like to write “To right, grandma is fifth from the left on the second row from the top.” Then you start to guess where she is. So I invented, in parallel with many other people, tagging of people in photos and I went after my dream of adding facial recognition and I added that in 2004 and was the first to add facial recognition to the internet. For many years you would Google face recognition and MyHeritage would come up first. And I did it by actually licensing security technology that catches terrorists at airports, and applying it to genealogy to find photos of your grandfather. So this is thinking outside the box, and with the Gedcom format it was not only to tag people in faces but an example to pursue my dream of multilingual trees. Now I will give you a little scoop, we are about to release a magnificent feature, unprecedented, does not exist anywhere, and it’s based on what we learned from the bilingual trees.

Fisher: And of course with the announcement that we heard a couple of weeks ago, we now know what that is. We’ll be back with the second half of my visit with Gilad Japhet, founder of MyHeritage.com and find out more about this incredible breakthrough technology when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.           

Segment 3 Episode 97

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Gilad Japhet

Fisher: You know, in the family history world, we deal with websites and sometimes they can seem so impersonal and we can't get a sense of who the people are behind them. And that's why I'm so excited to be talking to another one of the visionaries in our field, Gilad Japhet, the founder of MyHeritage.com. And of course just before the break if you were listening to the conversation, he talked about this new technology that MyHeritage was releasing that is changing everything. He described it as:

Gilad: Unprecedented, does not exist anywhere and it’s based on what we learned from the bilingual trees by allowing people to build family trees in several languages. People were building them in Hebrew and English or Russian and French, or Greek and Spanish, any combination where they had lots of family members in two countries or more. So we collected from the users a lot of bilingual trees and we had the spellings and translations of first names and last names of a huge number of names. We used that to develop a very new technology. It’s called, “The Global Name Translation Technology.” And it allows us to translate any name from any language to any language with extreme accuracy and to match across different languages. So I'll explain what that means. It means that if you are a user in the United States entering a family tree in English, you will get automatically matched with a user in Russia whose tree is in Russian or Ukrainian where the names match yours. The translation is automatic for first names, last names, middle names, everything, even for names we have never encountered before. The algorithm is really smart, also Greek, also Hebrew. This developed a soundex. A soundex exists mostly for Latin names.

Fisher: Right.

Gilad: Now we have soundex French names, Hebrew names, Greek names, Russian names. Nobody has it. This is not only for matching, but also for searching. You see, until now, you had to search the web, and let's say you had Greek ancestors, you had to search it in Greek and search for the same names in English, not knowing what you may find. Now, nobody has the time to double each one of their searches. So, most of the time you search in English and you miss out on the Greek. With this new feature, people can search in whatever language they want and we catch all the results that exist in any language. Except, we realize you may not be able to read them, because maybe you have ancestors in Russia, but you can't speak Russian. So we back translate every result to your language for your convenience!

Fisher: Oh wow!

Gilad: So let's say that you have some relatives in Greece and you don't speak Greek. They will come up in Greek with translations to the language you use, which could have been Hebrew. So we can translate also from Hebrew to Greek or from Russian to whatever. And Chinese and Arabic will come next. This technology is something I always wanted, because it always troubled me that as a researcher, I have to try multiple opportunities and I'm missing out and I wanted this to be done automatically. So I pursued this with my team. I masterminded the algorithms. We have a very, very strong algorithms team in Israel.

Fisher: Do you have a lot of engineers in your group or are you the master engineer?

Gilad: I don't do any coding anymore. Since 2005, I'm not coding anymore. And I have a great team doing that, but I give them the vision of what I want and I describe in detail how to achieve it and there is a fantastic super smart group of people who then implement it. And what helped form the initial database that we use for training the algorithms was the bilingual trees. We are the only ones having them, thanks to breaking the Gedcom format ten years ago. So sometimes you invent something, you have to change the rules when you invent something new. And then it helps you create features that no one has ever done.

Fisher: And this is going to change the way it’s done for anybody trying to hop the pond, certainly for us here in the United States.

