©2017 by Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2017-08-11.  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.  Converting these to digital format makes them easier to edit, preserve, and copy.  This class will discuss types of digital audio files, 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  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .


  1. Instructor is 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, with active Internet links and other related articles, 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's discussion: 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 have -- family gatherings, interviews, journals, funerals, talks, ordinances, music performances, sentimental music, and more
  8. Purpose of digitizing old recordings
    1. Archiving -- Allows saving best-quality copies, not degraded like a xerox of a xerox 
    2. Editing
    3. Sharing -- send copies to family, post online at FamilySearch Family Tree, etc.; this also helps preserve them
    4. Using -- Music or narration for videos, slideshows, extract genealogy and biographical information, make transcriptions


  9. Overall steps to digitize
    1. Connect playback device to sound card on computer
    2. Play the recording and record it on computer -- will demo with free program AUDACITY
    3. Edit the audio file -- take out problem parts, increase volume, label sections
    4. Save the project in AUDACITY so it can be re-edited later
    5. Export the audio file so you can share it and play it on other devices
  10. AUDACITY -- free program for audio recording and editing -- download from  http://www.audacityteam.org/ -- see manual and video tutorials at -- http://www.audacityteam.org/help/documentation/ -- Many features, but the basics are fairly easy
  11. Connect playback device to computer -- this is the hardest part of the whole process
    1. Hardware
      1. Jacks, adapters, and cables
      2. Inexpensive sources are online at Amazon, eBay, etc.; locally at Home Depot and Walgreens
    2. Setting up connections
      1. Desktop computers input -- usually sound card in back with color-coded jacks -- orange = mike in, green = speakers out, blue = line in; connect cable from tape output to computer sound input
      2. Laptop computers input -- 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 
      3. Possible problem -- device output is too loud due to connecting to speaker output rather than earphone output - set volume way down or may have to use an inexpensive attenuating cable to decrease signal strength
      4. Playback devices are available with USB connectors, e.g. cassette tape players and phonographs
      5. After connecting hardware, in AUDACITY go to Transport > Rescan Audio Devices to have it check the connection setup; may have to exit AUDACITY and open it again to have it recognize the hardware plugged in
      6. To be able to hear what is being played and recorded Go to Transport > Play Through On  and sometimes  to make it so you can hear what is being played to record; also click Start Monitoring
      7. Check the volume settings by experimenting
  12. When setup is complete and working, click the Record button on AUDACITY, then start the tape recorder -- monitor the recording to be sure you are getting what you want -- can edit problems for gaps, "leaders", "trailers", etc., later 
    1. For tapes, cassette or reel-to-reel, fast forward to end and rewind before playing to relieve stresses and help avoid magnetic "bleed-through"
    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 
  13. Can also record from a microphone directly into AUDACITY

  15. From recordings you can edit parts to delete, shorten, change volume, copy, splice in sections, fade in or out, etc. -- See more details in Don's Freeware Corner notes on AUDACITY
  16. Can include a label track to mark sections -- Go to Tracks > Add Label At Selection; labels can be used in exporting to break file into smaller files with labels as titles 
  17. Saving the Project -- Click File > Save Project As, give it a name and tell AUDACITY where to save it; this saves entire project including all edits and these are all reversible later; saved projects can only be opened in AUDACITY; format an .aup file with data in folder of same name
  18. Exporting the audio file -- this allows file to be played in any other program; various formats to export files, e.g. wav or mp3, and can include metadata
  19. For archiving sound files, save in high quality format, e.g. wav format, and make low quality copies, e.g. mp3, for posting or distribution; mp3 is a low quality format sacrificing the sound quality to make file size smaller

  21. 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  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 seems to be  DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING ; comes in several versions, can usually get it on sale somewhere  
  22. 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
  23. 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  


  24. Can also use EVERNOTE to record audio with a smartphone or tablet, as well as microphone on computer -- avoids the connection problems, but gives a .amr file that can be played or converted
  25. FairStars -- good and free CD player and copier -- http://www.fairstars.com/ -- good for ripping CD's to computer  
  26. VLC -- good and free CD and video player -- http://www.videolan.org/vlc/ -- has feature that you can adjust the video to match the sound, if the mouths don't match the sound
  27. 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  

  29. See several of Don's Freeware Corner articles about AUDACITY and other sound items in family history
  30. Best to digitize old tape recordings as soon as possible, since the tapes deteriorate; phonograph records don't deteriorate
  31. May find tape recorders and phonographs at thrift stores; can buy new ones with USB connectors
  32. Digitizing audio files preserves and makes them easier to edit, copy, transcribe, and distribute to other family members, and/or post on the Internet.  

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