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Genealogy Tips: 5 Time-Saving Computer Keyboard Shortcuts

Many family historians are good at online searches and know their way around a computer keyboard and the Internet—but even the most experienced genealogist may be unfamiliar with basic Mac and PC desktop keyboard shortcuts that can save you time and effort as you search the web for information about your ancestors.

Let's talk about that, as some of the more overlooked keyboard shortcuts are easy to do!


Photo: a computer keyboard in use. Credit: Wikipedia.

1) Easy Keyboard Scrolling

On some computer keyboards, the Page Up and Page Down arrow keys are not conveniently located; here is an alternate method.

To scroll down a webpage easily, press the Spacebar.

To scroll up a webpage, hold the Shift key and then press the Spacebar. It's easy!

Scroll down:
  • Spacebar
Scroll up:
  • Shift and Spacebar
Tip: The Spacebar tricks save time by not having to take your hand off the keyboard.

2) Easy Screen Zooming

Ever find yourself squinting at a tiny image on a webpage, such as the inscription on this tombstone?


Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

If so, then zoom in and out with your computer screen to attain the best viewing size.

Hold the Control key (aka "Ctrl" on a PC) and tap the Plus (+), Minus (-) or Zero (0) keys.

On an Apple Mac, do the same, but utilize the Command key (aka "Cmd" or "⌘").

One sequence zooms in, one zooms out, and the last one returns the image to the original viewing size.

Zoom in:
  • [PC] Ctrl and Plus (Ctrl +)
  • [Apple] Command and Plus (⌘ +)
Zoom out:
  • [PC] Ctrl and Minus (Ctrl -)
  • [Apple] Command and Minus (⌘ -)
Original size:
  • [PC] Ctrl and Zero (Ctrl 0)
  • [Apple] Command and Zero (⌘ 0)
Tip: On a laptop keyboard, you probably do not have to hold the Shift key to access the Minus and Plus keys when doing this shortcut, despite them being located above the hyphen (-) and equal (=) signs and appearing as though a Shift key is necessary.

3) Full Computer Screen Viewing

Although this feature can vary from browser to browser, sometimes you can temporarily eliminate the Menu or Search Bar. What a great help this can be if you wish to view an image that will not fit on the screen.

Full screen:
  • [PC] F11 or (Alt and V, F)
  • [Apple] Control and Command and T (^ ⌘ T)
Note: In the PC example, F11 is one of the Windows Function keys. (If it doesn't exist on your keyboard, you can sometimes press Alt and V to access a menu, and then F to access Full Screen mode.) In the Apple example, the ^ ⌘ indicates that you should hold the Control key and the Command key before tapping the letter T.

Tip: To get out of Full Screen mode, repeat the shortcut sequence, or press the Escape key (aka "Esc"). If this feature doesn't work for you, search your browser's help page or look for the feature in the browser's menu.

4) Easy Finding of Search Results

When confronted with busy pages of text on a website, finding an ancestor's name can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

To get around scanning every line for query results, try using the Find feature. Hold the Control key (PC) or Command key (⌘) (Apple) and tap the letter F. Once the Search Bar appears, enter the desired text.

Find:
  • [PC] Ctrl and F
  • [Apple] Command and F (⌘ F)

Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Tip: Most web browsers will show you the number of occurrences of your search term on the page, as well as highlight the results.

5) Reopening a Webpage

One of the most aggravating blunders is when a webpage is accidentally closed before you are through with it. Depending upon your browser, you may be able to reopen it.

Open a closed webpage:
  • [PC] Ctrl and Shift and T
  • [Apple] Command and Shift and T (⌘ Shift T) or ⌘ Z in certain versions of Safari
Tip: If this trick doesn't work, try searching your browser's history to find the webpage. Read this article to learn how to access your browsing history in all popular web browsers: http://www.wikihow.com/View-Browsing-History. Alternatively, you may wish to switch to another browser, or upgrade yours to the latest version.

Browser Keyboard Shortcut Resources

Here are links to find many more helpful time-saving keyboard tips.

According to the website W3Schools, the most widely used browsers (listed in order of usage) are: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari.

Here are links to the support and keyboard shortcut pages of these four popular browsers: Here's one more link to find additional keyboard shortcuts: One last piece of advice: keep your software up-to-date, as older versions may not accommodate the same features and are often more vulnerable to security issues.

[Editor's note: this article was adapted from a post Mary Harrell-Sesniak wrote for the GenealogyBank Blog.]