©2017 by Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2017-04-02.  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.  Many of these are in analog format, e.g. tape or phonograph recordings.  Transferring these to digital format makes them easier edit, preserve, and copy.  This class will discuss the types of digital audio files there are, recording things digitally, digitizing old analog audio items, editing them using freeware programs, and transcribing talks and interviews.  We will also discuss a few other ways sound is used in family history such as background music for family history video slideshows, dealing with CD's, and using computers with the Internet to talk to people around the world, e.g. with Skype.  The notes for this class and related articles, all with active Internet links, are on my website .


  1. Instructor is Donald R. Snow ( ) of Provo and St. George, Utah. 
  2. These notes, with active Internet links and other related articles, 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's discussion:  recording, digitizing, transferring, and transcribing sound files.

  6. AUDACITY is an open source, and hence, free program for audio recording and editing -- download from -- see manual and video tutorials at --  
  7. Features of AUDACITY
    1. Many features, but the basics are fairly easy -- hardest part is getting it set up to record and play on your computer 
    2. Records mono or stereo from microphone, online, or line in from a device such as a tape recorder 
    3. Has a monitor to show input volume so you can set it so it doesn't clip the loudest peaks or you get distortion 
    4. Has record and playback start and stop buttons like a tape recorder and also has a timer you can set to stop after a given time 
    5. From recordings you can edit parts to delete, shorten, change volume, copy, splice in sections, fade in or out, etc.  
    6. Can apply labels to mark start of sections in the audio file and can have it split the large file into parts at these sections when exporting  
    7. Has various formats to export files, e.g. wav or mp3, and can write metadata to include in the files  
  8. For archiving sound files I recommend saving in high quality format, e.g. wav format, and making low quality format copies, e.g. mp3, from those for posting or distribution since mp3 and other low quality formats sacrifice the sound quality to make the file size smaller and the process can not be reversed

  10. To digitize analog recordings, e.g. tape, reel-to-reel, cassette, or phonograph records, use a connecting wire from the playback device output to line input jack on your computer to get good sound quality in the digitized file and avoid background sounds like the telephone or doorbell ringing  
  11. 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) or can use USB input 
    3. If need to go into your computer's mike input from speaker output on playback device, you may need an inexpensive attenuating cable to decrease signal strength
    4. Can buy inexpensive adapters to connect output of your playback device to USB input on your computer  
    5. Can also buy playback devices (tape recorders and phonographs) that have USB plugs to go directly to USB on your computer  
  12. Purpose of digitizing old recordings
    1. Allows you to edit them 
    2. Allows copies that are exactly the same and not degraded, i.e. not degraded like a xerox of a xerox  
    3. Can easily make copies and give or email to others to help preserve them  
    4. Can upload audio to FamilySearch Family Tree share and preserve


  13. Voice or speech recognition software  
    1. Voice or speech recognition software is still not completely effective for "continuous speech", the way we normally talk, but is getting there
    2. Smartphones have fairly accurate built-in voice recognition that does text entry
    3. Google web search has voice recognition built in, if you have a mike plugged in -- click on microphone (right end of Google search box) and dictate
    4. Voice recognition software in Windows 10 -- 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 seems to be  DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING ; comes in several versions, can usually get it on sale somewhere  
  14. Transcribing by "Echoing" -- you listen with headphones and repeat what you hear to record it into speech recognition software that recognizes your voice -- since computer only hears your voice, it can be "trained" better to recognize the way you talk
  15. 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 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. You control audio playback with function keys, so you keep your hands on the keyboard and don't have to use the mouse  
    4. 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 
    5. F6  skips backward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  
    6. F7  skips forward a specified time interval you set, e.g. 3 seconds  


  16. Using music or narration as background for slideshow videos -- will discuss in more detail in another class  
  17. FairStars -- good and free CD player and ripper -- -- good for ripping CD's to computer  
  18. VLC -- good and free CD and video player -- -- has feature that you can adjust the video to match the sound, if the mouths don't match the sound
  19. Family history data CD's -- not usually audio, but have lots of helpful FH data on them; can find many in thrift stores
  20. 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  

  22. Best to digitize old tape recordings as soon as possible since the tapes deteriorate; phonograph records don't deteriorate
  23. May not be able to find tape recorders and phonographs at thrift stores; can buy new ones with USB connectors
  24. Digitizing audio files preserves and makes them easier to transcribe, copy, and distribute to other family members, and/or post on the Internet.  
  25. 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 .