IAGenWeb Board Search Hints, Tips & Tricks

Not all search engines are created equal. The IAGenWeb boards are not "smart" like Google or Bing search, not even close! They aren't simple & efficient, like the free search engines frequently used on the county websites (example: FreeFind). Many commonly used search techniques don't work on the board search. In reality they are antiques .... but they are all we have at this time.

Below are some tips and few work-arounds that I use to find the treasures hidden within the IAGenWeb obit, biography, document and query boards..... Sharyl Ferrall, October 2015.


Don't enclose your keywords in "quotes". The board search engine will not know what to do.

Don't use the + and - qualifiers, wildcard or boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT). They won't work.

Don't get too specific until you've tried general searches - many female obits only identify her as Mrs. So and So, and ignore her given name. Many infant and child obits don't include given names. Men very frequently used only first & middle initials - not their first names.


The surname search searches only the surnames that were entered in the Surname box on the submission form.

The documents (bios, docs, obits) were created by humans and entered on the boards by humans, so spelling and other errors exist.

Be creative and try various spellings. Enter a date before or after what you think it should be.

Use advanced search before you give up.

Tricks & Work-arounds

1) I want to find Olga Berg's obituary. Using the "Search Only Surnames" option I entered Berg as the keyword, and got 1,170 'hits'. Oops! This is because the surname only search includes all surnames in all of the obits, not just the surname of the deceased person. It also returns all messages with the surname Bergman, Bergmeier, Bergstrom, Lundberg, etc.

A work-around is to use the "Search Surnames AND message text" option. Be sure to select "all terms". Using the search below I got only 3 hits. One being Olga Berg's obituary. The other two had Olga and Berg in the text of other obits.

Another work-around is to enter the surname and a year of birth or death.

2) I want to find Mary (Swenson) Smith's obituary. Searching for Smith, my results were nearly 1,500 and included Goldsmith, Hammarsmith, Nesmith, etc.

In this case I knew her maiden name, so entered both surnames. Be sure to separate with a comma and select "all terms". By entering more than one surname, I narrowed the results down to 46 hits. Not too many to check out and useful to spot the obits of people who might be relatives of Mary.

I could narrow things down even more by adding a third surname, or adding a date of birth or death. Be sure to change to the "Search Surnames AND message text" option. The combination below returned only one obit - Mary Swenson Smith.

3) Sometimes we are interested in other things that might be in the messages - like organizations, places or events. "Search Surnames AND message text" is always used or go to Advanced Search. Start basic, just one or two words. Try them in different combinations.

4) Clicking on "advanced search" opens a new search form:

Advanced search is somewhat better than the regular search. The advanced feature may be the ability to find "partial string matches", but this is very limited. If I wanted an obit or biography for someone born in Webster City, entering 'born in Webster City' will return no useful matches. Possibly it's because none of the messages actually have that phrase, but I'd have to check them all to know for sure. Bottom line is the Advanced Search is not very advanced!

However, using the regular search to find obits for Olga Berg or Lester Earl Hager will be unsuccessful if the keywords are entered intuitively, ie: Olga Berg or Lester Hager. Both will be found if the advanced search is used. Below is the search for Lester:

In addition to the regular searches, using the advanced search option allows you to search for the messages posted by a certain person and for messages posted within a date range.