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Some voice mails are unspeakably precious. Here’s how to save them.

Don’t let an important message languish on your phone — or worse, disappear randomly

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If you’re anything like me, your voice mail is mostly mundane. A few work-related messages you need to follow up on. A couple of spammy robo diatribes. Maybe some snippets of silence from numbers you’ve never heard of.

But voice mail can be much more than just a record of messages missed. To some, it’s a reminder of better times. For others, a chronicle of fleeting moments and changing interests. And for Ian Boudreau, a games journalist from Binghamton, N.Y., voice mail was his link to the past.

After a visit with his parents in 2019, Boudreau’s mother, Alanna, had called — he doesn’t remember the phone ringing — and left him a roughly minute-long voice mail. Just weeks after, she was gone, and Boudreau kept that voice mail on his phone until this year, when it randomly disappeared.

“She just wanted to say it was great to see me, and she was always very effusive when she would say, ‘I love you,’ and, ‘I can’t wait to come see you again,’ ” he said. “After she passed, [the voice mail] was like a doorway into how she was.”

Boudreau suspects that his phone’s T-Mobile Visual Voicemail app was to blame. After noticing some flakiness, he reinstalled the app and felt a “horrible sinking feeling” when he discovered the voice mail was gone. And although the thought of saving her last message more permanently had crossed his mind, he just hadn’t gotten around to it.

He isn’t alone. Voice mails can go missing for many other reasons, too, such as accidental erasure or switching wireless providers, and stories such as Boudreau’s are unfortunately too common.

If you’re one of the many people who have treasured voice mails locked away on your phone, please: Take a few moments to save them elsewhere, just in case. Here’s how to do it.

On an iPhone

  • Open the Phone app and tap voice mail.
  • Find the voice mail you want to save and click it.
  • Tap the square share icon in the top-right corner.
  • Send a copy of the recording via email, AirDrop, iCloud Drive upload — whatever you prefer.

On an Android phone

  • Open the Phone app and select your voice mail. If your phone has a separate voice mail app, open that instead.
  • Find the voice mail you want to preserve and tap it.
  • Tap the share icon, which looks like three dots connected by two lines.
  • Send a copy of the recording via email, Google Drive — whatever you prefer.

Note: Because Android phone makers customize their devices differently, the process for yours may vary from these instructions. If that’s the case for you, let us know.

On a basic phone

The software running on more basic devices, such as flip phones and the rugged devices that often get used on job sites, doesn’t allow you to easily share those audio files. The same is true of smartphones that don’t have a visual voice mail feature. If you dial in and listen to your messages, saving them somewhere more secure is a little trickier — but far from impossible.

The easy way: Turn on your speakerphone, play the voice mail and record it on another device. Many smartphones or tablets have built-in voice memo or recorder apps that you can use for free, should you have access to one of these devices. As for laptops, they almost certainly have a built-in microphone — you just need the right software. We recommend using the free app Audacity for Windows or Mac’s built-in QuickTime Player to record the audio.

This method will do in a pinch, and it’s certainly better than nothing. But if you want to capture those voicemails in the best quality possible — as many readers told us after we first published this story — you’ll need some extra equipment.

The most important bit you’ll need is a cable to connect your old phone and your computer. Depending on your phone’s age, you may need a cable with a smaller 2.5mm end to fit into the tiny headset jacks used by classic flip phones and the like. The other end should look like a standard headphone connector — plug that into the jack on your computer with the small microphone icon or pink trim.

Now, about that software: fire up your recording app of choice and pick your phone as the “input” — it will probably be referred to as an external microphone, and it may take some trial and error to find it.

In Audacity, your phone (possibly with a different name!) should appear in the drop-down menu next to the microphone icon. If you’re using QuickTime on a Mac, click File, then New Audio Recording, then click the small down-facing arrow icon next to the record button and select your phone.

Finally, start the recording by clicking the big red button in your app of choice, then press play on the voicemail on your phone. If everything came together correctly, you’ll now have a high quality copy of precious voice message.

Once you’ve recorded the voice mail on the device of your choice, save it (sometimes this happens automatically) and put it somewhere for safekeeping. No matter how you save a copy of those voice mails, we recommend putting them in more than one place — say, your computer, an external drive and in cloud storage — just to be safe.