There are many potential reasons for wanting to reconnect with someone. For example, maybe you miss an old friend, would like to catch up with a former love or want to mend a family rift. And with today’s technology, people search tools are right at our fingertips.
But finding people isn’t always as easy as it may seem. Some people have common names or changed them, or aren’t on social media. Sometimes, we feel like we know a person well but don’t have a ton of factual information about them. Because of these challenges and more, we talked to a few private investigators to get insider tips on performing an effective people search. Here’s how to find someone you used to know, no matter how many facts you have.
How to start your people search?
To start your search, collect all the information you already know about the person. According to Elizabeth Brock, private investigator at Root Investigations in Long Island, New York, some of the most useful tidbits can be:
- First and last name.
- Date of birth or approximate age.
- Former addresses or at least one town where they’ve lived.
- Former phone numbers, email addresses or social media names.
- Name of a person’s parents or other relatives.
- Friends and other connections.
- Former employer or industry where they work.
- Approximate height, hair color and other physical attributes.
All the information you know can be used to find “breadcrumbs,” said Daniel J. McBride, founder and private investigator at American Eagle Investigations in New York City. Each breadcrumb is another bit of information that can lead you closer to finding the person.
Related: How to find your birth parents
Begin your people search online
You probably already know that you can use Google to conduct a people search, but simple Google searches don’t always give you the exact information you need. For example, if the person has a common name, the results can be like searching for a needle in a haystack..
Time to step up your search skills. McBride suggests using advanced features to help narrow down your search. Use quotations to create verbatim phrases and a plus sign to make sure they’re all included in the results. For example, “Daniel McBride” + “New York City” + “Private Investigator.”
Results could include news articles, work-related announcements, wedding registries, social media pages, even family members’ obituaries. All those things could lead you directly to the person, or contain more information about them that can help you continue your search.
You might also try some non-Google searches. “Utilizing lesser used search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, AOL and DuckDuckGo may yield different yet useful results,” said private investigator Darrin Giglio of North American Investigations. “You can search through meta search engines like WebCrawler, DogPile and Monster Crawler, Pipl, which may give you some usable information.”
In your detective work, you might come across information that’s outdated or incorrect. You’ll have to explore different avenues to figure out which clue might ultimately lead you to the person you want to find.
Check on social media
Since it’s become common for people to share their own personal information online, social media sites may be even more useful than search engines.
“Facebook is the first stop,” said Giglio. “You can perform detailed searches: you are not only restricted to using someone’s name, but you can narrow your search by adding identifying details such as location or a group, like the person’s graduating class, their relatives or friends you have had in common.” Facebook is also a good place to search for people in their family or friends from their past. Those people may be able to connect you.
“A person can be super private and do their due diligence to stay off social media and the like, but if they have friends or family who are all over social media, there’s a good chance you can find them,” said McBride. For example, a friend or family member may post a photo from a birthday party or a wedding that includes the person you seek.
Besides Facebook, you can conduct a people search on Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat and Twitter.
Have a photo? Reverse image search
Google has an image search that’s super easy to use. Just drag a photo into the engine, and it’ll scour the web for matching pics. But don’t expect facial recognition from this feature. It just searches for similar-looking photos—you will only find a true match if there’s another version of that exact photo elsewhere online.
That can be helpful in finding social media accounts or profiles. “Many people have used the same image for different sites, and each different site can be a potential lead in your search,” Giglio said.
Check online public records
Some public records are available online—which ones are accessible could depend on the person’s state or county. You may find real-estate records, tax records, driving records, court records and marriage or divorce records, Giglio said. And if you’re finding them on official state or county sites, that information may be more reliable than those found via a Google search.
Official state and county websites are great, but Giglio points out that there are some websites that may promise you information for a fee. A people search tool can potentially help find property records, social media accounts, last known phone numbers and even possible email addresses.
Those nuggets of info are more than just “breadcrumbs.” They may lead you directly to the person you want to find, so you can reconnect more quickly.