“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
— Scott McNealy
Old friends, relatives, former teachers, neighbours who moved away years ago or just about damn near anyone, the Internet can help you find them all… Legally.
There are websites today that do nothing but track you. They keep track of where you live, where you used to live and anyone associated with you. These websites are a good resource.
They are not, however, always accurate. One of these sites claims that I lived in a city where I never resided. I’ve never had a driver’s license in that state, never had a bank account in that state, never registered a vehicle or owned property in that state. I did stay at a hotel in that city once for two days while on vacation, but I’ve never lived there.
Never accept information found on these websites as the gospel truth. You must use multiple sites to confirm any information.
For best results, you will need three facts about the person you are seeking:
- Their first and last name.
- The name of the city and/or state in which they have resided (past or present).
- The name(s) of anyone associated with them (mother, father, spouse, siblings, offspring).
Type this data into any search engine (Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.) and start hunting.
Modern search engines do not require the addition of Boolean logic terms. Simply type in all the information you have and let the search engine do the rest.
Using this method I was able to find an old college buddy that I hadn’t seen in over 20 years in less than 10 minutes. I knew his name, where he used to live, and the name of his then fiancée (now wife). I found his current address, phone number, number of children and, with the help of Google Maps, what his house looks like.
Your mileage may vary. Expect to search through between 50 and 500 search results.
Picture the Internet as a massive library in which all of the books are scattered across the floor. There is no Dewey Decimal System for the Web. The fact that a search engine can find any relevant results at all is directly attributed to the person who constructed the website.
Once you find the information you are looking for, don’t stop looking. You may find more about this person’s life than you originally intended.
Men are easier to find than women. Women who have been married 2, 3, 4 times have undergone so many name changes that they may no longer be associated with their maiden name. So it becomes vitally important that you connect them to their immediate family.
Follow the yellow brick road: Don’t just read a page and move on. There may be links within some websites that could lead you to additional information. For example: People who follow other people on Twitter or Facebook may not do so under their real name. The person you are looking for may be using a pseudonym. Click on everything and see where that takes you.
Google caches a text only version of many websites. If you click on a Google search result and the page you seek is no longer available, look for a small triangle at the end of the URL. Left-click on it and select “Cached” from the list.
Try varying your search parameters. Include non-relevant items in the search or remove search terms to see if different results are returned.
Use Google Images as a search tool. You may recognize a picture of the person you are looking for posted on a seemingly unrelated website.
I hate to say this, but… Obituaries can be your greatest resource. I’m not saying that the person you are seeking has died, but perhaps one of their close relatives has passed away. They might be listed as a surviving member of that family. For historic purposes, many obits include the names and current location of survivors.
I was able to locate a grammar school classmate that I hadn’t seen in 3 or 4 decades because her stepfather’s obituary listed her as a surviving family member and gave the city and state in which she now resides.
Tax information can be very useful as well. Many states have Open Records policies that allow anyone to view the property tax information of any home or business owner. Most of these websites are listed on a county by county basis.
A word of warning: You may not like what you find. People change greatly over long periods of time. Keep your expectations in check.
Every piece of information you find is another clue that can lead to the confirmation of the person you seek. So put on your deerstalker cap, fire up your favourite search engine and begin your quest.
I wish you good hunting!