First you really have to decide if it’s worth your time and energy to try to do the search yourself or to hire an investigation firm to conduct the search for you. Even if you hire a firm, the more information you know at the start of a location investigation the more money you will save. It’s always easiest to search if you have the person’s social security number, date of birth and correct name. More times than not, you’ll be missing the social security number and date of birth but that’s okay, the search is still possible.
Here’s where to start.
Always begin by using a well-known search engine such as Google or Yahoo.
Search a phrase rather than just key words and then search with a combination of their name and other identifying information you may know. Start with the last place you knew them from or other information you may have found out through the years. Remember it may be more difficult to search for a woman if her maiden name has changed. Try her first name and other identifying information or if you know her father’s name or if she had a brother search his name.
Could the person be deceased?
Searching these resources is a starting point. NTIS’ Social Security Death Master File - http://ssdmf.com
Internment.net - http://internment.net
National Obituary Archive - http://www.arangeonline.com/
If you have the individual’s name and a city and state the person resides or previously resided in try a reputable people search online. A note of caution though, that these sites usually have outdated information but it is a place to start.
Consider the following questions during your search?
Do you know anything about the individual’s educational background? A school may release directory type information such as name, address and degrees earned unless a student has given notice otherwise.
Do you know where the person works? The person may have an e-mail account through his or her job. Visit the company's Web site and use its directory.
Do you know the individual’s occupation? If the individual is in a professional occupation, you can try searching professional directories. Most professions have organizational directories online and available. Most of these state websites include a search engine for locating licensed professionals.
Was the individual in the military? Gisearch.com - http://gisearch.com/ and Military.com http://www.military.com/ has a buddy search feature. However, you must register to use the website.
Have there been any news articles or broadcasts about the individual? Check out: Newslink.org - http://newslink.org/index.html News, http://news.google.com/ or Yahoo! News, http://news.yahoo.com.
If you know the county they may be in or were in the past, check voter registration rolls at county courthouse
If you know the individual’s name and the city and state where they resided, try the reference book often referred to as the "City Index" It is a compilation of census data that practically every town with a library maintains.
As you work, you’ll find that once you have a little information to, other information will begin to come more easily. If you are able to pull past addresses, talk to the current owners and see if they know any information or check the post office for forwarding information. As you begin to obtain information, make calls and check with neighbors, old co-workers, family or others you can find to help you locate the person.