Last week I told you my story about how I found someone on the Internet (see Use the Web to Find Anyone in the World). This week I’ll show you the tools I used, the ones I recommend, and a few of the arrows aimed my way by subscribers. (As it turns out, many of you turned up search engines I hadn’t heard about, so make sure you read “What You Had to Say” below.)
If you attempt a search, don’t feel discouraged when many of the search engines dump you on a fee-based service. You’ll also find yourself heading deep into wild goose territory, with false leads and not-valuable-information. Stay focused on the clues, confirmations, and matches.
Another clue I haven’t talked about — and it’s a biggie — is using an e-mail address to find someone. That’s how I recently found the phone number of a YahooGroup moderator who’d abandoned his post. His e-mail address was on the Net about four times, but one forum showed his name, and the city and state he might have lived in. That was all I needed.
Small World Department
Three TechBite subscribers wrote and said they knew of Jan Shepherd. One went to high school with him in New York; two live in Corpus Christi and knew of his death.
The “Find Anyone” Search Tools to Use
- I’ve listed the sites I use and annotated a few of them. They’re in no specific order and, as you’ve guessed, there are millions of places to try. For instance, you can visit every state by Googling “State of [state name].” Once there, you’ll find listings for assorted agencies. For instance, you can track down licensed individuals — contractors, physicians, and the like — as well as birth and death records, tax assessor rolls, and other public records.
- E-mail addresses can be valuable when doing a search. The problem is that some search sites aren’t terrifically useful. For example, the Usenet Addresses Database is good only if your target makes use of Usenet. Others to try are My E-mail Address Is (be sure to uncheck the premium services) and Find mE-Mail.
- EmailAddress claims to be a free service — and it is. Kind of. They have some links to good, if sometimes obscure listings, such as the Jewish E-mail Directory, NewFoundMail, and the Swiss E-mail Directory. (Check these resources here and here.) Unfortunately, many of the links lead to fee-based sites.
- ZabaSearch will push you to a fee-based service, but still, it can confirm a name and location. For instance, here I ruled out Jan D. Shepard because his (or her) city was 400 miles from Corpus Christi. Better is MelissaDATA’s People Finder Lookup, with more options than ZabaSearch. You’ll also discover a slew of fee-based services, such as Intelius, PublicRecordFinder (which uses Intelius), PublicIntel, Veromi, and Long Lost People–all unless you want to part with some moolah, are of minimal value.
- Freeality is a comprehensive compendium of fill-in-the-blanks searches for reverse business phone number lookups, e-mail addresses, area codes, and other data. It’s hit or miss, though, because many of the results bring you to Intelius, that same pesky fee-based service.
- Manta locates small and midsize businesses.
- Looking up phone numbers can give you ways to confirm a name and number you may have found on another search engine. Of course, Google does a good job. Entering the phone number with this format works best: 818-555-1212. FoneFinder gives you the city, state, and telephone carrier, but FreeCellPhoneTracer and Cellphone Registry are of minimal help, unless you want to pay a fee.
- Pandia Powersearch is an all-in-one list of search engines site. At the very top of the page, you have the option of using their Metasearch feature (or just go to Pandia Metasearch). I didn’t use Pandia at the start of my search and should have. Because its search included over 15 different yellow pages, it found multiple listings for Jan L. Shephard.
- RootsWeb has links to some state death records (after all, they’re interested in genealogy, right?), the Social Security Death Index, and other useful searches, including a Mailing List Archives Search engine.
- Docusearch Investigations claims to have 300 free links for online databases. Not all of the links work, but if you need something specific, say, finding out if your brother-in-law is still in the state lockup in Florida, you just may luck out.
- SearchSystems has lots to offer if you know how to work it. First, ignore the field at the top asking for first and last name. That leads you to — who else? — Intelius. Each of the links listed on the page, say, Maine Public Records, gets you to another page with a healthy number of links to data in Maine. Click the link, you’re swept away to a SearchSystems ad, and you have to wait 20 seconds. Instead, copy and paste the name of the link, such as “Maine Public Records” into Google.
- MelissaDATA’s Campaign Contributors Lookup lists campaign donations and might help verify someone’s location. Ditto for Fundrace.
What You Had to Say
Dan Tynan, Infoworld columnist and bon vivant wrote, “That was way too easy. You started with too many good clues. Geez, man, you practically had his birth certificate and driver’s license in front of you. Also, you might have saved time by including Linkedin or Facebook, or even Twitter in your Google search terms, or using one of the search aggregators (like Spock, which I hate, or Pipl).”
Despite Dan’s inability to be civil, or even a little grateful for the time I posted bail for him, his two recommendations are worth a try.
Pipl is very good. It’s a metasearch site, which means it looks at lots of sites and gives me the results on one page. The output included business listings, Web pages, blogs, documents, and news articles, all with enough of an example for me to quickly know if the result was worth following. I’m less enamored with Spock — when I tried it, the search results weren’t very useful.
I also got advice from a Gary, a person-finding professional on the TechBite list:
“LOL — stick to being a techie, Steve. I am a professional genealogist and finding people is part of what I do. You went through a lot of effort to find out about Jan Shephard.” Gary gave me his professional techniques for finding people:
- To find a living person in the U.S., or sometimes someone who has died in the past decade, I use Peoplefinders. Its sources are bank records, insurance records, and more. My belief is everyone over 20 years old is in Peoplefinders since everyone over that age has created some public record.
- Peoplefinders’ $2 fee for info is nominal. If you don’t want to spend the money (going through the payment process is more a pain than spending the money), go to PeopleData; most of the time it provides free addresses and telephone numbers.
- Use WhitePages to do reverse lookups on telephone numbers. If you don’t get the results you want, try Google and other national telephone directories, such as SwitchBoard and AnyWho.
- If a mailing address is no longer valid, I use WhitePages to try to get the name of the current resident. If that’s not possible I add or subtract 2 to the street number to get the phone number of a neighbor, who usually can tell you what happened to the person.
- For a person who died after 1962, use the Social Security Death Index at RootsWeb. It invariably provides the birth date, month and year of death, and zip code of last residence where the Social Security number was issued.
Now that you have the tools, go find your Uncle Morris and ask him if you’re still in his will.
[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]