Gilad: Yes. If you're living in the United States and all your ancestors are here, it’s not going to help much, but soon, I mean lots of people here have their ancestors immigrating from elsewhere and then it becomes super helpful. Plus, this technology works so well, it even works in newspapers. So, you can search, let's say in Hebrew, it will find newspaper articles in English or Russian about your ancestor with no mistakes, even including synonyms. So if you wrote “Alex" in English, it will find "Sasha" in Russian.

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs] And tell me about digitized newspapers in Russia. There a lot of papers being digitized over there now?

Gilad: Actually, this technology will be the trigger and the reason and the incentive for a lot more of this to be done, because until now, the only people who could enjoy digitized Russian newspapers were Russian speakers from Russia. And hardly any people were searching in Russia. Now, just search in English, and if there is something, it will come to you. So I think we are now opening the doors for a flood of international content which we are very eager to pursue and digitize, because we see the competitive advantage of MyHeritage as catering really well the international market. We have for example something new which is television advertising and I'm happy to say that in the last six months, we have launched it in more than six countries already, including getting away from the comfort zone of English, and we have done it in Norway for example and the Netherlands. In England still in English, also in Germany, in Sweden, in Finland and it’s a surprise what countries we are going after next, but there are many of them.

Fisher: Well you know, that's all important to anybody searching in the United States, because the ideas like you say, so many of them are immigrants. We're all immigrant at some point in the last few hundred years. And so, to get over there and to be able to do this is a phenomenal thing.

Gilad: In fact, it’s very important that, for example, we are so strong in the Nordic market, in the Scandinavian countries, because so many people in the United States have ancestors from there. I think what really changed everything for us was the technology we released six months ago called “Instant Discoveries,” because one of the big problems with genealogy is that people hear about it and they want to try it, but they're impatient. So they would go into a website and sign up and expect the whole world to open up for them immediately. But remember, you have to give something in order to get something. You have to provide some information for the system to work with.

Fisher: Right.

Gilad: And people who are just signing up and filling their own name or expecting to find mountains of ancestors. And a lot of people were losing interest and never coming back. And this was our biggest problem. Abandoned accounts. I believe it’s a shared problem of all genealogy companies.

Fisher: Sure.

Gilad: And we really wanted to solve this problem by finding a discovery for the user with high accuracy and allowing them to add it to their tree for free and grow their tree and impress the user, "wow" the user with a fascinating package of information with photos of their ancestors. And we have lowered abandonment significantly. And we keep improving this technology for instant discoveries, so that the success rate will be very, very high. And if we don't find a discovery for you, we fall back to the regular experience which was okay, but the new experience is much better.

Fisher: And the commercials that you did in New York were just phenomenal. The expressions of the people! The tears!

Gilad: It was not a commercial. It was not an ad. We didn't know what we are going to get. So the marketing team suggested, "Since the technology is so cool, let's send out photographers and just film people doing it. Let's hope for some emotion. Let's hope people will be successful." But we didn't know. So we targeted people in the streets. We put up iPads on stands. And people were seeing a commotion and they wanted to try it out also and we were filming. And people started crying when the Instant Discoveries showed them something amazing. There was one person who actually found the full details and address of his father whom he'd never met.

Fisher: Wow!

Gilad: And he said, "This is the closest I've ever come. And now he's a phone call away from me." So then we did this in London and in Oslo and we're going to do it in more places. We amaze people on the streets and we film their reactions. This is not an ad, this is real and these people are not actors. This is just showing the power of genealogy and its impact on people who never tried it before. It’s just fascinating.

Fisher: I don't see you ever going in any other business. [Laughs]

Gilad: I love what I'm doing, but sometimes I have some thoughts about whether I should also contribute to the world in another field. But not for now.

Fisher: Well, thank you for what you brought us with My Heritage. And you know, it raises everybody's boats in competition, doesn't it? Everybody becomes stronger when people compete hard.

