The circumstances that separate friends and family- such as adoption, death, war, marriage, job promotion, travel and illness-can leave you feeling anxious and unresolved. Lingering questions arise that may go unanswered for months... or even a lifetime: Who are my real parents? What happened to my best friend from school? Does anyone know where she moved after her husband died? Is he still in the service? Do they know I have AIDS?
Whether the reasons are personal, medical or financial, you've made the decision to find someone important to you. You thought it would be hard but now the search looks even more daunting. Don't worry, we're here to help.
In the early 1960s, Joanne was young, pregnant and no longer involved with the baby's father, a married man who was unwilling to help. Reared in a strict Catholic family, Joanne didn't see abortion as an option but knew she wasn't able to be a proper mother. With the help of her church organization, Joanne made a difficult choice and gave up her days-old daughter for adoption. The adoptive couple named the baby Erika. When Erika was old enough to understand, they told her how she came into their family. Even though Erika had a good life-she felt loved and cared for-she wondered about what could have been. Mostly,' she wondered about her biological parents: what they looked like, where they came from, why they gave her up. As the years passed, Erika became a mother herself, and the desire to know about her heritage grew stronger. Would she ever be able to pass on information about her family's history? Was there anything in her birth parents' medical background that she should know about? Were they still alive?
Her birth mother has questions as well. All her life, Joanne had hoped her daughter was happy, and now she wants to know for sure. She hopes to reaffirm that she made the right decision. She also needs to communicate how she truly feels, to seek understanding and forgiveness, and to develop a relationship. Both Erika and Joanne would find comfort in knowing more.
Marshall's parents divorced when he was just an infant. He lived with his mother while his father took custody of his older brother, Rick. When Marshall's mother remarried, he lost contact with his father and brother. He doesn't intend to leave it that way; Marshall is set on locating them and finally connecting with his big brother and his dad.
It's been years since high school and Sacha still thinks about her best friend, Lindsey. The thoughts are pleasant because they were once inseparable. The "dynamic duo" went to parties and football games, smoked their first cigs behind the Roller Rink, failed Algebra and passed notes about their secret crushes. But they lost touch after that great senior year. Sacha didn't attend her five- or ten-year reunions and doesn't know whether Lindsey is married, has changed her name or has moved. Is a search hopeless? No.
Frank's girlfriend left him for his best friend, Greg. Frank and Greg haven't spoken to each other for five years. Frank wants one more conversation with Greg to let him know how blindsided he was by his friend's betrayal. Call it closure. Friendships that end abruptly or prematurely may need resolution.
Heidi and her three children have had money trouble ever since Heidi's ex-husband remarried and moved to another state. Child support and spousal support payments haven't reached her mailbox for months. He needs to be found before legal papers can be served requiring him to make payments.
If you're diagnosed with a contagious disease, such as herpes or AIDS, you need to alert past sexual partners. Making that decision is clearly the right thing to do, but following through may be difficult since couples often don't stay in touch after they've broken up. Finding a former partner could be hard, but certainly not impossible.
Where to begin? That depends on the information you already have and what you need to find out. The necessary steps will be fewer if you have the person's name and you're just looking for a current address or telephone number. Names may be unknown for someone looking for an adopted child or for birth parents. In these cases, your search will take more time while you contact everyone you think may have a piece of the puzzle-a relative, former neighbor, clergy, lawyer or caseworker. Once you have a name, you can use these easily accessible sources:
Basic web searches may guide you to the missing person's address and telephone number. The top 4 search engines by usage are Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask. By using different search engines, you can obtain different results, since each engine has different data sets and ways of returning results. When performing searches, remember to put your search phrase in quotation marks (eg. "thomas martin") to improve the relevance of your results.
When it comes to finding people, a very useful and less well known search engine is Zabasearch. This web site searches for and lists different types of information for United States citizens, including addresses (both current and past), phone numbers, birth years, and more. While the privacy concerns surrounding Zabasearch are controversial, at the end of the day, it really works.
Another particularly resourceful search engine specifically for people searching is Switchboard.com, an online directory of the telephone numbers and addresses of 106 million Americans.
These days, most people under the age of 30 have some sort of profile on a social network. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Linkedin, and Google+ offer search facilities of their pages by name, zip code, and email address, although using them typically requires registration. Don't forget older social media channels liek MySpace, as old, abandoned profiles may still be useful.
If you'd like to try searches at a number of social networking sites, the Wikipedia maintains this list of social networking Web sites.
