Looking for People in All the Right Places

Trying to track someone down is one of the most-common Google searches and a request we get often in Reference.

These days, it's hard for anyone not to leave an online trail without making a diligent effort to stay out of cyberspace. The emerging "right to be forgotten" movement, however, has been enacted into law in a number of countries and may catch on universally to make it harder to find someone if s/he doesn't want to be found. 

Since many people have dropped their landlines in favor of cell phones, it's harder to find people in directories than it used to be, since there are no online directories of cell phones. You can start by checking standard free phone directories, such as Zabasearch, Anywho, or Dexpages. Or, try Reference USA, a database of more than 147 million U.S. residents, available with your DPL card.

If you don't have any luck there, try people-finders.ws. While it doesn't give addresses or phone numbers unless you pay, the free part of the database gives age, possible relatives or roommates, and a list of cities where the person has lived. That information can be very helpful in narrowing down the field, especially if the person being sought has a common name. 

When searching for someone in Google, enclose the first and last name of the person you're searching for in quotes when you enter it into the search box and include other relevant words, like the person's profession, employer, school attended, or even a hobby.    

When searching social media, Facebook via Google is still the first, best step. Typing “john smith site:facebook.com” into Google can, in some cases, work better than Facebook’s own internal search, and you can add a location to the search string as well. 

You can search LinkedIn by using keywords such as company or job title, and if you don’t know the full name of the person you’re searching for, enter other information that you know. For example, you can search for “Editor The Denver Post."

Sometimes neighbors or friends can be useful in tracking a person down. School alumni groups, trade unions, fraternal organizations, and other affinity groups are worth trying, but you may run into their privacy restrictions.

In addition to being an indispensable tool to genealogists, Ancestry Library Edition (available in any Denver Public Library) has databases that are useful for this kind of search. The U.S. Public Records Index, for example, is a compilation of various public records spanning all 50 states. Entries in this index may contain the following information: name, street or mailing address, telephone number, birth date, or birth year. This database only goes up to 1993, but can help you determine a last known address. Marriage indexes (not available for every state) can help you find a woman's married name if you only know her maiden name.

If you think that the person might be deceased, the Social Security Death Index will establish that a person has died, and will tell you the city and state to which the last benefit was sent, as well as the state in which the Social Security account was created. However, not everyone has a Social Security number, and there are errors in the database. Additionally, for privacy reasons, there's now a three-year embargo on posting the information. 

Obituaries are a good source for finding surviving family members, but are more difficult to find than you might think because they're published by regional newspapers that may or may not publish online obituaries, or keep them  updated if they do. Also, they're quite expensive, so many families opt out altogether. Luckily, you can try America's Obituaries and Death Notices, available with your DPL card.  

If none of these approaches leads to an address or phone number, ask a librarian. We have lots of practice with this sort of searching, though there's never a guarantee of success, of course. As a last resort, consider hiring a private investigator, but be prepared to invest from $40 to $200 per hour, plus a retainer of between $500 and $1500.

Special thanks to librarian Joe Cahn for these suggestions.  

Questions? Ask Reference Services or call 720-865-1363 today!


Written by Lisa on January 11, 2018


FrankW on January 16, 2018


Thanks Lisa for the great info! And special thanks for Joe for the content suggestions! I've never even heard of the "right to be forgotten" movement - that's a new one for me!

Connie Boyd on January 17, 2018


This is really interesting. Thanks.


Thanks, Connie. I remember when we just had white pages!