Working the System
9/27/2009
Don't let technical difficulties stall your genealogy progress. Use these 16 easy tips and timesavers to get in command of your computerNand speed up your family search.

What did genealogists do before computers? We're not just talking about how the Internet has taken oodles of records from dusty library shelves and put family facts at your fingertips. Or even how genealogy software spits out charts and frame-worthy family trees festooned with your ancestors' photos. That's just the beginning of the ways today's plugged-in genealogists rely on their computers: How about e-mailing cousins around the globe, keeping research notes and massaging old family photos into works of art? Just try doing all that with old-fashioned pens and notecards.

Trouble is, most genealogists are more comfortable with paper and ink than bits and bytes. Sure, you've upgraded to the latest high-tech gizmos and have more megahertz than you know what to do with. But too often the gadgets that are supposed to speed up your research end up slowing you down. And those computer manuals and magazines just confuse you—they're written for techies instead of genealogists who'd rather be researching than rebooting. It's like finding the missing puzzle pieces about your great-great-grandparents, except the records are in German. You need a translator.

You need, in short, this crash course in the little ways you can make your computer work for you, not the other way around. We've based our tips on PCs with Windows XP and Internet Explorer?since that's what the majority of you use?but most of these tips work similarly with earlier versions of Windows and on Macintoshes. (Mac users, did you know that many of the things PC users do by right-clicking the mouse can be accomplished by holding down your command key and clicking your one-button mouse?) Where Mac users' shortcuts differ significantly from Windows users, we've included tips for both. Try these techniques and you'll be able to spend less time at the computer and more time finding your family tree.

SMARTER SURFING
The number-one reason most genealogists get computerized is to use Internet resources. Once you've found sites worth exploring, here's how to get the most out of cyberspace:

Open search results in a new window.
You've Googled to a list of promising sites or performed an Ancestry.com search for your ancestors. But once you start clicking on matching "hits," you'll be led further and further away from that list of results?you may have to hit the Back button until your finger's sore, or the original page may refuse to reload. Try this instead: Right-click on the link you want to explore and select Open in New Window. (Mac users, hold down the command button and click the link.) Now you can follow wherever the link leads, while your original results page remains undisturbed, behind the new window. Click the new window closed, and you're back where you started.

Search your History for family history.
Maybe it's too late, and you've already lost that Web page full of search results. Not until the next day do you realize that the Ebenezer Quigby you found on an 1870 census transcription?and rejected as not your kin?is your Ebenezer after all. But where was that transcription? RootsWeb? Genealogy.com? Some message board? It's all a blur?but not to your handy History folder. Click on the Internet Explorer toolbar icon that looks like a clock with a counterclockwise green arrow, or select View>Explorer Bar>History (or just hit Control-H). Up pops a pane on the left of your screen showing all the Web sites you've visited?typically, for the past three weeks?as folders. Click a folder to see the pages within each site. But you don't have to tediously scroll through this surfing history: Just click Search to search the sites you've visited recently. (Go to Tools>Internet Options to clear your History and customize how long it's kept. Mac users will find similar options under Edit>Preferences>Web Browser>Advanced.)

See more like it.
You've finally found that site about Moravian church records and want to see others like it. Maybe you can: Try Tools>Related Links, which uses a service called Alexa to find similar sites. It opens a pane on the left side of your screen where you can explore the results. (This is free, but Alexa also offers more advanced services for a fee.) In Google, try clicking the Similar Pages link at the end of each result listing.

Scroll less.
You can scroll through a single Web page in search of the elusive surname that took you there until your mouse starts smoking. Or you can let your browser find it for you with Edit>Find (or Control-F). Type the surname (or whatever word you're looking for) in the box that pops up and click Find Next. Options let you search upward if you think you've already scrolled past what you're after, as well as restrict your search to whole words and/or exact matches of what you've typed.

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