A few years ago, trying to find a lost brother probably began with a lot of phone calls and letters to relatives and any friends that knew him before he drifted away. That's still not a bad way to begin, but if that doesn't work, try the internet, free social media sites, and dedicated people-finder sites for which you'll pay a fee. If he's still on the planet, you've got a good chance of finding your lost brother.
Get Lucky Using a Browser Search
Someone said it's better to be lucky than good. In that spirit, a lot of internet search engines have an actual "get lucky" button that bypasses all the intermediate search steps. You can do the "get lucky' search yourself. In the address bar of your search engine – this is the bar at the top of your browser where URLs appear – type in your brother's name and hit return. This probably won't work well if your brother's name is a common one, but might narrow the search to a reasonable number of possibilities if it's not. Worth a try, anyway.
Social Media: the Big Three (plus Linked-In)
Where the going gets good for many internet searches for lost relatives is on social media sites, such as Facebook, which has more than two billion active users. Google Search and Instagram also have large user bases that anyone can join without charge. Linked-In can also be useful. Your lost brother may not use any of the general social media sites but may still use Linked-In, which is designed to facilitate individual career and professional advancement.
On all these sites, the simplest way to start searching is essentially the same process you used for getting lucky, except instead of entering your long lost brother's name in the browser's search bar, enter it in the search bar on the the site's homepage.
Narrowing the Search
Unless your brother has a really unusual name – something as obscure as Stillwell Abernathy (which still returns one result) – you'll probably get an overwhelming number of returns. The next step is to narrow down the search to something manageable. There are many ways to do this. Do you know where your brother went to school? Search for [brother's name name-of-school]. What about occupation? Repeat the process: [brother's name occupation}. And so on, you get the idea: you're looking for search "affinities" – anything that links the name to something that's likely related in some way to your brother.
When using Instagram, if you happen to have a picture of your brother, enter that, along with the name. This immediately narrows and focus the search to the one person with your brother's name who is actually your brother.
Free Dedicated Search Sites
If you can't locate your brother through social media, try using dedicated internet search sites that sort through databases of one kind or another, most often public records. Be aware that when you use any of these database sites, there's a high probability that your own information will be added to the site's database.
- Family Tree Now. A free site that accesses public records. Reportedly, it's hard to remove your data from this site. Nevertheless, this is an efficient search app.
- Your Family: This site is especially geared to finding family members and is free.
- FamilySearch. A well-run free site managed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with a large database. User reviews of this site are especially positive.
Paid Search Sites
There are many paid internet-based search sites. Some of the better-known sites are Intelius, PeopleFinders, Spokeo and Truthfunder, but there are many more.
These sites may turn up your lost brother when other sites fail, but evaluating which sites will likely work best for you may be difficult. For one thing, evaluation sites listing the "best" people-searching sites generally have ill-concealed biases. Intelius, for instance, is listed best on the Top Ten Reviews site; Pipl is declared best on the Make User Of site. Neither site lists the other's top pick at all.
Note that often these paid search sites use the same public databases used by free database search sites. On the other hand, in some circumstances, a particular paid site's approach may work especially well. Before paying for a search on any of these sites, read through its literature carefully to determine if its search methods are more likely to find your lost brother than the available free search sites.
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- Check the Social Security Death Index to make sure the person you are looking for is still alive.
- If you don't know your brother's name or it is simply too common, you can narrow your search by using other forms of identification like general location or age.
- Keep in mind the person you're looking for may not actually want you or anybody else to find him. If that is the case, you and your private investigator should honor his choice.
I am a retired Registered Investment Advisor with 12 years experience as head of an investment management firm. I also have a Ph.D. in English and have written more than 4,000 articles for regional and national publications.