Audio communication has come a long way since the 1930 census first asked our ancestors whether they owned a “radio set.” Now, instead of gathering around a big wooden box for news and entertainment, you can listen to your favorite podcast programs through any number of devices including your phone. And rather than tuning in at a program’s regularly scheduled time, you can listen to podcasts on demand, when it suits your schedule. This technology would certainly seem foreign to our forebears—and maybe it’s a little alien to you, too. However, there’s no better time to jump into podcasts because with today’s smartphones it’s never been easier to listen.
If you’re not familiar with podcasting, now is the time to tap into this great source of information and entertainment. Numerous family history podcasts have popped up, featuring interviews, research ideas and more. As the host of two popular podcasts—Genealogy Gems and Family Tree Magazine‘s podcast—let me be your guide through this wonderful world of podcast and find the shows and tools that are right for you.
What is a Podcast?
Think of a podcast as a pre-recorded online radio show. It’s sort of like radio meets books on tape. Each podcast typically includes several episodes, with new episodes usually published on a schedule. Because podcasts are pre-recorded, you can listen to them whenever and wherever you want. Even if you are late to the podcast listening game, you can still enjoy all the previously published episodes. You also have the option to fast forward and rewind, as well as stop and start at your convenience. The format puts you in control of your listening experience.
Podcast episodes typically run anywhere from a few minutes to about an hour. They may be published as frequent as weekly, or several weeks or months may elapse between episodes. Some podcasters choose to publish on a regular schedule; others publish whenever the podcaster feels inspired. It’s like the Wild West of communication—anything goes. But most genealogy podcasters generally stick to a fairly regular schedule.
How to Find Podcasts
Back in 2004 when podcasting began, podcasts were published and found on Apple’s iTunes software. While you can still find podcasts on iTunes, the easiest and most common way to listen is through a podcast app on your smartphone or tablet.
These days there are countless podcast player apps. Some podcasts, like my Genealogy Gems podcast, also have their own app. You can find podcast apps by searching the word “podcast” in the app store on your phone. Most podcast apps are free or very low cost and offer a variety of features.
The easiest way to start is with the podcast app native to your phone. The iPhone comes with the Podcasts app, and Android has Google Podcasts. If you don’t see them on your phone, use your phone’s search feature to locate them, or go to the app store and download them for free.
Using the search feature
Open the podcast app and tap the magnifying glass icon to search for “genealogy”. You’ll find over 30 genealogy themed podcasts. Each will have its own approach to the subject. Some cover a wide range of topics such as The Family Tree Magazine Podcast, and others have a narrow focus such as Maple Stars and Stripes which focuses on French-Canadian genealogy. Tap a title to read more about what they cover.
In addition to searching for the word “genealogy” try searching for “family history” or a combination of words that target your specific interests. You’ll notice in the search results that you will not only see shows that meet our search terms, but also individual episodes. These episodes may be focused on genealogy even though the show is not specifically focused on it. For example, a podcast about raising families might include one episode about family history.
While reviewing a show, look to see the date of the most recent episode. Episodes are listed just under the description, starting with the most recent and going back in time to the first episode. You’ll notice that not all podcasts listed are still actively publishing. You may find the last episode is a year or more old. However, even if they have discontinued publishing (referred to as pod-fading) you may still find past episodes of interest.
Looking for suggestions of genealogy-themed podcasts to listen to? Check out our suggestions here.
Subscribing, Downloading and Playing Podcasts
Now that you’ve found some podcasts you want to listen to, the next step is to subscribe. Subscribing will place the show in your podcast app library and deliver each new show to your app as they are published. Subscribing is free and easy to do. Simply select a show and tap the Subscribe button.
You will find the shows you have subscribed to in the Library in Apple’s Podcasts app or Activity > Subscriptions in the Google Podcasts app.
While you can stream episodes right from the cloud, you’ll typically only want to do so when connected to WiFi. Streaming a podcast over cellular can use a lot of data. If you want to be sure never to use cellular data, head to the Settings app on your phone and turn off cellular for the podcast app you are using.
In addition to streaming over WiFi, downloading episodes is also a great to save data. It also ensures that you can listen even without an internet connection, such as in the car or while exercising outside.
Select and download episode while you are connected to WiFi. Tap the download button (which is typically a down arrow) next to the desired episode. You will find your downloaded episodes in your Library (Apple Podcasts) or Activity (Google Podcasts).
Save space on your phone by deleting downloaded episodes after you are finished listening to them. Don’t worry, this doesn’t remove them from the podcast subscription “feed” in your subscription library. The episodes have just returned to the Cloud and are no longer taking up storage space on your phone. They will still appear in the show’s list of episodes should you want to stream or download them again.
If you only subscribe to a few shows, you may want to opt to set your app’s settings to automatically download new episodes as they are published. However, be aware that if you subscribe to a lot of shows, this could gobble up your phone’s storage very quickly.
Now it’s time for the fun part: listening to a podcast episode! If you want to listen to episodes you have downloaded in Apple Podcasts, tap Library in the menu at the bottom of the screen and then tap Downloaded Episodes. In the Google Podcasts app, tap Activity in the menu at the bottom of the screen (three horizontal lines with a right arrow) and then tap Downloads
Tap the episode you want, and it will begin to play in a media player bar at the bottom of the screen. You can still navigate around the app while you’re listening. Tap the player bar to open it up for more listening options including rewind and fast forward, stopping and starting, speed (if you want to speed it up or slow it down) and even setting a timer so that you can listen as you fall asleep and it will automatically shut off after the designated amount of time.
More Ways to Listen
The Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts are just two of many apps you can use to listen to podcasts. Popular music services like Spotify and Pandora now include podcasts, and they do a great job of suggesting other shows you might enjoy. Another advantage of using either of these services is that you can also use them to listen to podcasts on your computer. They also support cross-device syncing so you can start a podcast on one device and finish it on another.
Many smart home devices can also play podcasts. For instance, the Amazon Echo’s Alexa can play podcasts once you add and link a podcast service in the Alexa app. Tap Settings > Music & Podcasts > Link New Service and choose a service like Apple Podcasts. Tap the Enable to Use button and you’ll be prompted to sign into Apple Podcasts so that it can be linked with Amazon. If you set a default podcast provider then you won’t need to give Alexa the name of the service when requesting a podcast. This will allow you to simply give the command “Alexa, play the latest episode of the Family Tree Magazine podcast.”
Get the Details with Show Notes
When it comes to genealogy podcasts, listening is only half the fun. Many podcast producers also published detailed show notes. These may provide information, images, videos and links to websites mentioned in the episode. You’ll typically find the show notes on the episode screen in the podcast app. In Apple Podcasts tap Details to access the notes in the app. From there, tap Episode Webpage to be taken to the podcast’s website and complete show notes page. You can also Google the name of the podcast to find their website and visit their complete show notes.
Genealogy podcasts are a wonderful and easy way to stay in touch with your favorite hobby. My listeners often tell me, once you get the hang of podcasting, it’s easy to get hooked—just like you did with genealogy.