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Locating Long Lost Family and Friends

By: Robin Mizell - Updated: 7 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Long Lost Relatives Long Lost Friends

Judging from the many online advertisements, promising for a fee, the ultimate means of tracing long lost friends or relatives, many of us are nostalgic for past relationships. If a sentimental impulse doesn’t lead you to grab your wallet, with wit and luck you can still conduct your own search for free.

Online Directories

Get off to a quick start if you can find the person’s name in one of the many free online directories.It’s the rare person who possesses a completely unique name. From a directory, you’re likely to retrieve several listings for the same name. There’s usually no indication whether the list includes current plus former addresses for the same individual or just different people with the same name.

Try several online directories, often referred to as people finders. Each one may produce different results. Some offer reverse look-up features for querying by telephone number, email address, or street address.

Search Engines

No luck with a people finder? Maybe the person has managed to avoid the directory listings. It might be worthwhile to broaden the scope of your research to include any web page containing the person’s name. Try using a search engine. We’ve described how in
Search Engines: How To Get Speedy Results.

You can also conduct search engine queries based on the addresses or telephone numbers obtained from an online directory.It takes a great deal of patience to select and read the most promising results of a search engine query. Once in a while, though, you’ll come across a blog, photo, press release, or news article that leads directly or indirectly to the person you want to find.

Public Records

Public records are increasingly available on the Internet. Subscription database services with hefty rates make it easier for their subscribers to locate public records concerning specific people. However, the same information scattered in various repositories is available for free or little cost to anyone with the time to check voter rolls, civil and criminal court records, traffic citation records, convicted offender databases, school records, licenses and estate agents transaction registers.

Actual court or government documents contain much more detail than records in online databases. It can be worth a trip to the courthouse and the price of a copying fee for a look at the paperwork on file. Court records often include the names of other parties who may be able to help you with your search if you contact them.

For a fee, Land Register Online provides access to property title registers.

If you’re trying to locate a person who may have been the subject of a news article, Journalism.net is a treasure trove of links to newspaper archives in the UK, France, Canada and the US.

Message Boards

A little creativity and intuition can help you pinpoint where best to post a message, if you think the person you’re looking for will reply. The posting can be online, in a periodical publication, or in a public place.


Talking to people can be time-consuming, and some people are better at eliciting information than others. If you contact someone who doesn’t know you, he or she is certain to be wary. It helps if you’ve already gathered a little background information and can use it to break the ice. Expect to explain who you are and your reason for trying to locate the person you’re having trouble finding. Provide a phone number or email address at which you can be reached. Ask the person you’ve contacted to have the person you’re seeking call you. If you seem trustworthy, the person you contact for assistance may give you the telephone number or address you need, but it’s always more polite to be less demanding. It’s more effective as well.

The people most likely to know the whereabouts of the person you’re looking for are the person’s mother, father, and grandparents. If you know or can learn the name of the person’s spouse, you might be able to locate the spouse more quickly.

Don’t overlook the person’s colleagues or classmates as potential sources of information. Some people stay within, or return to, the same professional field throughout their lives, no matter where they live. You may be able to locate information and associates through alumni and trade associations.

If the person you hope to find has an unusual hobby or interest, such as an exotic pet or an extreme sport, there will be a community of people with that interest in common. Members of a club or organisation devoted to the activity may be very helpful.

Tracing Agencies

Every day, at least 10 people are located and reunited with family members through the efforts of the Salvation Army Family Tracing Service. The service charges a small fee, and there are specific situations in which it does not become involved. More information is available on the Salvation Army’s website.

Other agencies that may be able to help you search for a long lost friend or family member are Look 4 Them or Missing persons.

There are myriad avenues of research. Tenacity, perhaps more than skill, is what gets results.

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