People may join the ranks of the "missing" for many reasons. Some may appear missing to you because they change addresses and phone numbers so often that eventually you lose touch with them. Others may have deliberately erased their trail by adopting a false name and disguising their appearance. Still others seem to simply disappear.

Yet no matter how people wind up missing, they almost always leave behind some form of paper trail you can use to find them—phone book directory listings, tax records, or utility bills. Even when people deliberately "disappear" to avoid arrest, lawsuits, or other legal responsibilities, they usually leave behind at least a clue about where they've gone.

The first step to finding someone is to gather up as much personal data about your target as possible, details like his or her full name, Social Security number, date of birth, age, and last known address. Useful information sources include marriage, medical, and military records, property transfers, and vehicle registrations. The more you know about your target, the quicker your search will be.

People finders

Since you probably know at least the person's name, use a people-finding website (like the one shown in Figure 10-1) to search for a recent mailing address or home phone number. These websites get their information from publicly available sources like telephone books, and while some charge for their services, many others are free.

Click To expand Figure 10-1: The Yahoo! search engine can help you find the phone number and city of someone you know.

You can also use the following people-finding sites to track down your target's relatives, friends, or former neighbors. Although the person you're trying to find may be erasing his or her paper trail, chances are good that ex-colleagues or neighbors are not.

  • Provides Yellow Pages directory to search for businesses, White Pages directory to search for individuals, and reverse lookups to find someone based on their telephone number, email address, or street address (

  • Freeality Look for individuals based on name, city, and state using a variety of the most popular people-finding search engines, such as Switchboard, WorldPages, and Four11 (

  • InfoSpace Search businesses by name, category, or city, or search for individuals by name or city (

  • Switchboard Search for businesses and individuals by name, city, and state (

  • Telephone Directories on the Web Search for businesses and individuals using telephone directories published all over the world, including North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. They also sell CDs containing names and addresses of businesses all over Europe (

  • Fee-based search service that offers a variety of results ranging from basic street address and phone numbers to property records, friends and relatives, and marriage and divorce records of a specific person (

  • WhoWhere Search for people by name to find their email address, phone number, or any web pages that contain their name (

  • Yahoo! People Search Search for individuals by name, city, state, or email address (

If you'd rather not dig through the Internet to look up somebody's name, you might find it more convenient to use a CD containing information scanned in from the White Pages of telephone directories from around the country instead. (Just remember that by the time a company scans in and saves names and addresses on a CD, packages the whole thing in a fancy box, and ships the package to a store, that data may well be out-of-date.) To locate a CD containing a database of names, visit InfoUSA (

If all else fails, visit your local public library. Many libraries keep old phone directories and criss-cross directories (from city censuses) indexed by year. Old phone directories can help you verify the correct spelling, middle initial, and previous address of a person. City census directories often contain unlisted phone numbers, names of a spouse or children, occupation information, and mailing addresses.

If your local library doesn't store old census directories, check with the Chamber of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau in the city where you think your target may be living. You can also request information from the public libraries in the other cities by phone or letter, if it is impractical to visit them yourself.

Reverse searches

Telephone numbers are another great way of tracing someone. If you have a phone number scribbled on an envelope or cocktail napkin but can't figure out who the number belongs to, use a reverse phone search. This searches through publicly available phone books to match a name and address to a given phone number.

Just be aware that reverse phone searches can only search through phone books, so if someone has an unlisted number, a reverse phone search may not turn up anything. Some reverse search engines can also work with someone's email or street address. To do a reverse search, try one of the following websites:




Track down someone using a Social Security number

The fastest way to track someone down in America is through a Social Security number. Because it is required by employers, the Internal Revenue Service, and banks, a Social Security number can be the quickest tracking device for pinpointing where someone lives and works.

Finding the Social Security number may be difficult unless you once employed or were married to that person; then your search may not be too difficult. For example, if you're trying to track down a former spouse, try to find your former spouse's Social Security number on an old joint tax return. If you don't have a copy, you can order old copies of your joint tax returns from the IRS or your local State Tax Commission.

Joint applications for credit cards, loans, and bank accounts almost always list both partners' Social Security numbers, and you can ask the credit agency or bank for a copy of these old applications. Take a look at your divorce papers, because many states require both parties to list their Social Security numbers.

