©2019 by Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2019-02-18.  Return to the  Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group Home Page  or  Don Snow's Class Listings Page .
ABSTRACT:  How can sound be used in family history?  What to do with those old analog recordings such as reel-to-reel and cassette tapes and even phonograph records?  There are many uses of sound that bring family history to life such as recordings of talks, interviews, musical performances, journals, and many other things, and most of us have some recordings of ourselves, our families, our ancestors, or our descendants.  Before digital was available, sound was recorded by analog and making a copy degraded the quality.  Now, when digitized, these recordings are easier to preserve, edit, copy, distribute, and post.  This class will discuss how to do digital sound recordings and convert old analog recordings to digital format by using free programs.  We will discuss types of sound files and how to make things like narrations for Powerpoint presentations.  The notes for this class and related articles, all with active Internet links, are posted on my website .


  1. Instructor is Donald R. Snow ( ) of Provo and St. George, Utah. 
  2. The notes for this class and related articles, all with active Internet links, are posted on my website
  3. Tips:  (1)  To put an icon on your desktop for the URL for these notes, or any webpage, just drag the icon in front of the address in your browser to your desktop.  (2)  To open a link while keeping your place in the original page, hold down the Control key while clicking the link, so it opens in a new tab. 
  4. The problem for today:  how to convert analog audio items to digital, recording narrations for videos and Powerpoints, and transcribing audio files.

  6. Recordings you or others may have -- family gatherings, interviews, journals, funerals, talks, ordinances, music performances, sentimental music, and more
  7. Places to look for recordings -- your home, neighbors, family, libraries, community resources, online
  8. Ideas for making recordings now -- narrations, descriptions, stories, interviews, and journals -- if done now in digital format, they are easy to preserve, edit, copy, and distribute
  9. Purposes of digitizing old analog recordings
    1. Archiving to save the best-quality copy -- analog copies are like xeroxes of a xerox, whereas digital copies are always exactly the same quality 
    2. Editing to cut out or move parts, increase or decrease volume, or other effects 
    3. Sharing to preserve copies by sending copies to family and posting online at FamilySearch Family Tree, for example     
    4. Narrations or music for videos, slideshows, Powerpoints  
    5. Making transcriptions is much easier from digital copies     
  10. Formats for sound files
    1. .wav -- the most accurate format since it saves all pitches, levels, etc., but files are large  
    2. .mp3 -- slimmed down format that is much smaller, but at the expense of decreasing the sound quality -- this is format most people use for audio files on their smartphones; works OK since the phone speakers are not high quality anyway 
    3. Several others formats, but not all computer audio players play them  


  11. Digital recorders are not expensive to record directly to digital format, e.g. for a talk, an interview, or your journal  
  12. Overall steps to digitize
    1. Connect playback device to computer
    2. Play the recording and record it on computer  
    3. Edit the audio file -- take out problem parts, move parts, increase volume, label the different sections, etc. 
    4. Export the digitized audio file to .wav or .mp3 format so you can share it and play it on other devices
  13. Hardware -- jacks, adapters, cables -- inexpensive sources are online at websites like Amazon and eBay and locally at Home Depot and Walgreens Drug Stores (surpisingly)  
  14. Setting up connections -- this is the hardest part of the whole process
    1. Desktop computers -- sound card is usually in back with color-coded jacks
      1. Orange = Mike in
      2. Green = Speakers/Earphones out
      3. Blue = Line in
      4. Connect the cable from playback device output (cassette player, etc.) to the computer sound card input, usually the mike input
    2. Laptop computers -- usually a single jack for mike and earphones or speakers (3- or 4-contact jack such as on a smartphone)  or can use a USB port    
    3. From playback device use earphone output, if it has one, since the speaker output may be too strong a signal for your computer mike input -- always set the computer record volume way low at start, so you don't burn something out; there are inexpensive attenuating cables to decrease signal strength, if you need one  
    4. Playback devices with USB connectors are easier to use, e.g. cassette tape players and phonographs with USB outputs  


