How to Find a Missing Friend or Family Member

by Contributor

I have a close family member who lives a, shall we say, somewhat Bohemian lifestyle. That is, we never quite know what she's doing with her life, or where she's living... working... visiting. It's actually not that unusual for people to lose touch with family and friends, no matter how close they may have been at one time. If you want to find people who have 'gone missing', there are a lot of tools available that can help. This article will walk you through the steps and the resources for finding a missing person, starting with free online resources, then fee-based online search tools, and finally, professional services that can help you with your search.

. ================================================== USE FREE ONLINE PEOPLE SEARCH TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES ================================================== Start with This meta-search engine specializes in scouring dozens of sources of online public information about people, and does a very good job of consolidating and presenting it in a neat fashion. Try a Pipl search on your own name to see what I mean... I bet you'll be impressed (and possibly, scared!) at the results. Next try Google. Sounds obvious, I know, but don't overlook this simple -- and often, very effective -- search step. Google the person's name in a regular Google search, as well as in Google News (which covers news stories of the past month) and Google News Archives (for earlier coverage). There are some tricks for searching for people's names in Google (or any other search engine)... see the Resources to links for more information. Next, try the online phonebook at sites like or Unlike phone books of old, which only contained listings for a single city, online phone books can cover entire states at a time, or even allow a search of the entire US in one fell swoop. A very powerful people-search tool indeed. It pays to try specific searches at social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, or Even though their content generally shows up in Google or Pipl searches, you may find something at these sites that the other search engines overlooked. There are a number of free speciality searches which may be useful to you, depending on who you're looking for, and what sort of, er, adventures they may have in life. For instance, you can search for people who are in jail, or who may have a criminal record. People who donate money to political campaigns are also listed in online specialty databases. See the Resources section for links to comprehensive lists of the free people-search tools available.

. ===================================== TRY LOW COST ONLINE PEOPLE-FIND TOOLS ===================================== If the free search tools don't do the trick, then try some of fee-based search tools that are out there. Intelius is a very comprehensive database of people finding information, and charges only a few dollars for a complete listing (again, see Resources for a direct link). NewspaperArchive is a humongous source of newspapers, both recent and old, that can be easily searched for news of a missing friend or relative., despite its name, also has a very deep database of current information on people, and is another subscription source worth trying. See Resources for links. has, as far as I know, the largest and most current database of people in the working world. If your missing person works for a company (especially, a large company), then they may well be listed at Jigsaw. You can start your search there at no cost, though there's a small fee for retrieving a full listing. ReferenceUSA also has a bazillion or so names in its very comprehensive database. This source, though, is best accessed through a library, many of which subscribe to the service, and allow library patrons to use it at no cost. Ask your local librarian for more information.

. =================== HIRE A PROFESSIONAL =================== Still drawing a blank? A professional people-search firm can dig into resources like voter registration rolls, property records, court cases, and so on, that are hard for the uninitiated to get access to. is a good source for this type of work. also does some excellent people-finding work, though their policy prohibits proving information on living people, unless they are public figures, such as politicians or celebrities. Of course, the most in-depth people-tracking work is done by private detectives, who can access both online and offline sources of information (and perhaps some old colleagues on the force!) in the process of tracking down a missing person. See Resources for links to good suggestions on hiring a private eye.


  • Well, what do you know! This article was featured in the New York Times...woo hoo! The link is in the Resources Section if you want to have a look.