LDS Emergency Preparedness

Be Prepared, Not Scared!

Searching for Live People

Posted by Elise on March 25, 2011

ba1969 (

Friends slip from our lives. Relatives can drift away, too. Branches break off the family tree, and adoptions separate family members.

Most people know to do a Google search or to check Facebook to find people. Here, other ways…


Search the obituaries for relatives of the person you are looking for. Obituaries typically include a list of the deceased’s surviving relatives complete with their current hometowns. If you know where your missing person’s family lived, find out if that town’s local newspaper has a searchable archive on its Web site. If not, contact the newspaper or the town’s library and ask if there’s some other way to search the newspaper’s archive. If so, search the archive for obits featuring your missing person’s last name (or maiden name, if appropriate), then check whether these obituaries mention your friend’s name and hometown in the list of surviving relatives.

If the local newspaper doesn’t have a searchable database — or you’re not sure where the missing person’s family lived and died — use the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) to locate times and places of death for relatives. (This also can help you determine if the person you are looking for has died.) Then scan the obituary section of relevant newspapers, focusing on the papers that came out in the day or two following these deaths. Limited free access to the SSDI is available through (click on “Social Security Death Index”) and (click on “Social Security Death Index”), among other Web sites.


You may be able to get free help from amateur genealogists. Genealogy is among the fastest-growing hobbies in the US. Many amateur genealogists love solving mysteries involving heritage, missing family members and other long-lost individuals.

To start, visit the free Web site and post a note on the message board explaining your search and asking for guidance or assistance. Provide the name of the person you are trying to find, where and approximately when this person was born and any additional details that you have about this person’s relatives and places of residence. An amateur genealogist might take up the search for fun.

You will have to register with to post a message, but registration is free. This Web site is international and is particularly useful when missing people live outside the US.


Reach out to relevant organizations. If you know where the person you’re trying to find once worked, perhaps he/she still works there. Check whether his name is listed on the company’s Web site… or call the company’s switchboard, and ask for the person.

You also can contact organizations related to this person’s line of work and ask if this person is a member… and contact the alumni association of schools he attended. If any organization is unwilling to share contact information for privacy reasons, ask if it can forward a note to this person for you.


Adoptees/birth parents. Locating birth parents or children given up for adoption is especially difficult because neither parent nor child is likely to know the other’s name. Laws usually bar adoption agencies and government officials from supplying this information. Without a name, conventional search techniques are useless.

It is best to sign up for free adoptee registries, such as my and International Soundex Reunion Registry (, a nonprofit organization. These Web sites match birth parent and adoptee if both sign up.

Warning: Be wary of adoptee registries that charge fees. Most deliver less than promised — some are scams.

Helpful: The US Department of Health and Human Services provides details about each state’s adoption records access laws on its Web site, (select “State Statutes Search,” then choose the state where the adoption occurred and “Access to Adoption Records”). Many states let adoptees and birth parents petition in court for the disclosure of “identifying information” about their parents or children — but this information usually is supplied only if the birth parent or adoptee already has filed a written consent form with the state to allow disclosure. (Adoptees generally are allowed to file consent forms only after they reach age 18 or 21.) In some states, the court also is allowed to select an intermediary to contact the birth parents or adoptee and request their permission to share the information if a consent form has not been filed.

Military buddies. Military service records are not open to the general public, which can make it difficult to track military acquaintances. The best way to find former friends from the armed forces — if other methods, including a Facebook search, fail — is through private military registries and reunion associations started by former servicemen. Google the division or unit’s name along with the word “association” or “registry.” (If you served during wartime, also check the SSDI, in case your friend died in battle.)

Women who might have married or divorced. It can be difficult to track down women when their last names change. One way is to search for one of the woman’s male relatives, then ask this relative how you can reach her. Another option is to Google “vital records” and the name of the state where the woman lives or once lived. Among the listings should be a state government Web site with a Web address ending “.gov”. This Web site should let you search for any marriages and divorces involving this woman that occurred in that state.

People with very common names. There are too many Jennifer Smiths and Robert Millers to find the one you want through the usual techniques — especially if you don’t know the middle name or hometown. Search for a less conventionally named relative instead.

Example: You remember that your friend John Smith had a brother named Caleb… or that his mother’s maiden name was Hefferman. If you locate a relative, this person probably knows where to find John or where to find another family member who does.


Handle the initial contact wisely. What you say or write will have a significant effect on whether this person is happy to hear from you…

Calmly explain who you are and how you know each other. Do not assume that this person remembers you — it often takes time for people to rewind through the years and recall past relationships, even relationships that once were quite close. If first contact is made on the phone, continue explaining how you know each other until you receive a strong signal of recollection.

Example: “Oh, sure. Wow. How are you?”

Do not immediately press for an in-person meeting. Explain that you were wondering what became of this person… or if it’s a relative, that you are putting together a family tree.

If the person you are reconnecting with is a former flame — or anyone else of the opposite gender who is not a relative — consider asking a friend of that gender to make the initial contact. This reduces the risk that tracking this person down will be seen as creepy… and it avoids creating trouble if this person is married and his/her spouse answers the phone or sees your e-mail.

Source:  Troy Dunn, a former private investigator who now hosts The Locator, a television show about reuniting lost loved ones, Wednesdays at 10 pm eastern time on WeTV. He has helped thousands of people find former friends and relatives through his Web site and TV show.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: