Tracking down a long-lost friend or relative on the Internet can be as simple as typing their name into Google, Yahoo, or ZabaSearch, or it can be much more complicated.
"It's perceived as easy even though it isn't," says Marcus Zillman, long-time Internet consultant and author of Internet Sources, eCurrent Awareness Resources, and Internet miniguides for professionals.
"If you really want to take your time, you probably can pull down as much information for free as with the fee-based services," says the Florida-based Mr. Zillman.
First, he suggests creating a free e-mail address that does not contain personal information such as your name or date of birth. That can be set up with Yahoo, juno, netzero, hotmail, toast, msn, and others.
He recommends using the public library and asking for a librarian skilled at Internet searches.
Mr. Zillman's site has a free streaming video segment about finding people on the Internet. (To find the correct page, go to yahoo.com and type: Marcus Zillman finding people).
He lists dozens of resources and sites, indicating which are free. He also recommends articles found at http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue20/search-engines/ and http://www.virtualchase.com/articles/background_checks.html.
Dozens of companies charge for information but the results may not turn out to be what you wanted. Among them: identitycrawler.com, publicbackgroundchecks.
com, locateamerica.com, and usa-people-search.com.
Before you pay for a search:
Mr. Zillman's favorite sites which offer some free information include www.argali.com (white and yellow pages); craigball.com, journalismnet.com, and virtualgumshoe.com. Public records can be searched at pretrieve.com, searchsystems.net, and http://www.knowx.com.
People can often be tracked down by typing their name in quotation marks at Google.com or Yahoo.com (for example, "John B. Doe").
ZabaSearch.com provides birth years, addresses, and telephone numbers.
National telephone directories are at whitepages.com, us.411.com, and anywho.com. Also, country-by-country telephone listings are at infobel.com.
Virtualchase.com aims to teach legal professionals to use Internet tools and has articles about finding people and telephone books. Another useful article about finding people is at Zimmerman's Research Guide.
Ed DeJesus, who has written about his ongoing hunt for more than 700 high school classmates (he's found 437), gleans bits of information at ussearch.com, peoplefinders.com, infospace.com, and switchboard.com. He spent about $100 to do an in-depth search on Intelius.com and netted 100 classmates.
Finding a woman using her maiden name can be difficult, he says, but searching obituaries in a person's hometown newspaper might yield results. That can also work for people with very common names.
Classmates.com and Reunion.com permit people to register their names, but to contact a listed person the subscription fee is $35 to $40 annually.
Looking for people in other countries? Google searches can be tailored to 112 countries. Go to Google and click on "Language Tools." At the bottom of that page, click on the country's flag. Mexico, for example, is google.com.mx; England is google.co.uk; South Africa is google.co.za.
College students and recent graduates have turned thefacebook.com into a huge success in just 18 months. It's an online interactive network for students using their college e-mail address, and is in place at hundreds of colleges.
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