Last week we created a customized, searchable mailing list archive using Gmail's filtering and labelling tools. By signing up for all mailing lists covering topics of interest to our genealogical research, this gmail account becomes a helpful archive of discussions and information. This week, we will explore using and searching this archive. As always, I'm not paid by Google for these entries, I just believe in their tools enough to want to share them with others!
There are a few different ways one can explore the information being archived:
Browsing by Label
The easiest way to jump into your archive is to browse by label. Last week, we assigned labels to incoming messages in order to categorize them in a specific way. As my archive has been organized according to the mailing list from which each message is generated, I can go directly to a particular mailing list and read my messages.
When you log into your Gmail account, you will see a sidebar with all the labels you created in your account. Labels that are bold have new messages, and the number of new messages is show in parenthesis next to the label. To read all messages assigned by the filters to a particular label, simply click on the label. Here, I am browsing to read all mail that has come in from my mailing list covering the surname Boisvert:
When I click on the label, I am brought to a screen with all those messages! Note that the "Search Mail" field at the top of the page has automatically generated a term for the label to which I have browsed, in this case "boisvert":
From here I could simply click through the messages and read them in order, just browsing to stay on top of the incoming messages. Or, if I am looking for a particular piece of information, I can begin putting the searchability of my archive to use.
Searching within a Label
Let's say I am interested, at this moment, in researching a woman named "Marie" with connections to the Boisvert family, and I want to see if anyone on this particular Boisvert mailing-list is talking about this woman. I can enter my search term, "marie" in the "Search mail" field, leaving in tact the pre-generated label term, which will limit my search to only messages with this particular label. Once done, I would click on the "Search mail" button.
My search, in this case, yields 13 results:
Of course, on a more active list, or with a more popular search term, this search could have yielded many more. Just as I can in a typical Google search field, I can narrow my results by using more advanced search modifiers, such as parenthesis, or plus and minus signs.
In this case, I can limit my search by using parenthesis to narrow my search to a more specific individual, "Marie Elzire":
The search is successful, and yields one search result:
As you can see, targeted searching of a single mailing list can be extremely effective and extremely efficient when you are looking for a specific piece of information. Unlike browsing a mailing-list, which may be done for social or general knowledge, utilizing the search feature can help winnow the amount of mail that you have to read in order to identify e-mails or postings specific to your interests.
Searching the entire archive
I can also take advantage of the cross-mailing list searching capabilities I have created in this archive, and search across all mailing lists for terms of interest.
For instance, a search on the surname "Jones" yields, unsurprisingly, hundreds of results in my archive:
Again, just as in a standard Google search, I can winnow my results to match what sort of information I am looking for. Since I am searching for information on a Jones family that resided in a town called "Jerseyville", I can search with those terms and see what I find:
As you can see, I now have a manageable result set that contains both of my search terms. Especially useful is the fact that not one, but many lists have been searched for this combination of terms, and my results come from more than one mailing list.
TIP: If you perform a label-specific search, then wish to search the entire archive, make sure you delete the label-limiting search term pre-generated by Gmail (such as the "label:boisvert" in example no. 1 above). It is possible to forget that you are limited to searching within one label, and be left wondering why certain searches aren't giving you any results. When in doubt, check your "Search mail" box to be sure what you are searching!
Excluding mailing lists from full-archive searches
In some cases, you may find yourself searching for terms that are commonly found across a number of mailing lists, but you know, for a fact, that the information in a certain mailing list will not be germane to your search. In such cases, you can exclude entire mailing lists from your search in order to make your searches more efficient.
In this example, I am looking for information on an individual by the name of William Jones. I perform a standard search, across the entire archive, and receive about 120 results, from a number of mailing lists, including a Jones mailing list, a Northern California mailing list, and a Cornish genealogy mailing list:
However, since I believe that the information found in the Cornish genealogy mailing list won't be of use to me at the moment, I can exclude that mailing list from my search, using the minus or "not" sign, and using the label term, such as the one Gmail pre-loads when browsing to a particular label. Therefore, my search now reads: "william jones" -label:CORNISH-GEN, and, upon searching, the results from the Cornish genealogy mailing list have been omitted, and my search result set has gone down accordingly:
You can omit multiple mailing lists in this way, in order to refine your search.
Searching more than one mailing list at a time
In the same way, you can also limit your searches to more than one mailing list.
In this example, I am continuing to search for William Jones, but want to search both the Jones surname mailing list, and the Northern California mailing list for my search term. My search term thus becomes: "william jones" label:Jones OR label:NOCAL. As you can see below, the search is successful, and I now have a result set of results from only the two mailing lists that I specified:
TIP: The "OR" modifier in this search is necessary, because the default modifier when none is specified is "AND". This search performed without the "OR" would yield nothing, since none of my messages carry more than one label. If your archive is complex enough to have messages carrying more than one label, then you could omit the OR modifier as you see fit.
In summary, I hope this entry has shown you ways in which your custom mailing list archive can be put to its best use. There are a ton more advanced searches that can be performed, which you can find here.
Next week we will leave our Gmail mailing list archive behind, and talk about iGoogle and how a personalized Google homepage can help you organize your research and maximize your efficiency.
Till then, I remain,