Gilad: Yes. I think perhaps my greatest contribution is the emphasis that I have always put on matching. Where others have put a lot of effort on focus on searching, I said, "People don't have time." Time is the scarcest component in the universe. People have less and less of it. So if you have the user's family tree, don't expect the user to do any research. Do the research for the user. By focusing a lot on the matching technologies of MyHeritage, I've seen the competitors have taken notice. And James Tanner at Roots Tech told me, "Gilad, they're all trying to clone what you've done and this is great for the industry, because it makes everyone better. And watch your back!" And I enjoy competition. It keeps us on our toes and makes us be better.

Fisher: Gilad, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

Gilad: My pleasure. Thank you!

Fisher: You know, I love the idea of having technology doing all the research for me across multiple languages. How cool is that! Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority is coming up next on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 97

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It’s Fisher here, your Radio Root Sleuth. That's Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. Wave, Tom.

Tom: Hey!!

Fisher: [Laughs] And he is our Preservation Authority. And, you know, there are so many things that we all have… reel to reel tapes to cassettes to VHS. It's all deteriorating and Tom's here to make sure that we don't lose this stuff. And Tom, we've got another email that's been addressed to [email protected]. It's from Paris Major in Westbury, Massachusetts. Paris writes: "I have a birth video of my son, and although the film itself is fine, someone must have stepped on the VHS tape, because the top of the case has a crack which won't allow us to play the video. I'm wondering if you could take a look at it. Is this something which we could still transfer to a DVD?”

Tom: You bet, absolutely. Now you're really, really smart to notice that it was cracked and not put it in your VCR. Because if you ever notice anything's wrong with your tapes, like the door is off, there's pieces missing, there's cracks, there's holes, anything that looks funky about it, don't think: "Oh, let me see if this works."

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: Because you're gonna have two problems, possibly. You put it in your VCR and it'll jam. You'll never get it out again unless you take it to a repair place and they disassemble it to get your tape out.

Fisher: Ooh.

Tom: And another thing is if there's something broken off inside. I have people bring in tapes where you can see a spring had been wound inside the tape. So we had to take the whole thing apart. We had to rewind it by hand because we can't put it on a machine, which can be very expensive. And where the little spring was, it actually tore the tape. So then they lost a little piece, not a whole lot. But if that's the most important part of the video, then, you're kinda without. So we can fix those, and maybe in the second segment I'll actually give you some ideas. If you're really handy and want to fix it yourself, you can. So what you want to do with this is pack the tape really well, send it to us, we'll take the screws out, very carefully disassemble it, we'll get a brand new tape that's never ever been used and open that up, throw the tape away, take your tape and put it in the new shell, and then everything should be good. And at the same time will check right where the crack is to make sure the tape isn't damaged. Because if you try to play the tape in your VCR, even if it does play, it could damage your control track, and once your control tracks damaged, it's gone. So you could play it and everything looks fine, but as you're watching it, it's going past the play head, and heading the part that's damaged, and this is destroying your control track. So you've got one pass on it.

Fisher: Oh! This sounds like surgery to me, Tom.

Tom: Oh, it definitely is. Every once in a while we run into a VHS tape that they didn't use screws, that it was like either heat sealed together, or they used rivets or something. And those actually have to be surgically cut in half so the tape isn't damaged, and then put into a new shell.

Fisher: Oh my goodness. Well then that's why it gets expensive.

Tom: Oh yeah. You know it's not really that bad if it's a VHS tape to put a new shell on it… repack. It's usually about $15 if you're having it transferred to DVD at the same time, so it's not bad. However, if you have the kind that you were just mentioning that has like rivets or it's, you know, heat sealed together, then you've got all kinds of problems. Because it could take you a good hour to take that apart. Because once your important tape is damaged, it's pretty much toast.

Fisher: Ah, All right. Coming up in the next segment…

Tom: We will tell you how you can do this at home if you just want to get a fix to be able to play it.

Segment 5 Episode 97

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: All right, final segment for this week of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority. And Tom, we’ve been talking about this email from Paris Major in Massachusetts. And Paris is struggling with a VHS tape as we heard earlier, with a crack in it. We talked about how you would go about fixing it, but there are ways that individuals could actually fix these themselves.

