We sometimes lose people, and not always because of fights, acrimonious relationships, or bitter feuds. While most families have patches of history they’d rather tiptoe around, there are many other instances where family members simply lose touch.
Tracking absent branches of your family tree can be a challenge in more ways than the obvious challenge of picking your way along a cold trail. Tread carefully around sensitive family secrets such as adoption situations or other taboo subjects, and do consider that perhaps cousin Hilda dropped out of sight for a reason.
If you believe that it is your right to know, here are a few pointers on where and how to start searching without laying out cash, with compliments from the expert people-finding service Nuwber.
Be Prepared For Anything
You don’t know whether this will be a long or a short search and have no idea where new leads may take you. Right from the start, keep track of everything you do. Write down all leads, names, contacts, and addresses. Create a lean reference system where you can record all of your information sources plus your corresponding actions e.g. calling, emails, or visits to contact people, in detail.
Start With The Family Around You
Your older relatives may be founts of information. Start with the youngest sources, and work your way up the age ladder into the past. Record all details of your relative’s immediate family like full names, nicknames, and maiden names plus all important dates like birth, marriage, and divorce dates. Where possible, add locations and addresses to this data.
Are Your Relatives Alive?
Unpleasant as the thought may be, it could shorten your search considerably to get this question out of the way.
Not so long ago you would have had to find and study obituaries, but today Death Indexes are readily accessible and privacy laws do not protect death records as stringently as other records. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) lists around 80 million death records starting from around 1962.
Do You Have A Photograph?
You may not have a full name or even a real name, but it’s often a photograph that kicks off family searches. If a blurry black and white photo of chubby babies is all you have, try a reverse image search on TinEye or Google reverse image search on the off-chance that a similar photograph has appeared somewhere on a personal blog or forum.
A Google Search
An obvious next step is to search for the name online. Be methodical and record your progress using different keyword combinations like (name surname date), (nickname surname town), (surname, name). Change word pairing and pay attention to punctuation to obtain different results each time.
Each will give you slightly different results.Dive deep beyond the first page. The results you need may appear on page 27. You will need utter commitment to sift through all the entries.
A Search Of Social Media Platforms
The next step is a social media search, and you’ll need at least a name and surname. As before, use a methodical keyword list and test all possible combinations of the surname, name, nickname, maiden name, and the alternate spelling of each keyword.
Be prepared for a very long list of names for each combination of keywords, which you can obtain from each of the platforms. Repeat the process on the obvious ones such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and move on to older or less popular channels like MySpace.
Any added information such an email address, schools, or location can be very helpful to narrow down the number of prospects because you’ll have to approach each candidate by mail which not only takes time but can be a rather awkward process.
Keep in mind that all social media platforms offer users some privacy measures. Facebook’s privacy settings allow users to delist a profile from the Facebook search tool so it won’t be picked up, even if your relative is a Facebook user.
If your relative is relatively young, it may appear to be counter-intuitive to use websites like Ancestry.com or FindAGrave.com. Consider, however, that your relative may be looking for you, and may have been checking family trees and posting messages on support sites.
This is without a doubt the easiest way to find someone fast. Everybody’s information is out there, and available to anyone willing and able to spend weeks, months, or even years hunting down the fine details.
Data aggregators use extremely advanced custom search tools and algorithms to fetch information from all corners of the internet. They obtain their information legally from a wide variety of sources, including official and government databases, and all sources of publicly available information.
Their search algorithms run queries on a range of databases to find criminal records, social security data, education records, credit checks, driver licensing, and any other information that has ever been stored online.
This information is fleshed out with data from social media platforms, public discussion forums, news articles, local news publications, academic results, tagged photographs and comments, and many more bits and pieces from all over the internet.
What To Expect From Data Aggregators
Results will vary between different data aggregator companies because each has its own ‘secret sauce’ drawn from different sources than the others. The information should be presented as a complete personal profile in a useful format to help you make decisions for your next step.
Be aware that not all companies who offer people-finding services are above board. There is a vast difference between charging a few bucks to screen-scrape a few media platforms, and employing specialty software to take a deep dive into several different types of data banks.
The less information you can provide to the search engine, the more obvious the difference in technology will be. A specialist search engine can obtain accurate results from a minimum of information.
If you cannot find someone after a thorough general search, they may have chosen to fall off the grid for reasons of their own. Keep that in mind, because a deep-dive, complete Nuwber profile can be startlingly complete, and will likely contain highly personal details.