“Public servants at the county, state and federal level can provide you with lists of public records at all levels.”
Other sites may aid in your search. Here are a number of addresses with brief descriptions of the information they offer:
A true-life story
On February 4, 1997 I received the following letter at my office:
I am trying to locate my former high school sweetheart, John Hinto, of Burbank, California. We met at the end of our sophomore year at a local high school and dated for a year-and-a-half. Our parents felt it was not in our best interests to continue seeing each other because of our religious differences: I am Catholic and John is Jewish.
Upon graduation in 1960, I married another man and John went on to college. At our twentieth high school reunion in 1980, I heard that he had married a Catholic girl, divorced, lived in Santa Rosa, and was a police officer. John's dad passed away and his mother remarried and moved to Ohio. After John divorced he also moved to Ohio and became a stockbroker. John had a younger brother named of Tom; his father's name was Ralph. I remember his mom's name. His father had a deli business and was an investor in mutual funds. John has a cousin, Terry Miles (maiden name), who also graduated from our high school.
Through the years, I have often thought of John and many times wondered how differently our lives might have turned out had we been left to make our own decisions. I would like to talk with him and see how he's doing. As you may have gathered, I am now single.
If you are able to locate or come up with any leads or information, please contact me.
We immediately searched on our in-house computer system for John Hinto. We learned that there were approximately 70 possibilities based on this name. His graduation date of 1960 was the primary clue we used to track down Mr. Hinto, who was living in Northern California. Mr. Hinto was personally contacted by one of our investigators and was most excited to meet our client. Mr. Hinto traveled to Southern California to have dinner with our client on Valentine's Day 1997. So far, so good.
Sure, this sounds obvious, but it happens to be the most overlooked source. If you know the area where the person was last living, call local directory assistance at (area code) 555-1212. People often have walked into our offices with their checkbooks out, ready to spend hundreds of dollars to find someone who is listed in the White Pages.
Right, that familiar old building on the corner. The library reference section stocks crisscross directories that contain phone numbers and addresses. With on-line services or other published indexes, by using the phone number you can find the address, or vice versa. Many libraries also have an extensive collection of Yellow Pages covering areas in the United States. These can help you find a private investigator or public records company to continue your search (see Chapter Sixteen for guidelines on hiring a private Investigator).
You may have information that can indirectly lead you to a publicly recorded event, such as a birth, marriage or death. Or perhaps you know of another legal process that took place that may list valuable information in its filings, including the person's or his or her attorney's address and phone number. Many public servants work at the county, state and federal level and can provide you with lists of public records at all levels that may help with your search. The most reliable listings are:
Each state issues licenses for various occupations, professions and trades, such as accountants, architects, cosmetologists, nurses, private investigators, psychologists and tax preparers. If you know the person has or may have a professional license to perform a service, you may find information this way. State records also include:
This is not our first choice because it's a tedious effort, but if you're patient and have time to spare, federal records can be accessed using the Freedom of Information Act or by writing directly to specific federal agencies for information. Replies can take up to six months, but the service is free. Here's a sampling of listings:
The folks here don't just tell you to "smile" and then take a lousy picture for your driver's license. You may be able to contact the DMV and request a name search to get a home address. The person's date or year of birth will speed up the process. Keep in mind, however, that public access rules and regulations vary with each state; some states will provide address information-as well as date of birth and a complete description-while other states will not give out any information.
If your detective work hits a roadblock or if you run out of time to devote to the search, you may consider hiring a private investigator. Or if the person you're looking for has an unusual name or if you have his or her Social Security number or the last-known address, a private investigator's database may save you time and effort from the start. An investigator can access the Main Name Index-a-listing of names in the United States. This is a quick search if the person has an unusual name. An investigator can also call up an address on the Address Update Index-the top half of a credit report. If you know the person's Social Security number, it's a slam dunk. The investigator calls up the Social Security Index ranges. For any of these services, you may pay a search firm from $100 to $1000, a justifiable fee if it expedites finding a lost loved one, alumnus, you name it.
Our national company, which can be reached by dialing 1-888-US-UNITE, accesses our private database-the world's largest-and offers a fast, accurate, customized search with guaranteed results. Our staff will provide you with the most current information on any individual.
Once you've found your missing person, then what? If the situation is delicate, it may be wise to have an objective, professional party make the first step. He or she can explain your situation and express your desire to make contact. In most cases we've handled, the people contacted were surprised, apprehensive and nervous. But far more often than not, they agreed to meet the person looking for them.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land in the stars.” Les Brown