If you're trying to track down a former employee, you can find Social Security numbers on old employment applications or tax forms.

Once you have your target's Social Security number, a number of websites can help you track down that person for a small fee. Here are a few:




Find A Friend

The Social Security Administration's location service can also help you find a person if you have the person's Social Security number. Although they won't give out addresses, they will forward a letter for you, and you might get a reply. You might increase the chance of getting a reply by making up a phony letter offering a prize, inheritance, or similar incentive to trick your target into replying and revealing his or her current address.

To forward a letter through the Social Security Administration, write to:

Social Security Location Services
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235

Using a Social Security number is the fastest and most accurate way to track a person down. If the person is still alive, the Social Security number can lead you to a current mailing or work address. If that person is dead, the Social Security Administration will verify this information too.

Finding people in the military

The military maintains a vast database of everyone who has served in it. If you're looking for someone currently on active duty in the armed forces, the military should be able to help you track a person down, no matter where in the world he or she might be stationed.

To find someone on active duty, call or write to the appropriate address below and include as many of the following personal details as possible:

  • Name

  • Service serial number

  • Last known address

  • Date of birth

  • Social Security number

You'll need to pay a fee for this search. Here's some contact information for the different branches of service:

Air Force: Directorate of Administrative Services
Department of the Air Force
Attn: Military Personnel Records Division
Randolph AFB, TX 78148
(210) 565-2660

Army Personnel World Wide Locator:
(703) 325-3732

Coast Guard (Enlisted Personnel) Commandant (PO)
U.S. Coast Guard
1300 East St. NW
Washington, DC 20591

Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps
Attn: MSRB-10
Washington, DC 20591
(703) 784-3942

Chief of Naval Personnel
Department of the Navy
Washington, DC 20270
(901) 874-3070

If you're searching for someone no longer on active duty (such as an old military buddy), try the Department of Veterans Affairs website ( or GISearch (

Searching public records

Public records are another good source of names and addresses. If you know the general vicinity in which the person last lived, check with the utility companies and services (garbage collection, cable television) in that area. Also check with that state's motor vehicles department and search its voter registrations. Marriage records can be especially helpful in discovering a woman's married name, because they contain the wife's maiden name and address along with witnesses' and parents' names. Look also for the marriage license application, which may include each partner's Social Security number.

Here are some more ideas:

  • Tax records can provide another clue to someone's location. Every homeowner pays a property tax, which the government records. These records list the person's name, current address, and sometimes a forwarding address.

  • Licensing and certification boards in many states regulate certain professionals, such as real estate and insurance agents, attorneys, and doctors. If your target needs a license to run a business, the state licensing agency can give you a business address and phone number.

  • Try the county or state fishing and hunting license department. License applications contain the applicant's full name, date of birth, and address.

  • Dog licenses, building permits, and boat, car, or airplane registrations are other sources. Check with the Federal Aviation Agency for both aircraft registration and pilot certification by contacting Aircraft Registration (post email to or Pilot Certification (405-954-3205).

  • The FAA can provide you with a copy of someone's pilot's license, which includes an address. To get this information, you need a name and birth date or Social Security number. To use this service, contact:

    FAA Airman Certification Branch VN-460
    P.O. Box 25082
    Oklahoma City, OK 73125

  • Because almost everyone gets a traffic ticket at one time or another, check the county court records. Traffic tickets will not only list someone's name and address, but also date of birth and driver's license number.

  • If you're trying to find someone who once worked for the federal government, you can obtain records with a Freedom of Information Act request. This information won't give you that person's home address, but it will include present and past positions (and maybe locations) that person held in the federal government. For more information write to:

    National Personnel Records Center
    111 Winnebago Street
    St. Louis, MO 63118

  • To check a person's driving record, credit history, voter registration information, criminal record, or birth and death certificates, have your credit card ready to pay a fee and visit the National Credit Information Network (

  • If you're looking for someone who has committed a major crime, visit The World's Most Wanted website ( Who knows? If you find a criminal before the police do, you could get yourself a reward (see Figure 10-2).

    Click To expand
    Figure 10-2: You can check to see if a friend, loved one, or enemy's name appears on The World's Most Wanted website.

