One patron at the Family History Library (where I volunteer) was looking for someone who had died within the last 10 years, and we couldn't find him on the Social Security Death Index. However, she had a state and town, so we searched the county's recorded deed records and was able to find the name of his widow - and her current contact information.
One gentleman from church wanted to find his dad, who he knew was a dentist in the Navy when he had dated his mother. We searched the state licensing board for dentistry and found a couple of possibilities, and he had contact information so he could begin making a few calls.
One friend of mine knew her dad's name but had never met him (her mother left him when she was young). We set about searching for him and we found him! She was thrilled to find out he had been searching for her, and that her grandmother - who lived in her same city - was also searching for her. It was a blessed reunion, and they now have a great relationship which she cherishes.
Now - let's get on with searching! As an FYI - I NEVER pay for any of these sites; I save my money until after I have exhausted all of these free sites. I have used a couple of paid sites for work-related searches, but they were databases (mostly Accurint.com) available to me via my employer. I am unsure if Accurint is open to the general public or how much information you can obtain (due to privacy concerns in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). However, a private investigator did share this site me with: IRBSearch.com. I have never used IRBSearch so I cannot attest to its accuracy, but it does list pretty reasonable prices for its searches. I'd still exhaust all of the free sites first.
To help you begin your research, think about what exists on you in your own life, and it will help guide you to where you need to look for similar records on the living or recently deceased:
- Do you own a home? If so, your deed and mortgage is recorded in the County records. Your also pay taxes on that real estate, so the County Assessor will have your name listed.
- Ever receive a traffic ticket that went to court, or ever sued or been sued? Your County court (or lower courts such as Justice Court) may have records on you.
- Ever been divorced, or did your family ever have to probate a loved one's estate? Even small estates can be probated.
- Have you ever donated to a political party or person running for public office? (My name popped up on a candidate's financial disclosure form on the internet, even though my donation was only $20).
- Telephone directories are still around, and more exist online than in print.
- And last, but not least, some of your relatives may have had a criminal history. I'm not talking murders etc., but a lot of websites display misdemeanors and traffic violations.
Where's a good place to find State and Local Government sites on the Net?
One caveat: Not all states, counties, cities and towns have online records. However, I think many of these sites will get you to those government sites that do have online records.
BRBPub.com (BRB Publications). This is turning out to be one of the best sites I have found for public records searches on the living, plus some links to genealogy-type records. Check out their Free Resources, go to Links to Thousands of Free Public Records, then on to State, County and City Sites. In Arizona this site did list good information for genealogists, as it linked to genealogy.az.gov (select birth and death records). I also love that this site tells you the time periods of the records available, and if you need to register. 10/7/11 UPDATE: Unfortunately BRBPub.com is no longer a favorite of mine. It seems the almighty dollar has won and therefore many of their links take you to advertisers peoplesmart.com and archives.com. However, if you click on the "County" links, they are still helpful. (I am very disappointed!)
Searchsystems.net. This is a pretty good site as well. I selected Recorded Documents for Arizona, and it took me to "Arizona Public Records," and all of the links were good links to those government agencies who have online records. They also have in their drop-down box birth, marriage and death records, but it didn't have the link to genealogy.az.gov like the BRBPub.com site did. However, Searchsystems.net may still one day have this information available.
StateLocalGov.net. If you don't have luck with SearchSystems.net, go find your government entity at StateLocalGov.net. You can quickly "drill down" to find your State, County, Cities and Towns. Since I know Arizona records the best, I drilled down to get to Maricopa County (Phoenix), and it took me to Maricopa.gov. They have links just to the left to Assessor/Parcel Information, Case History, Recorded Docs, and more. Maricopa County Case History includes links to civil, criminal, family court, probate, as well as a link to justice court cases.
USA.gov. This is the US Government site. Although it has quite a bit of information, it is almost too much information. And, it only took me to State websites, and not the county and local governments (or maybe I didn't search as long as I should). Nevertheless, it may be helpful to you.
First, always check these sites using your own name - that's the best way to check for accuracy. And, by the way, have you googled your name lately? I've found many people just by googling their name, but use the google tips I provide (See my tips on conducting better google searches).
Don't be alarmed how "not-private" your information is! Some of the information comes from what you have added on the internet (or sites you belong to), but some of this information comes from the "credit header" information supplied by the credit bureaus (though they never disclose your credit information). What are credit headers? Addresses, phones, variations of names, etc -- everything you write on a credit application for cell phones, car loans, etc.
You will find that some of these sites will find your postings on Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, etc. You have control over what content you want to display in each of these social networking sites, so I suggest you "lock down" so your information does not display in simple google searches.
And, last, here's some sites I use to find information on people:
Dirtsearch.org. Advertises "One Stop Free Online Public Records Searching." It does take a few minutes to conduct this search (even displays a clock for you). It found search results in the local justice court, my notary registration, property tax information and social networking sites and phone directories. It even had links to Peekyou.com (see below).
Peekyou.com. PeekYou can also take some time to search, but it does want you to click on some of the links to go elsewhere for paid searches. Although it lists some paid sites, I still go check them out up to the point where they want your money. Peekyou took me to these sites:
Peoplefinders.com: This site actually showed my age, towns I have lived in, my Dad's name and my husband's name (though almost 15 years younger than me, and he is only 9 months younger than me!). Keep this in mind when you are searching others: if there are names displayed along with your name, you might want to check out those names too.
Intelius.com - Intelius is pretty reliable as well, as it listed the towns I have lived in and my husband's name. It also had some 5 other people associated with my name, and only one of them I knew (my cousin who shared my maiden name).
Spokeo.com - I had to laugh at first when Peekyou linked me to this site. It said my home value was an estimated $1M (I wish), that I owned an RV (I wish again), and that I was "self-driven." (I KNOW I have never listed myself as "self-driven" on any social sites.) However, it did have some accurate information on me, such as my husband's name, our street address (but not street number), and that I have a college degree. So, I have now added this site as one of my search sites.
Criminalsearches.com. This is a great site if you are looking for criminal history of individuals. It lists violent crimes to simple traffic crimes, and even gives you the court information. (And no, my name was not among these records.)
Pipl.com. I had just learned of this site and it is pretty good as well. It found my name, age, address, property records and deeds, Facebook, and even my Amazon.com profile (looks like I need to change my Amazon profile as I don't want that information public). It also found web pages where I had posted genealogy search queries. It also had my employment information (taken from http://www.jigsaw.com/, which looks like it takes its information from LinkedIn.com.)
Zabasearch.com An old site, which is now being overshadowed by some of the newer sites that provide more comprehensive search results. Nevertheless, it may be helpful.
I hope this information can be helpful to you. Happy digging!