Tom: Oh absolutely. If you’re really good at putting together like model airplanes, you’re good with your hands. You can go ahead and try the VHS shell because they’re large enough it’s not a little component. I would really shy away from doing video 8s, or mini DVs, or audio cassettes because there’s all kinds of things that goes wrong with those. But on a VHS, the first thing you want to do is find one that’s never been played, it’s best because there won’t be any dust or any garbage in it, because you’re opening the shrink wrap, it’s a brand new case. If you don’t have access to that, you can’t find any on eBay or Amazon, then if you have an old tape that you don’t care about, you can use its shell. It’s kinda like a donor thing. So you have a donor card for that VHS tape because you need what’s on the tape.

Fisher: Yes.

Tom: So first thing you want to do is take the donor and flip it over and make sure it has screws on it, and carefully take the screws out. And I always have a piece of styrofoam that I put the screws in, the same pattern that they’re in at the back. So the same screw goes into the same place. People go, “Well what’s the difference?” Well, screws aren’t all exactly the same. And the plastic is what actually becomes the nut, so to speak. So when you put the screw in it makes its own threads as it caps in.

Fisher: Right. It’s got to be the same place.

Tom: Right. So it just makes it a lot easier. So take those out, put them in your pattern, then flip the cassette over so the screw area is now down, the top is back up again, and very carefully lift the top part up. If it’s struggling to come off you’re doing something wrong. You want to lift it perfectly straight up so you don’t lose anything and no springs come off. And then set that to the side, then go to your shell that’s damaged and do the exact same thing, and don’t get the screws mixed up. Take the top off. Then what you’re going to want to do is kind of see how its thread around, and if you’re not sure if you’re gonna remember how to do it I always say, take your cell phone and take a picture of it. So if you forget, “Oh did this go around the outside of this? Or did this go around the inside?

Fisher: Right. Good advice.

Tom: Right. You have the photo to go back to. That way there’s no confusion. Then take the tape off the original one, very carefully so you don’t move anything, don’t knock anything off. Just very, very carefully take it out and then just throw it away. Then, you take the tape off which you want to keep and put it on the new shell. And again, look at your phone how you took the picture and make sure you go through the exact same patterns, because if you don’t, you could cause problems for your VCR, problems for all kinds of things, okay.

Fisher: Oh boy.

Tom: And that’s the way you want to do it if there’s no damage to the tape. And very carefully again put the top back on. Put it straight down don’t put it at any kind of an angle. And once it’s done and you know it’s sealed, then gently hold it from the top and the bottom, flip it over so it doesn’t come open. Again then, put the screws back in. And do not over tighten them. Just put them on till they start feeling snug and that’s all you want to do. If you go too tight you’re going to crack it and will need another new shell. And sometimes, if you tighten them too tight, they get so tight that you could make that the tape’s gonna have a hard time going through.

Fisher: Ooh. And that’s a problem in itself. So then they go and play, and that’s when you really find out if you done it right, or you’re gonna destroy it, right?

Tom: Exactly. So it’s kinda like if you have an IED and cut the wrong wire you’re gotta learn really quick whether you got it right or not.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes exactly.

Tom: So just be real careful. And if you’re not up to stuff like that, send it to us. We’re happy to fix it. But the most important thing is take pictures while you’re going along so you can go past this and say, “Oh, wait I can see this spring move.” When you start getting springs off you’re gonna cause all kinds of problems. So just be really, really careful, take a lot of pictures or shoot video, and rock and roll with it. If you have questions write to us at [email protected] and we’ll get right back to you.

Fisher: All right, great stuff Tom. Thanks for coming on!

Tom: Thank you.

Fisher: Well I’m just hoping that segment saved somebody a lot of headache out there. Hey, thanks for joining us! That’s our show for this week. Thanks once again to Gilad Japhet. He is the founder of MyHeritage.com. If you missed this incredible interview with this genealogical visionary, make sure you catch our podcast. Go to ExtremeGenes.com, or you could listen on iTunes, of course you can download our free podcast as well for iTunes and Android. Take care, and we’ll talk to you again next week, thanks for joining us. And remember as far as everyone knows, we’re a nice, normal family!

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