©2016 by Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2016-03-28.  Return to the  Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group Home Page  or  Don Snow's Class Listings Page .
Abstract:  Sound (and pictures) make family history come alive and most of us have sound recordings by or about ourselves, our families, or our ancestors. If old recordings are in analog format, e.g. tape recordings, or even phonograph records, they can be converted to digital format to copy, edit, transcribe, and preserve. New recordings can be made digitally to start with and free programs now even transcribe your voice to text as you speak. This class will discuss doing all these things. We will also discuss other ways sound is used in family history, for example with Skype and CD's. The notes with active web links for the class are posted on  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .


  1. Instructors are Donald R. Snow ( snowd@math.byu.edu ) of Provo and St. George, Utah and Linda Snow Westover ( linda.westover@gmail.com ) of Orem, Utah.
  2. These notes are posted on  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html  with the links, so you don't have to type them in yourself.  My monthly Freeware Corner articles are posted there also.
  3. Tips:  (1)  To put an icon on your desktop for these notes, or any webpage, just drag the icon from in front of the address in your browser onto your desktop.  (2)  To open a link, but keep your place in these notes, hold down the Control key while clicking the link.
  4. The problem for today's discussion:  Recording, digitizing, and transcribing sound files.

  6. AUDACITY is an open source (free) program for audio recording and editing -- download from  http://www.audacityteam.org/ -- see manual and video tutorials at  http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/Main_Page
  7. Features of AUDACITY
    1. Has many features, but you can learn and use the basics fairly easily -- hardest part is getting it set up to record from the input on your computer 
    2. Records mono or stereo by microphone or by line in from a device such as a tape recorder
    3. Has a monitor to show input volume so you can set it appropriately -- set it so it doesn't distort by clipping the loudest sounds
    4. Has record and playback start and stop buttons like a tape recorder and has a timer you can set to stop after a given time
    5. After recording you can edit any part to delete, change volume, copy, splice in sections, fade out, etc.
    6. Can apply labels to mark start of sections in the audio file and when you export the whole file you can tell it to split it into separate files at these points
    7. Can export the edited files in various formats, e.g. wav or mp3, and can include metadata about the files
  8. I recommend saving an archive copy of the recording in wav or other high quality format and making mp3 or other low quality format copies from that for posting or distribution; mp3 and other low quality formats sacrifice the sound quality to make the file size smaller and the process can't be reversed, so archive a high quality version
  9. Demo of AUDACITY recording from a microphone and then editing the file

  11. To digitize recordings - tape, reel-to-reel, cassette, or phonograph records - use a connecting wire from the playback device to line or microphone input jack on your computer -- this gives much better sound quality in the digitized file and avoids background sounds like the telephone ringing
  12. Sound cards on computers
    1. Desktop computers usually have the sound card in back with color-coded jacks -- orange = mike in, green = speakers out, blue = line in 
    2. Laptops sometimes have a single jack for mike and earphones or speakers (three-contact jack such as on a smartphone)
    3. Can also buy inexpensive adapters to connect output of your playback device to USB input port on your computer
    4. If going from speaker output of device, connect it to line input on sound card; if you have to go from speaker output on device to mike input on your computer, you may need an inexpensive attenuating cable to decrease the signal strength
    5. Can buy playback devices (tape recorders and phonographs) that have USB plugs to go directly to your computer
  13. Digitizing old recordings allows you to edit and make copies for distribution so they are preserved -- can upload audio files to FamilySearch Tree
  14. Demo of digitizing a cassette tape recording by using a tape recorder and recording and editing with AUDACITY

  16. Voice or speech recognition software
    1. Smartphones have fairly accurate built in voice recognition that does text entry -- demo
    2. Google web search already has voice recognition built in -- click on microphone (right end of Google search box) and dictate what you are looking for - demo
    3. Windows 7 has voice recognition program built in -- http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/set-speech-recognition#1TC=windows-7 -- used to be in MS Word, but now is in Windows 7; must set it up on your computer to use it; see instructions
    4. GOOGLE DOCS (free) recently added Voice Typing in the Chrome browser; start a new doc, click Tools > Voice Typing, then the microphone icon (left side) toggles it on and off; surprisingly accurate, even when speaking fairly fast -- See instructions at  https://support.google.com/docs/answer/4492226?hl=en  and YouTube videos -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GutL-iO5KLk#t=86.410113https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RlnBV0XEB4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQueGjqeDB0#t=29.927574 -- demo
    5. Best commercial voice recognition software seems to be  DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING ; comes in several versions, can sometimes get it on sale
    6. Voice recognition software is still not completely effective for "continuous speech" (the way we normally talk), but is helpful in many ways now
  17. Transcribing by "Echoing" -- you listen with headphones and repeat what you hear to record it into speech recognition software to transcribes it -- the computer then only hears your voice and gets "trained" better to recognize the way you talk
  18. LISTEN N WRITE -- freeware program to help with manual transcription
    1. Download from  http://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/listen_n_write.html --  3-minute video tutorial at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEUHZr9Bwdk
    2. Plays audio through your computer (speakers or earphones) and you type what you hear -- includes player and text editor -- Does NOT automatically transcribe the audio
    3. Features OF LISTEN N WRITE
      1. Requires audio to be in digital wav or mp3 format, so it can be played on your computer
      2. You control audio playback with function keys, so you keep your hands on the keyboard and don't have to use the mouse
      3. F5  starts and stops audio and can be set to pause a specified time interval, e.g. 4 seconds, to allow you to type what you have heard 
      4. F6  can be set to skip backward a specified time interval, e.g. 3 seconds
      5. F7  can be set to skip forward a specified time interval, e.g. 3 seconds
    4. Demo of LISTEN N WRITE


  19. Skype -- http://www.skype.com/en/ -- free sound and video communication world-wide through the Internet; can also use it to dail any phone for a very small fee
  20. CD's with sound and/or digital data -- many FH data CDs are in thrift stores and have much FH info on them

  22. Old tape recordings, reel-to-reel or cassette, deteriorate and should be digitized as soon as possible. Phonograph records don't usually deteriorate, but can't be copied unless digitized.  Can find old tape recorders and phonographs at thrift and second-hand stores and new ones are available with USB connectors.
  23. Digitizing audio files preserves them and makes them easier to transcribe and distribute to other family members and/or post on the Internet.
  24. See additional programs and ideas about sound in family history in other class notes and Freeware Corner articles on my website.

Return to the  Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group Home Page  or  Don Snow's Class Listings Page .