Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Searching List Archives by Joan Young

From the Rootsweb Review, 25 April 2007, Vol. 10, No. 17. This article is by Joan Young, not me.


By Joan Young

Until recently, if you wanted to search the archives of a RootsWeb mailing list from within RootsWeb, you had to search one list at a time and search year by year for keywords or surnames of interest. This worked just fine if you knew you were looking for ROBINSONs on the ROBINSON mailing list, for example, although searching year by year could become cumbersome at times, especially if you were not sure which list you wanted to search--or if you preferred to search all lists.

RootsWeb has retired the veteran ISearch or Interactive Search engine and unveiled a spiffy new search engine. It is able to search the nearly 31,000,000 messages posted to all RootsWeb mailing lists over their entire history--all at one time.

An easy and convenient way to access the new Archives search engine is to click on the Mailing List tab in the RootsWeb masthead on any RootsWeb page (you will be taken to a page with a search box labeled "Search the mailing list archives") or go directly to:

The new Archives search engine can also be accessed by clicking the "Archives Search" link under the Mailing List heading on the RootsWeb home page:

And finally, the new search feature is linked from the main Archiver page under the link "Search all of the archiver listings." This search engine uses the same Archiver database that has been used for quite some time to browse through the list messages subject by subject and month by month:

To perform a simple search of the full text of all lists for all time periods, enter keywords or surnames in the Keywords field on the search page. Matches to your search criteria are returned in order of relevancy.


Archives searches understand the commands AND and NOT. For example, you can search for John AND ROBINSON or ROBINSON NOT John. The former would be a search for a complete match of the words John and ROBINSON within the message, and the latter would be a search for messages that include ROBINSON but exclude the word John in the text. The searches are not case sensitive.

Archives searches also understand exact phrase matches, which are shown within quotation marks, such as "John ROBINSON". The difference between using an exact phrase search with quotes and using the command AND is that with an exact phrase search only exact matches to John ROBINSON are returned. If you enter John AND ROBINSON, the search engine will return hits where both words appear somewhere in the text being searched, but not necessarily together as part of the same name.


Wildcard searches always require a bit of practice and experimentation when first using a new search engine. The "*" and "?" wildcards may be used with the Archives search engine with the * (asterisk) representing zero or more missing or unknown characters and the ? (question mark) representing a single missing or unknown character. The wildcards are intended for use anywhere within the keywords or surnames, but the catch is that they will only work in situations where there are not too many possibilities to be searched.

For instance, if you are looking for a surname that ends in "ONES" but you don't know how many leading characters are missing or unknown, you will find that searching for "*ONES" results in an error message because there are too many possibilities for the search engine to check. However, searching for "?ONES" does yield results for surnames where one leading character is followed by "ONES." Trial and error is the best method of finding what works and what doesn't.

The question mark symbol can be used more than once in a keyword or surname, but in each case it only represents one missing character. For instance, a search for ROB??SON produces hits for ROBERSON, ROBINSON, and ROBARSON, but will not find ROBERTSON since there are three missing characters in that name. A search for ROB*SON will find all spellings where any number of missing characters are matched.


In addition to the simple searches in Archives search, there is an Advanced tab with more refined search options. Specific fields may be searched using the Advanced capabilities. Searching with the BODY field will return matches from both the message body and the subject line. Searching with the SUBJECT field will return results that match the subject line of the original message.

The FROM field may be used to search for posts made from a specific e-mail address. For example, you may wish to search for all posts you have made to the lists. Or you may wish to search for messages posted by a cousin who has listed information on various lists pertaining to your mutual family history.

The LIST field is for narrowing down your searches to posts made to a specific list, and the DATE field is for limiting the results to posts made within a specific date range, in the format dd mmm yyyy or: 10 Jan 2006.

By using the LIST and DATE fields together you can duplicate the old listsearch functionality; that is, you can search a single list and a single year. Just enter a list name into the LIST field and a year into the DATE field. Or, if you want, narrow your search further by entering a specific month and year in the DATE field: Jan 2006, or even a specific day by entering: 10 Jan 2006.

You can use one or more of the fields in combination when entering search terms in the Advanced search feature. For instance, if you want to search for posts you made to the SMITH surname list in January 2006, enter your e-mail address in the FROM field, SMITH in the LIST field, and Jan 2006 in the DATE field.

RootsWeb mailing lists have always provided a huge amount of information, but in the past the trick was locating the information you needed. Now, through proper use of the new Archives search engine, the information is easily accessible and at your fingertips.

You can browse the Rootsweb list archives, too:

Rootsweb, and how to Use it:

Posting your GEDCOM to WorldConnect at Rootsweb & Ancestry:

Easy List Unsubscribing:

Sharing Your Family History at Rootsweb:

An artist is not a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist. - Meister Eckhart



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