©2018 by Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2018-01-07.  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 at least some sound recordings about ourselves, our families, our ancestors, or our descendants, in analog format, e.g. tape or phonograph recordings. These need to be converted to digital format to preserve, copy, and edit them. This class will discuss types of digital audio files and how to digitize, record, and edit old analog audio items. We will also discuss other ways sound can be used in family history such as background music for family history videos and slideshows. The notes for this class and related articles, all with active Internet links, are posted on my website  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .


  1. Instructor is Donald R. Snow ( snowd@math.byu.edu ) 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  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html
  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:  identifying family history audio items, digitizing, recording, sharing, and transcribing the files.

  6. Places to look for recordings -- your home, neighbors, family, libraries, community resources, online
  7. Ideas of recordings you may find -- family gatherings, interviews, journals, funerals, talks, ordinances, music performances, sentimental music, and more
  8. Purposes of digitizing recordings
    1. Archiving to save the best-quality copy, not degraded copies like xeroxes of a xerox 
    2. Editing to cut out or move parts, increase or decrease volume, etc.
    3. Sharing to send copies to family and post online at FamilySearch Family Tree to preserve them
    4. Using the music or narration for videos, slideshows, make transcriptions, and extract genealogy and biographical data


  9. AUDACITY -- free program for audio recording and editing -- download from  http://www.audacityteam.org/ -- manual and video tutorials at -- http://www.audacityteam.org/help/documentation/ -- program has many features, but the basics are all you need to get started
  10. Overall steps to digitize
    1. Connect playback device to sound card on computer
    2. Play the recording and record it on computer -- demo with free program AUDACITY
    3. Edit the audio file -- take out problem parts, increase volume, label sections
    4. Export the audio file to wav or mp3 format so you can share it and play it on other devices
    5. Save the project in AUDACITY so it can be re-edited later, if needed
  11. Hardware -- jacks, adapters, cables -- inexpensive sources are Amazon, eBay, online, and locally at Home Depot and Walgreens
  12. 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 to the computer sound card, 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 USB input 
  13. Use earphone output on playback device, if there is one, since signal may be too strong from speaker output into mike input, and always set record volume way down at start, so you don't burn something out with too loud a signal; if needed, there are inexpensive attenuating cables to decrease signal strength
  14. Playback devices with USB connectors are available, e.g. cassette tape players and phonographs
  15. After connecting hardware click on  Transport > Rescan Audio Devices  so AUDACITY checks the connection setup; sometimes you have to close and open AUDACITY again so it recognizes the hardware
  16. Set AUDACITY to mono or stereo recording, as needed
  17. Start playback device and click Start Monitoring to be able to see the level of input; set input volume so it doesn't clip the loudest peaks or you will have distortion
  18. To be able to hear while recording try clicking  Transport > Play Through
  19. AUDACITY has record and playback start and stop buttons like a tape recorder and also has a timer, if you want to to start and/or stop automatically
  20. Before playing cassette or reel-to-reel tapes, do a fast forward all the way to the end and then rewind; this relieves the stresses and helps avoid magnetic "bleed though"
  21. 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 
  22. AUDACITY also can record directly from a mike for live recordings

  24. AUDACITY has good editing features to delete, shorten, change volume, copy, move sections, splice in sections, fade in or out, etc. -- See more details in AUDACITY Manual and in Don's Freeware Corner notes on AUDACITY
  25. 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 
  26. Saving the Project vs Exporting in AUDACITY
    1. Saving the Project saves everything, including all edits, so you can continue later or reverse any of the edits all the way back to the beginning -- it gives 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 and gives an mp3 or wav file, etc.
  27. To archive sound files save in the highest quality available, e.g. wav, and make lower quality copies, e.g. mp3, for posting or distribution; the mp3 format sacrifices sound quality so file size is smaller 

  29. Voice or speech recognition software  
    1. Still not totally accurate for "continuous speech", i.e. 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  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 
    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  
  30. 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
  31. 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. Requires audio to be in digital wav or mp3 format and played on your computer, so you listen with speakers or earphones and type what you hear; program includes player and text editor; does NOT automatically transcribe the audio
    3. Can use any text editor, e.g. Libre Office or Word, with the LISTEN N WRITE audio buttons; then can use a spell checker 
    4. You control audio playback with function keys, so you keep your hands on the keyboard and don't have to use the mouse  
    5. 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 
    6. F6  skips backward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  
    7. F7  skips forward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  


  32. Can also use EVERNOTE to record audio with a smartphone or table; or use microphone on a computer -- avoids the connection problems, but gives an .amr file that must be converted to be played elsewhere 
  33. FairStars -- good and free CD player and copier -- http://www.fairstars.com/ -- good for ripping (copying) CD's to computer  
  34. VLC -- good and free CD and video player -- http://www.videolan.org/vlc/ -- has feature that to adjust the video to match the sound, if the mouths don't match the sound
  35. Skype -- http://www.skype.com/en/ -- 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  

  37. See several of Don's Freeware Corner articles about AUDACITY and other sound items in family history
  38. Tapes deteriorate so digitize them as soon as possible; phonograph records don't deteriorate
  39. Can sometimes find tape recorders and phonographs at thrift stores and can also buy new ones with USB connectors
  40. 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 .