I have been locating Americans for years, originally as a free service
for my website visitors, and more recently for a fee. I continue to be
fascinated by the lack of privacy Americans have compared to the rest
of the world, the upside of which is the ability to locate lost
friends and relatives.
The downside to all the online services that are available is that
there is no perfect solution. I use 10 paid services and quite often
only one has the latest contact details - which means a lot of expense
and frustration for people like yourself. Here's a list of services,
free and paid, that can help you find old friends, with some advice.
Odds of finding them
First and foremost, if they have a listed phone number, you can
probably find them for free by using a few free databases and
combining them with a online phone directory.
If they have a common name, then you need to have their age or other
clues - otherwise you'll come up with a long list of only maybes.
If they don't wish to be found - perhaps they are careful about
keeping their details private, or maybe they are trying to dodge child
support - they probably can't be using online tools.
For women there's the strong possibliity that they have married and
changed their name. In this case a date of birth would be needed.
Step #1 - General Location
Use these two services that provide basic information for free:
Between them you can find out the city and state of the target,
matched by name and age, and possibly the names of family members.
Their data tends to be a bit out of date, and thankfully Intelius
gives you a date for their data.
Then look up the county they live in:
Step #2 - Find them for free
Download this excellent piece of free software, something I use every
day and would happily pay for. It searches all the phone directories
Visit Search Systems. This is the best free resource by far. I head
there once I have obtained clues as to the persons whereabouts. Drill
down to the appropriate state page - the most useful links are
corporation searches (you can often search by the person's name) and
license searches (if you know their profession, it might require a
At the top of the state page is a link to counties - click on it.
Usually there will be a link to the county property records, and more
often than not they are free. Search by name or likely address and
find out the owner of the property. If they own it, and other clues
suggest they live there, then you have found them.
#3 - Look for an online presence
Google them by searching for each variation of their name. Use the
double quotes so that Google searches for the exact phrase:
"joe * bloggs"
"j * bloggs"
The * is a wildcard.
Use Argali to search for their email address, and also look for email
and messenger IDs on these two pages I made:
There are more pages on the above site that might help you in your quest.
#4 - Pay a service
The very best paid services are only available to licensed
investigators, but the following two are quite good:
My Family People Finder
It costs $30 for 90 days, unlimited searching. The results are about
on par with Intelius and US Search. You'll probably find half of your
targets using this service.
$29 for 1 year of unlimited searching. It has the unique ability of
finding someone just from their first name and birth date, and is
easily the best tool for finding women who have since married
Check to see if they have died. Not a nice thought, but can save you a
lot of searching if they are deceased:
Likewise, check if they are in prison, a place where something like 1%
of US adults reside:
If you use a service like Intelius, save up all your searches and do
them in a 24 hour period - most such services offer a 24 or 48 hour
unlimited searching deal.
Keep an eye out for parents. Look up the town where the person used to
live and see if anyone with the same surname fits the right age group.
Parents usually know where their kids are.
Consider online private detectives. They charge more, but being
licensed detectives they can access data like credit reports, driving
records etc. These guys are friendly:
I do this type of searching every day, so feel free to ask me any more
questions on this topic via a clarification.
Request for Answer Clarification by
01 Apr 2004 23:50 PST
Oh, oh, oh my gawd - thank you, oh so very much! As soon as I resolve
problems with computer hang-ups I will start trying the places you say
Since you've been doing searches for some time, please kindly comment
further on how you know when to give up looking. It's hard enough
trying to verify what you know - how do you stop looking for what you
don't know? Am I the only one who gets caught up trying to find
myself and others at these sites, just to check their validity?
Obviously some are better than others, seems every website has a
people search on it's home page, which then leads you to more . . .
it's interesting to see your answer mentioning sites not most often
offered up as those having the most access to the most public records
and all that, but I suppose years of experience got you to those
Finally, since YOU brought it up! What about dead people? With
several deceased family members (including parents & so have SSN) I
stumbled upon SSDI, but found it to be another disappointment. Looked
at ancestry site, got caught up in pages of interesting info, but
mostly of no value to me at this point. When findings are not what
you already know to be true - how do you keep the faith?
I could go on and on about this confusing fascination (or is it
fascinating confusion?) but will stop. Again, I sincerely appreciate
your help and look forward to seeing what I can find soon.
Clarification of Answer by
02 Apr 2004 15:19 PST
The SS Death Index is by no means a complete list of death records,
nor is it 100% accurate. For more details check out this page and the
menu on the left:
Human error is a constant problem with public records databases,
because data is entered by hand initially. Often people come up with
muliple ages, DOBs and middle initials. Addresses are typically
written in a multitude of ways. Apartment numbers are often missing.
When to give up?
I use 10 paid databases, plus SearchSystems, plus phone directories,
plus web searching. If none of those bring up a solid clue, I give up.
Usually takes me about 30 minutes to arrive at such a decision, but I
do have it down to a fine art. By solid clue I mean an individual that
stands out as a possibility, rather than a list of people, any of
which could be the target.
Never underestimate the power of where someone grew up. From my
tracing work I have noticed that people often return to live where
their family is, and that most people spend their entire life in the
state where they grew up. Those that move to another state typically
end up living in many states over the years.