Most people have imagined what it would feel like to reconnect with a long-lost relative, friend, or acquaintance.
Maybe there’s someone you haven’t spoken to since high school or college and you’re wondering what happened to him. Perhaps you’re curious about a past romantic partner you lost touch with. Or maybe you haven’t spoken to a parent or child after a falling out, and you’re hoping to reach out and make amends.
Regardless of who you’re looking for and why you’re looking, tracking someone down is challenging. Although you have a wealth of information at your fingertips with the internet, it’s still difficult to find the information you’re looking for.
With the right tools, however, your search can be made easier.
Don’t Go Straight to Searching
Whether the person you’re searching for is a relative, past lover, or old family friend, it’s important to gather as much information as possible. This might seem obvious, but creating a list of information before you dive into searching will help you organize your thoughts and give you a master document to refer to if you get stuck.
The person’s name and last known address (or city or state if you don’t know the exact address) are good starting points, but try to dig deeper. Do you know where he went to school? What car he might have driven? Do you know any other places he has worked or lived? Can you remember an email address, an old online profile, or a username?
Specific information that can help speed up your search includes the person’s full name, last known address, exact date of birth, phone numbers, and email addresses. If you don’t know an exact date of birth, a ballpark guess can help. And if you are searching for a woman, don’t forget to think about any maiden vs. married names.
Once you’ve gathered as much information as possible, start your search with these three tools:
1. Online Databases
The internet is powerful, and online databases harness that power into searchable fields. Depending on what you think might have happened to the person, there are some specific databases you can try.
If you believe the person in question has gone missing, could be in prison, or may have died, a great place to start is the National Institute of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). NamUs is free to use, and it allows you to build a profile of the person you’re looking for using all the information you have.
Submitted profiles are distributed to agencies and organizations nationwide, automatically building awareness of your missing individual. The information is also available to coroners, law enforcement officials, and the general public to aid in the search.
You can also perform an active search yourself by searching records of missing persons and unidentified or unclaimed deceased individuals for a match based on traits such as gender, race, distinctive physical features, etc.
2. Social Media Sites
If you don’t believe the person you’re looking for is missing or deceased, start by methodically searching social media sites. Seventy-nine percent of Americans are registered on Facebook, and you can search by name, location, and groups the person may be a part of, such as class reunion pages or social clubs.
Don’t forget to try looking for classmates, spouses, parents, and childhood friends who may be connected. Depending on privacy settings, you can search friend lists, recent photos, or the relationships section of profiles for clues.
Other social media sites can be helpful as well. LinkedIn is a good source if you know any past or current places of employment. Instagram, Twitter, Google+, Classmates.com, and Pinterest can all be fruitful as well. Even a single photo can yield further information through the use of reverse image searches. If you find any information on the person at all, remember to save it in your master document.
You can also try using advanced search operators on Google to narrow your results or search multiple social media sites at once. Another option is using less popular search engines like Bing and Duck Duck Go, which have different algorithms and can return unique results.
3. Private Investigators
If you feel overwhelmed or want some professional help, you can hire a private investigator to do the digging for you. Private investigators have access to specialized, restricted databases and are effective at finding new information. Using a private investigator costs less than you may think, and it can save you time while offering faster results.
With specialized tools, someone can often be found with as little as a name and a state of residence. Usually, all known addresses, phone numbers, and vehicles owned are readily available. There are even databases of vehicle sightings for up-to-the-minute location information on a person.
While not every person can be found, more and more people are reconnecting in this age of information sharing. Even if you have little to go on, these powerful tools can probably find something to point you in the right direction.
There is no one correct way to go about your search. Whether you start with social media or a private investigator, see where you get and then decide the next best step. If you start to feel overwhelmed, review your master document or take a few days off. When you are ready, review the tools on this list and think about anything you haven’t tried yet. Often just reviewing the information all in one place will spark connections or new ideas, and you’ll be on your way to reconnecting with long-lost friends and family members.
Danny Boice is the co-founder and CEO of Trustify, providing private investigators on demand. Danny attended Harvard for undergrad and completed graduate programs through the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and through Stanford University. Danny founded Trustify out of his passion and experiences around truth, trust, and safety — especially about vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Danny is married to Trustify co-founder and president Jennifer Mellon. Together, they lead Trustify’s charitable giving by providing pro bono investigative and protective services to vulnerable populations such as missing and exploited children, domestic violence survivors, those in the foster care and adoption system, aging Americans, and more.