How to Search Message History on iPhone: iMessage, Facebook, and Whatsapp

No one wants to search through dozens (if not hundreds) of messages looking for the specific conversation. Not too long ago iMessages added a search bar at the top, but your iMessage history only goes so far. In fact, of the following apps (iMessage, Facebook and Whatsapp), searching Whatsapp is the easiest, with Facebook search close behind, and iMessage search following. But you can search through your text messages history so long as you haven’t deleted the conversation thread. We’ll go over how to search through your messages on iPhone  and iPad using iMessage, Facebook, and Whatsapp.

Related: How to Sync Messages from iPhone to Mac & iPad

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There are three major apps people use to communicate with messages on iPhone. The obvious standout is iMessage, but unlike Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, the Messages app doesn't allow you to archive iMessages. Which means, if you want to clear out old messages, you have to delete them. And once an iMessage is deleted, it can't be searched. For this reason, it's important not to delete any text message threads you think you might need to come back to in the future. The same can be said of Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, but you have the option to archive messages so they'll always be searchable. I'm going to break down how to search for messages in each of the three apps below. 

Table of Contents:

How to Search iMessage History

Searching through iMessage can be a pain in the butt. The search function can only look through present messages, which means if you’ve swiped left to delete a previous text message, it will not show up when you search your history. However, it can look through the history of the messages in your list. For instance, I was able to pull up all the Merry Christmas texts I received enough though it’s been many months since. Another nice feature iMessage search has is the ability to go directly to the phrase I’m looking for within the message. It’s worth noting my iPhone is running on iOS 10, but this will work with any iPhone running at least iOS 9.

To search text messages on iPhone:

  • Open the Messages app.
  • At the very top is the Search bar. (If you scroll down, it will disappear. Just scroll back to the top and you’ll see it.)
  • Tap the search bar and type either the person or phrase that you’re looking for.
  • For example, “Happy” or “Merry” showed me all the old Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas messages I had from friends as well as any other text message wherein “happy” or “merry” appeared.

  • Click on the specific message you were looking for and it will take you into the message at the place of that conversation. The iMessage you located will appear slightly darker grey at first to make it easy to find. 

If you need a more extensive search of iOS messages, check out Chatology for Mac. You can focus on a specific date range or search by images and links. It can also search through more than just iMessages, linking multiple accounts for easy searching in one place. If it’s something you think you might like, there’s a Free Download to try it out on their website.

How to Search Facebook Messenger Conversations

Currently, there’s no way to search for specific messages in the iOS Facebook or Facebook Messenger app. To search through old threads, you’ll need to log in to Facebook on your iPhone’s Safari browser or, preferably, on your computer. It's also good to note that if you've deleted a message, it won't be available for search.

To search Facebook Messenger conversations:

  • Log in to Facebook.com on your computer.
  • On the side page of the main page, click Messenger.

  • This will take you to the desktop version of Messenger where you can see all your recent conversations and replies. At the top of the list of your previous messages (on the left side of the screen) is a Search bar.
  • When you begin typing the term you’re looking for, it will automatically search for People. But you’ll also see a box that says Search Messages for "[search term]". Click that.

  • FB search will look through the messages for the keywords you’ve typed. Tap on a message to see all the results to the right, highlighted in an orange/yellow color.
  • At the top, it will show you how many results there are within that message. There are also two arrows so you can navigate through the results easily.

Just like with iMessage, if you click on a result it will take you directly into that part of the message. Facebook messenger search does a great job of looking through message threads from all time, including individual and group conversations and messages that were archived.

How to Find Specific Threads on WhatsApp

WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps on iPhone. It’s completely free and allows you to send and receive messages, calls, photos, videos, and Voice Messages on your iPhone; you can also view your Whatsapp messages from your computer’s browser. Whatsapp is generally considered to have the best search on iPhone by reviewers, and like Facebook, it highlights the term you're looking for so it's easy to find in the thread. As with the other two messaging apps, if you've deleted the message, it won't be available for search. However if you archived the message, search will work.

How to search Whatsapp messages:

  • Open Whatsapp and login.
  • Navigate to Chats on the menu bar at the bottom of the screen.
  • Pull down on the screen to reveal the Search bar at the top.
  • Begin typing the phrase, words, event, or person you’re searching for.

Messages that match will appear with the search terms highlighted in bold. If you click on a result, it will take you to that message within the thread. The search term will still be highlighted, making it easy to locate.

How to Check New Messages with Siri

I was hoping I could use Siri to easily search through all of my iMessages, but I suppose that’s a request for a later update. What you can do, however, is ask Siri to check for new messages. This is a nice handsfree feature, especially if you get a text while driving that you need to read.

To check new messages with Siri:

  • Hold down the Home button, Siri will activate.
  • Say, “Check new messages,” or something along those lines.

  • If you don’t have any new messages, Siri will let you know.
  • If you do, Siri will being to read your new messages, beginning with the name or phone number of the sender. Siri will then ask if you’d like to Reply.
  • You can say Read Again if you didn’t catch what the AI said the first time or say Reply and voice your message.

Personally, I think this feature is used best to check new messages hands-free but not so great for replying since Siri doesn’t always understand what I’m saying. For example, gum drop became dumb job when I tested the feature.

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Abbey Dufoe is a freelance writer and a web producer at a nonprofit based in Princeton, NJ. She's always itching for the newest iOS gadget (current favorite - the Apple Watch). She tweets and blogs about the earth and the Internet on Twitter at @abbeydufoe and at abbeydufoe.com.