Searching driver's license and automobile registration records

If the person you're looking for owns a car, try searching state vehicle registration records. To search the vehicle registration records, you just need your target's full name and (in case of duplicate names) date of birth. The vehicle registration records can give you the last known address of the person you're looking for. If that person sold the vehicle, you can use these records to find the address of the buyer, who might be able to provide some information to help you further track down your wanted person.

You can also order the driver's license records from the state motor vehicle department. These records provide a wealth of information about a person, including his or her current or last known address; height, weight, eye, and hair color; previous names, if any; and the numbers and types of currently owned vehicles. If your target has moved, driver's license records will also show the state where the person surrendered his or her driver's license. Even if a person uses phony names, you may recognize one of the aliases.

For a list of every state's driver's license bureau, visit the Foundation for American Communications (FACS) website ( The FACS organization provides tips and resources to help journalists track down information for their news stories.

Searching death records

If the above methods fail, try searching the death records of the person's relatives. Death records often reveal the names and addresses of a dead person's survivors and heirs. Every state provides a bureau that tracks births, deaths, and marriages. To find the state bureau near you, visit the FACS website.

If state records don't provide you with what you need, try the Social Security Administration's Master Death Files. These records contain more than 43 million names, and the details of everyone who has died in the United States since 1962, the year the system was automated. The Master Death Files provide the following information about each dead person:

  • Social Security number

  • First and last name

  • Date of birth

  • Date of death

  • Zip code where the death occurred

  • Zip code where the lump sum death payment was made

To access the Master Death File, contact the Social Security Administration. For faster access, visit a large city library, particularly a federal depository library, which will likely have the Master Death File available on a compact disc that you can access for free.

To use the Master Death File, follow these steps:

  1. Search the Master Death File for the missing person's parents. If one of them has died, the search will reveal the ZIP code where they died.

  2. Using this ZIP code, determine the town where the parent died and order a death certificate from the local county clerk or health department. The death certificate will identify the funeral home that performed the burial or cremation.

  3. Contact the funeral home and examine their records to determine the names and possible addresses and phone numbers of the dead parent's next of kin.

Finding relatives

When you're looking for someone, always check the public records at the county courthouse or other state government building. If you're looking for a relative, this search can be quite easy because either you or other family members are likely to know specific information about a missing person, such as full name, birth date, and birthplace.

To find a birth parent, start by examining the Birth Index Records—an index of all births in a particular state, indexed by name or date. The Birth Index is usually available as a public record, whereas most birth certificates are not.

If you know someone's birth date, scan the Birth Index for a list of all children born on that date. Then, eliminate all children of the wrong gender. Finally, to narrow the search to a few names, eliminate all children born in cities other than the one you're looking for. Scan through this remaining list, and you should be able to find the names of that person's birth parents.

To track down brothers or sisters, start with school records. High schools hold regular reunions, and these reunion committees can often lead you directly to a brother or sister. Colleges also keep records of students and often solicit donations from alumni. If you know what college your target attended, you might be able to find his or her address. Even if the address is old, you can use it as a starting point.

If you're adopted and would like to find your birth parents, or if you gave up your child for adoption and would like to see what became of him or her, visit one of the following websites, which can help reunite parents and children:


International Soundex

Reunion Registry Reunion Registry

Seekers of the Lost

WhereAbouts, Inc.

Also try browsing your county civil court records for information about lawsuits, divorces, name changes, adoptions, and other litigation. Divorce records can be particularly revealing, because they contain property settlement agreements (listing vehicles, houses, boats, real estate, bank accounts, and so on) and child custody agreements (including detailed information about the children—their names, ages, and Social Security numbers).

Finding email addresses

With so many people flocking to the Internet, the odds are getting better that the person you want to find could have an email address. To track down somebody's email address, you need his or her name and, if possible, location (such as city, state, or country). Start here:

  • Search for someone's email address by name or their last known email address (

  • MESA Search several search engines simultaneously to look for someone's email address by name (

  • NedSite Search for someone's email address by name, phone or fax number, street address, college attended, ancestors, or military history (

If you don't know the person's location, or if the preceding search engines can't trace an email address, try Google Groups (, shown in Figure 10-3). Maybe your target has contributed messages to a newsgroup recently. If so, searching Google Groups for his or her name will find the message, and the elusive email address.

Click To expand
Figure 10-3: The Google Groups website can help you track down messages left by a particular email address.