How to Track Down a Long-Lost Friend

If you’re looking for someone, you haven’t seen in years, where is the best place to start?  Often, you only have a name and a face to go on.  You can start with a Google search, but the process can be painstakingly arduous.  There are some tips and tricks you can use to help you make your search a bit easier.

Tips for tracking them down

Start with Google

While your initial search may not be very fruitful, the very first place to look up people online is here.  If you don’t find anything, that’s ok, but sometimes you get lucky.

Check Facebook  

Let your friends know who you’re looking for.  Chances are, if it’s someone you went to high school or college with, you have friends who might know where they ended up.  

Facebook itself has over 2.7 billion active users.  Posting an old picture that can be shared will spread the word and might just reach the newsfeed of the person you’re looking for.  Of course, who sees your post is dependent on individual privacy settings, but you’ll still get exposure.  Don’t forget about other popular social networks, too, like Instagram or Twitter.

Use a background search site 

A backgrounds search site allows you to enter the information you have to search for a current address.  Most of these sites will allow you to reverse-lookup an old phone number, or you can start with just a basic name search.

You can glean information on previous addresses, contact information, social media profiles, criminal records, and possible relatives by running a background check.  Let someone else scour thousands of public profiles for you.

If you find something you didn’t want to and change your mind, the service is completely confidential.  No one will ever know.

Write letters to an old address

Even if the person you’re looking for doesn’t live there anymore, current residents might know where they went and at least narrow your search down to a specific town or city.

Contact mutual affiliates 

If the person you’re searching for is an old childhood friend or long-lost relative, leverage your personal networks to find them.  Mutual friends, college alumni groups, or family members are a good place to start.  You’ll be surprised at the hidden knowledge people have.

Google and google again

While starting your search with Google can be tough with just a name to go on, you may gain more information as you continue your search.  Say you find out that your friend lived in New York in 1997 but moved to California a few years later.  The more information you can enter in the search bar, the more likely you are to hit pay dirt.  

If you’re struggling to find anything in your Google search, you can use Google Alert to notify you when new material is published.

Don’t limit yourself to Google

When it comes to search engines, Google is the king of the hill, but there are dozens of others that are still really good.  Bing and DuckDuckGo are general search engines that provide different results than Google.  There are country-specific search engines like Yandex, which provide Russian-language searches, and then there are specialized ones like Runaroo, which provide deep source searches to narrower results.

Cast your net wider

Don’t just look for one person; expand your search to their parents, siblings, and children.

Double-check your information  

A fellow classmate might insist that she saw your friend Steven’s obituary last year.  It turns out the obituary was for someone named Steven John, not the Steven George you were looking for.  The information wasn’t wrong, and it just wasn’t the right person.

Things to keep in mind when conducting your search

When you’re searching online for someone, there are a few things to keep in mind to make your search easier.

People with common names are going to be harder to find with basic searches.  John Smith, for example, is going to be more difficult than Kamryn Jansen.  It’s possible to find Kamryn in a few Google searches or narrow your search to a dozen Facebook profiles.  On the other hand, John Smith will render you searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Don’t get too hung up on name spellings or name orders, as you might be proven wrong.  It’s not uncommon for people to be known by their middle names rather than their first names, or to use nicknames; people named John go by Jack, Rick is actually named Richard, etc.  The name you think is the person’s legal name may not be, or they could be going by a married name instead of their maiden name.  

Searching for someone isn’t going to be easy.  If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already realized that.  But don’t give up.  It’s common to think the availability of technology means we can find someone in a few minutes, but that isn’t always the case.  If it’s important to you, take the time to gather as much information as possible, and you will eventually get results.  

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