Searching for People Online

Strategies for Finding Living People

Searching for people online
Tetra Images/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Are you looking for someone? A former classmate? Old friend? Military buddy? Birth parent? Lost relative? If so, then you're not alone. Thousands of people head online every day in search of details on missing people. And more and more of these people are finding success with their search, using the Internet to find names, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, and other current data on missing people. If you're in search of a missing person, try the following people search strategies:


This may seem morbid, but because obituary and death notices often list multiple family members and friends, they can help to confirm that you have located the correct individual, and also possibly provide a current location for your missing person, or his/her family members. Other types of newspaper notices can be equally helpful, including marriage announcements and stories about family reunions or anniversary parties. If you don't know the town where your target individual is located, then search newspaper or obituary archives across multiple locations and use combinations of search terms to narrow your search. If you know the name of another family member, for example, search for instances of that name (a sister's first name, mother's maiden name, etc.) in conjunction with the name of your target individual. Or include search terms such as an old street address, the town where they were born, the school they graduated from, their occupation — anything that helps to identify them from others with the same name.

Online Phone Directories

If you suspect the person lives in a particular area check for him or her in a variety of online phone directories. If you aren't able to locate them, try searching for an old address which can provide a listing of neighbors and/or the name of the person currently residing in the home all of whom may know more about the present whereabouts of your missing person. You may also want to try a reverse-lookup by telephone number or email address.

City Directories

Another excellent resource for locating addresses is a city directory, a surprising number of which can now be found online. These have been published for over 150 years, in most U.S. cities. City directories are similar to telephone directories except that they include much more detailed information such as the name, address, and place of employment for every adult within a household. City directories also have sections similar to yellow pages which list area businesses, churches, schools, and even cemeteries. Most city directories can only be researched through libraries, though many more are making their way into Internet databases.

School or Alumni Association

If you know where the person went to high school or college, then check with the school or alumni association to see if he/she is a member. If you can't find information for the alumni association, then contact the school directly — most schools have Web sites online — or try one of the many school social networks or groups.

Contact Professional Associations

If you know what types of work or hobbies the person is involved with, then try contacting interest groups or professional associations for that field to learn whether he/she is a member. The ASAE Gateway to Associations Directory is a good place to learn what associations are active for various interests.

Former Church

If you know the individual's religious affiliation, churches or synagogues in the area where he/she last lived may be willing to confirm if he/she is a member, or whether the membership has been transferred to another house of worship.

Free SSA Letter Forwarding Service

If you know the missing person's social security number, the both the IRS and SSA offer a Letter Forwarding program whereby they will forward a letter to a missing individual on behalf of a private individual or government agency if this action is for a humane purpose or emergency situation, and there is no other way to relay the information to the individual. If you think the person may be deceased, then try a search in the free online Social Security Death Index which will provide information such as date of death and the address (zip code) where the lump sum death benefit was sent.

If you are successful in finding the person you seek, it is time to take the next step - contacting him or her. Keep in mind as you approach this possible reunion that the person may resent the intrusion, so please tread with care. Hopefully, your reunion will be a joyous occasion, and you will never lose touch again.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "Searching for People Online." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Searching for People Online. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "Searching for People Online." ThoughtCo. (accessed August 5, 2021).