  15. AUDACITY -- free program for audio recording and editing -- download from -- manual and video tutorials at -- -- program has many features, but the basics will get you started-- the hardest part is making the device connections to record 
  16. After connecting hardware, in AUDACITY, click  Transport > Rescan Audio Devices  so AUDACITY checks the connection setup; you may have to close and open AUDACITY again, so it recognizes the hardware
  17. Set AUDACITY to mono or stereo recording, as needed
  18. Start playback device and click Start Monitoring in AUDACITY so you see the level of input; set input volume so it doesn't clip the loudest peaks or you will have distortion  
  19. To be able to hear while recording try clicking  Transport > Play Through
  20. AUDACITY has record and playback start and stop buttons like a tape recorder; also has a timer, if you want it to start or stop automatically 
  21. AUDACITY can record directly from a mike or from the Internet or other sources for live recordings
  22. When everything is set correctly, click the AUDACITY Record button, then the play button on playback device; monitor the recording to be sure you are getting what you want; you can edit out or add gaps and leaders later, so don't worry about extra spaces, etc., when recording 
  23. AUDACITY has good editing features to delete parts, remove or shorten gaps, change volume, speed, copy, move sections, fade in or out, etc.
  24. To include a label track to mark sections go to  Tracks > Add Label At Selection; labels can later be used when exporting to split the file at these points with the labels as titles of the sections   
  25. Saving the Project vs Exporting in AUDACITY
    1. Saving the Project is differrent than exporting -- it saves everything you have done, including all edits from the beginning, so you can continue later or reverse any edit -- Saving the Project produces an .aup file with a folder of same name containing the data
    2. Exporting the file means saving it so it is playable on other devices and programs, usually in .wav or .mp3 format  
  26. To archive sound files save in the highest quality you can, e.g. .wav, and make lower quality .mp3 copies for posting or distributing; as mentioned above, the .mp3 format sacrifices sound quality so file size is smaller 
  27. See more details in AUDACITY Manual and in Don's Freeware Corner notes on his website 

  29. POWERPOINT is a commercial program from Microsoft, and your computer may have come with a version; you can find old versions for inexpensive prices  
  30. Have a microphone connected and working on your computer  
  31. Set up the screens for the program you want, e.g. copy in pictures and text for the slides your want, e.g. I have done one on my US Navy military service  
  32. Click Slide Show > Record Slide Show > Start Recording From Beginning   
  33. As you watch the POWERPOINT, narrate what you see 
  34. When finished save the narrated POWERPOINT with a new name, so you don't wipe out your non-narrated version
  35. Play POWERPOINT and you will hear your narration with the slides  
  36. Good way to make short programs about yourself or an ancestor and your research 
  37. LIBRE OFFICE IMPRESS (freeware equivalent to Microsoft OFFICE and POWERPOINT) doesn't have the narration feature built in, but there is a way you can do it -- see  
  38. Can also do videos with narration using the free PHOTO FILMSTRIP program -- see notes in Don's Freeware Corner articles on his website  

  40. Voice or speech recognition software  
    1. Still not totally accurate for "continuous speech", which is the way we normally talk, but is getting better 
    2. Smartphones have built-in voice recognition for audio text entry, but they make mistakes 
    3. Google web search has voice recognition built in, if you have a mike connected -- click on the microphone (right end of Google search box) and dictate
    4. Windows 10 has voice recognition software built in -- see Microsoft instructions on how to set it up and how to use Cortana on your computer  
    5. GOOGLE DOCS (free) has Voice Typing when using 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  and YouTube videos -- 
    6. Best commercial voice recognition software is  DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING ; comes in several versions, can usually get it on sale, but even it is not completely accurate for continuous speech  
  41. Transcribing by "Echoing" -- you listen with headphones and repeat what you hear to record it in speech recognition software trained to recognizes your voice -- since computer only hears your voice, it can be "trained" better to recognize the way you talk
  42. LISTEN N WRITE -- freeware program to help with manual transcription  
    1. Download from --  3-minute video tutorial at  
    2. Requires audio to be in digital .wav or .mp3 format and played on your computer 
    3. You listen with speakers or earphones and type what you hear; does NOT automatically transcribe the audio    
    4. Program includes player and text editor, but can use any text editor, e.g. LIBRE OFFICE or WORD; then can use a spell checker 
    5. Audio playback in LISTEN N WRITE is controlled with function keys, so you keep your hands on the keyboard and don't have to use the mouse  
    6. 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 
    7. F6  skips backward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  
    8. F7  skips forward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  


  43. EVERNOTE has a way to record audio in a note so you can describe a picture of an artifact, for example -- avoids the connection problems, but gives an .amr file that must be converted to be played elsewhere  
  44. VLC -- good and free CD and video player -- -- has feature to adjust the video to match the sound, if the mouths don't match the sound
  45. FAIRSTARS -- good and free CD copier and player -- -- good for ripping (copying) CD's to computer  
  46. SKYPE -- -- free sound and video communication world-wide through the Internet; can also use it to call any phone number world-wide for a very small fee  

  48. Tapes deteriorate, so digitize them as soon as possible; phonograph records don't deteriorate, but clean them before playing to record  
  49. Thrift stores sometimes have tape recorders, cassette players, and phonographs; can also buy new ones with USB connectors 
  50. Digitizing audio files preserves and makes them easier to edit, copy, transcribe, and distribute to others.  

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