RootsWeb:Searching RootsWeb Mailing Lists

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This article originally appeared in The Official Guide to by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG and Tana Pedersen Lord.


Before you join a mailing list, you can browse the entire collection to see which topics and lists interest you most. Click the Mailing Lists tab at the top of any RootsWeb page or by going here. At the bottom of the page, click the “Browse mailing lists” link or go here. Now you can navigate through the boards by clicking on category and sub-category folders. The top of the page of most mailing lists, you should see the name of the mailing list and the topic that it covers. For example, the ethnic-welsh mailing list, “PA-WELSH-EARLY-L,” is a mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Welsh who settled in southeastern Pennsylvania prior to 1750.

Search for a Specific List

In addition to looking through the index of mailing lists, you can search for specific mailing lists using keywords, locations, surnames, and even categories. To search for a specific list, click the Mailing Lists tab. In the “Find a mailing list” section, enter a keyword. The search engine will return mailing lists that use this keyword in their name. You can also click the “Advanced search link” to narrow your search: search for a list based on its name or description; search for lists that focus on specific states and countries; or search for surnames in a specific mailing list. If you are having trouble finding the list you’re looking for, try searching using the Description field only.

Tips for Successful Searches

You can use basic Boolean search terms and wildcards to help locate the exact mailing lists posts you’re looking for:

  • Search for an entire phrase by putting quotes around the group of words, like “john jones.”
  • Use “AND” to require the search to find all words or phrases—“john AND jones” will return only results with both words.
  • Use “NOT” to exclude words or phrases—for example, “john NOT jones” will return all results that contain the word john but not jones.
  • Use wildcards—wildcards are special symbols (such as the asterisk “*” and the question mark “?”) that are used in searching to represent unknown letters in a word. Use the asterisk to find words that begin with the same letters. Enter at least the first three letters of the name, followed by an asterisk. For example, a search for “Jon*” will return matches such as Jon, Jones, or Jonson. Use the question mark for names that differ only by one letter. For example, a search for “J?nes” will return both “Jones” and “Janes.”

Mining the Archives

The RootsWeb mailing lists archives contain the content of years of discussions that have been carried on among researchers of the subject matter of these various mailing lists. Buried in these archives could be some treasures that might benefit you in your quest to learn more about your ancestors. Someone at another time—perhaps years ago—might have posted just the information you seek today.

To begin a search of the archives, click the Mailing Lists tab. In the “Search the mailing list archives” section, enter a keyword or name. The search engine will search all of the mailing lists at one time—instead of one at a time—and will look for this keyword in the subject line or body of posts. You can also click the “Advanced search” link to narrow your search: search for a post on a certain day, month, or year; search for a keyword in a specific mailing list; or search for a specific person’s post using their e-mail address. If you want to search the archives of a specific mailing list, access the mailing list and click either the “Search the archives” link or the “Browse the archives” link.

Note: The search tips explained earlier in the chapter also work when searching the mailing list archives.

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