The internet has made it possible -- for better or worse -- to search
through enormous amounts of text and data for nuggets of information
about any conceivable topic, including individual people. You can
conduct a search yourself, and can also use one or more of the search
services available on the internet, some of which charge a fee, and
others which are free.
While searches on some individuals can readily turn up a treasure
trove of information, searches on others may well come up empty.
There are still many people who -- intentionally or by happenstance --
do not have much of a presence in cyberspace. But you won't know
until you have a look!
In this answer, I'll review the main options and search strategies for
finding information about a person:
--Before beginning a search, list all the things you know about the
person. A full name is the most important identifier, but other
things may be significant as well. Does the person have a
professional license of any sort, such as a doctor, real estate agent,
plumber? If so, there may be license information publicly available?
Do you know where he attended school -- there may be alumni
information? The possibilities are too broad to fully list here, but
listing out what you know already should be a preliminary step to help
guide your search.
--Your first stop on the Internet should be Google, at [
Here you can enter the person's name to search for information on the
internet. Although this sounds simple enough, there are many
variations on how and where to search:
a) start by typing just the person's name in the search box. If it's
a very unusual name, you may come up with only a small number of
results. Conversely, common names may yield thousands, even millions,
b) If the first search produces an unmanageable number of results,
then try a more restricted search. For someone named Robert Lastname,
for instance, here are some of the various combinations to try in a
"Robert Lastname" [NOTE: The quotation marks should be included in
"Robert * Lastname" [NOTE: the * will pick up any middle initial or
c) If you know of a nickname the person uses, search on that as well.
For instance, you may want to repeat the above searches using Bob as a
first name, instead of Robert.
d) Conduct the same sort of searches on Google News [ news.google.com
] and Google Groups [ ://www.google.com/grphp? ]. These will pick
up recent news articles that mention the name, as well as any
reference to the name in online discussion groups.
Step 2: Use any/all of the following free internet people search
services to look for additional information:
Refdesk's two lists of search services list dozens of options for
Anybirthday's lookup of birth dates:
Virtual Gumshoe lists a zillion services, both free and fee, that are
well-organized by category:
For instance, if you know your person's college, you can click on the
"Alumni" link to see if any of the services listed there would be
Your last stop (for now) should be the HowtoInvestigate site at:
This site offers additional tips on conducting a people search, and
also links directly to a number of professional services that can
conduct "background checks" on individuals for a fee -- these include
criminal record checks, credit histories, driving records, etc.
The steps I've listed here will certainly get you started. There are
many other resources out there, but their utility very much depends on
what sort of information you have as your starting point.
If anything I've written here is not clear, or if you feel additional
information is needed, don't hesitate to post a Request for
Clarification, and I'll be glad to assist you further.
No search strategy was used to answer this question; I relied on my
list of bookmarks and personal knowledge
Clarification of Answer by
28 Mar 2003 18:05 PST
I just wanted to add a bit more to my answer, since you asked about
searching for a person who has lived in more than one country.
The basic search techniques I outlined will scour information from the
billions of web pages that are catalogued by Google from all over the
web, and from all over the world. If the name appears on a website,
there's a good chance it will show up (sooner or later) in a search,
no matter where it came from, geographically. The one caveat: only
sites written with our familiar 26-letter alphabet are included; an
Israeli site written in Hebrew would probably not show up.
The other sources of information I mentioned cut a very broad path --
many of them may well have a focus on sources here in the U.S. (such
as some of the public record sites), while others have more of an
international flavor to them.
Your own judgement about each resource, combined with your personal
knowledge of what you are trying to find, will ultimately be your best