RootsWeb:Searching RootsWeb Message Boards

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


The message boards on RootsWeb have several types of searches you can use to narrow in on that elusive ancestor or favorite research topic, whether you just want to take a look around or do some in-depth searching.

Quick Searches

To familiarize yourself with the message boards, you might want to try a couple simple searches. Click the Message Boards tab at the top of any RootsWeb page. To search every message board for a particular keyword, phrase, or name, enter the term in the Search the Boards field. For example, if you enter the surname “Hewitt,” your search results will show every message in which the Hewitt name is used, regardless of which board the post is attached to. To search for a specific message board, such as for a surname, enter the keyword or name in the Find a Board field. For example, enter the surname “Hewitt” in this field. Your search results will show boards that specifically focus on this surname or similar keywords.

Note: As you type in a term, you’ll notice that a drop-down list shows you similar terms you can choose from.

Browse the Boards

Another way to find a message board of interest is to browse the entire collection. You can navigate through the boards by clicking categories and then sub-categories. To browse the surname message boards, locate the alphabet under the Surnames heading. Click the appropriate letter and then letter groupings to look through the lists of names. A yellow highlight shows you your current selections.

To browse localities or topics, scroll to the bottom of the Message Boards page. In the right-hand columns, you can see the number of sub-categories and boards associated with each topic. Click on a category to look through the available message boards.

And don’t worry about getting lost as you browse. You can always identify where you are in the Message Board hierarchy by looking under the Message Boards heading at the top of the page; you’ll see the path you took to get to the page you are presently viewing. For example: Boards >Localities > North America > United States >States>Ohio. You can click on any of these linked topics to return to that category or subcategory. 

Advanced Searching

The advanced search can be used to narrow down searches by subject line, the author of the message, and more. To do an advanced search, click the Message Boards tab, then click the “Advanced Search” link at the top of the page.

Complete any of these fields as necessary:

In this field Do this
Name or Keyword Enter a keyword or phrase. Any message that contains this keyword or phrase will appear in the search results.
Subject of Message Enter a keyword or phrase. Any message which has this keyword on phrase in its subject line will appear in the search results.
Author of Message Enter the name of a message board poster.
Last Name (surname) Enter a surname (last name or family name). Any message that contains this name in the Surnames field will appear in the search results. Make sure to try different spellings, including spacing variations (van Horn and vanhorn, or O’Brien and OBrien).
Use Soundex Click the checkbox so that the search will find surnames with the same Soundex code.
Message Classification Choose a message type from the drop-down list. A user is required to select one of these classifications each time he or she makes a post. Choose “All” to search through all available messages regardless of the message classification.
Posted Within Choose an option from the drop-down list to restrict your search to messages that have been posted within a certain period of time. Choose “Anytime” to search through all available message boards.

Tips for Successful Searches

If your searches haven’t turned up the results you were hoping for, try some of these search tips:

  • 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 word , followed by an asterisk. For example, a search for “Joh*” will return matches such as John, Johns, or Johnson. “Peter*” will give you results including Peter, Peters, Peterson, Petersen, and Peterman. Use the question mark for names that differ only by one letter. For example, a search for “Johns?n” will return both “Johnsen” and “Johnson.”
  • If you’re using the Advanced Search option, try entering information in fewer fields or search only by a surname or keyword. This will broaden your search and return more matches.

If the surname you are looking for is also a common word (such as Hill), use the Last Name (surname) field in the Advanced Search option. This enables you to search only message board posts in which this “word” is used as a surname and eliminates authors’ names from coming up in your results.

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