Use the Web to Find Anyone in the World

By  |  Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 1:06 am

Steve Bass's TechBite“You find my long-lost buddy and I’ll paint any room in your house.” I was talking to a couple of friends about how I had tracked down a wayward YahooGroup moderator.

It was a sweet deal (the kitchen has three colors, lots of cabinets, and needs painting) and I was up for the challenge.

Just the Facts, Please

There were no rules: I could use any Internet resource or even social engineering, the art of extracting information from people by e-mail or phone. As in, “Hi, I’m calling to update your free white pages listing. Can you confirm that…”

I used only free sites to do the digging; I also used data I picked up from fee-based services — without paying a thing.

My friend gave me all he knew. “His name is Jan Shepard. The last I heard he was in Corpus Christi, Texas, and he’s a bankruptcy attorney.”

“Are you sure of the spelling,” I asked. The Shepard name does have variations, and the fact that the guy had an ambiguous first name added to the challenge.

He was adamant–and as it turned out, wrong. The last name was actually “Shephard.”

“You have anything else?” I asked, wondering if we wanted to keep the kitchen white or go for another color.

“He was born in Binghamton, New York, but actually lived in Vestal, New York.” I was also told his mother’s maiden name, the name of his brother and sister, and that his birth year was 1944 or maybe 1946.

Techniques, Clues, and Patterns

I hit pay dirt in about an hour. I didn’t do it in one sitting and had to verify a few things from my friend along the way. (I could see my friend spending two days painting — make sure you get the inside of the cabinets, too, please — so I told him it took lots longer).

In the next few paragraphs, I’ll take you on a tour of how I found the guy. Along the way you’ll see the tools I used, and next week, I’ll supply a list of sites you can use for searching.

I know you’re itching to hear that I have a magical technique. Nope. It’s a tedious process of stacking up and comparing individual clues, like a detective. And I had enough nuggets — good ones, too — to start searching.

My first step was to get the area codes for Corpus Christi (361), Binghamton, and Vestal (607). That would help me quickly pinpoint anything I saw as a chance I had the right Shepard and eliminate others in other states.

I also created a Google Maps page for Corpus Christi. I might find multiple addresses for Shepard, and a map could help me see which might be in a business location or residential area, and how far they were from each other.

I started with a broad Google search for “Jan Shepard” Corpus Christi. I figured I’d start with what I thought was the most recent Texas location. If nothing turned up, I’d search the New York locations. (You can open a browser and follow along. Copy and paste everything in italics into Google’s search field.)

Many of the Google results were false leads, but some were right on target.

I found “in memory of Jan Shephard by Joseph A Jr Cohn” at Caller, a clue that didn’t catch my attention until later. 123people was a mixed bag of info. There was nothing useful in the “Phone Numbers” area. But clicking View all results for Jan Shepard in Premium Public Records, changing the state to Texas, and searching, gave me my first confirmation.

I ended up with an offer for a paid search, but on that spot I saw four possible Shepards: a 66-year-old in Corpus Christi, a 56-year-old in Big Spring and North Zulch Texas, and what I guessed was an old listing for a 39-year old in Binghamton, NY. My friend said he was born in 1944 or ’46; even though the age was off a little, it’d still make any of these a possibility. Hoo-ha, I was on the right track!

The Google search also brought up Public Background Checks, another fee-based service. I discovered a new chunk of info — possible relatives — that let me eliminate a Shepard in McCamey, Texas (she was married to a guy).

Now I needed to match up my results with anything I could find for a bankruptcy attorney in Corpus Christi. There were no positive results for “Jan Shepard” Corpus Christi bankruptcy, “Jan Shepard” Corpus Christi bankruptcy attorney, or Corpus Christi “bankruptcy attorney,” so I switched to YellowPages with the same search string. There I hit what I thought was the jackpot: a business address, phone number, middle initial — and the correct spelling of his last name.

More sleuthing was needed: I Googled the phone number, but all I saw were more generic yellow-page-like listings. The address showed a business district, but the other Shephard addresses I found were too far away to be his residence.

I called the number; it was Sunday, so I got a recording. It was for a Whittle Law Firm and it listed all the attorneys; Jan Shephard wasn’t mentioned.

Oh, dear. Things weren’t looking so good.

Honing in on Jan L. Shephard

I wasted time being fixated on finding Shephard’s e-mail and home address, instead of doing what’s becoming obvious to some of you about now: I should have headed to the Texas State Bar Web site right away. When I did, I found out Jan L. Shephard had died. The listing told me he received his law degree in 1969 from Willamette University and the time frame was right for his age. It also listed New York as the first state where he practiced law.

I tried confirming this on Texas death certificates, but came up with nothing.

Back to Google for a larger-scale search: Googling “Jan L. Shephard” obit sent me to Ancestry, (the link goes to results for Wilhemina Dougherty, but if you scroll down, you’ll find Shephard) where I got my first confirmation it was the same person.

For closure, I Googled “Jan L Shephard” death Texas and that nailed it. On page 32 of a PDF from Willamette University, I read this:

Jan L. Shephard BA’66, JD’69 of Corpus Christi, Texas, passed away on Dec. 11, 2006, at the age of 63. He is survived by wife T***, son J***, daughter J***, step-children E*** and J***, mother W*** and three grandchildren. confirmed his mother’s first name with my friend, and while saddened, he was able to get some closure on what happened to his friend Jan L. Shephard.

Next week: The 20 top tools to search for your long-lost buddy.

[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.]


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1 Comments For This Post

  1. DaveZatz Says:

    ‘jan shepard attorney’ on Google had him as #3 with the correct spelling. Your buddy led you astray with that particular point.

1 Trackbacks For This Post

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    […] all:&nbspTips 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 […]