You can use the web to find lots of things: information, videos, books, music, games, and yes, even public records. While our most private information can (usually) not be found online, you can track down items like birth certificates, marriage and divorce information, obituaries and licenses on the web.
A brief note
All of the following web sites and methods of discovery are absolutely free, unless stated otherwise. There are many sites out there that advertise themselves as being free, but charge for their services - and they are not providing anything that you can't find yourself. If you do end up having to pay for something, it will most likely be at a physical location (i.e., a courthouse) in order to procure a copy of a particular public record.
You can use Google to find a lot of preliminary information about
someone. Simply Google their name - "Betsy Wetsy" - and you can start a
good trail. If you know what clubs, workplaces, interests, etc. that
the person is affiliated with, you can make this search a little bit
more productive. You can also use the Google Phonebook to find both addresses and phone numbers (if they're listed);
rp 555-121-1234 for residential listings,
bp 555-121-1234 for business listings.
Controversial search engine Zabasearch gives some people the heebie-jeebies; however, Zabasearch ONLY returns results from what is already publicly accessible on the web (just all in one place). For instance, Zabasearch returned my last two known addresses complete with phone numbers along with a Google search for my name. For anything more substantial than that, I was asked to pony up some money for Intelius, a well-known pay-for-play investigative service. No, thanks. Zabasearch is great for finding names, addresses, and phone numbers (and sometimes birth dates) quickly and easily.
Here are the best vital records mega-sites for starting a vital records search:
- National Center for Health Statistics: Where to Write for Vital Records: This is the first place I would start when searching for birth, death, marriage, or divorce information.
- Virtual Gumshoe Public Records Resources: A large list of public records categories; each link is designated whether or not it's a free or pay-for service.
- BRB Publications: A large compendium of links to public records; state, county, and federal.
If you're looking for something other than an unlisted or cell phone number (yeah, sorry), you can find it online using these directories:
- Anywho: White pages, yellow pages, international listings, and a toll-free directory.
- Infobel: A world-wide phone directory; extremely extensive.
- Yahoo Phone Numbers and Addresses: a long list of good phonebook databases on the Web.
- Internet 800 Directory: Just enter the name of the product, service, name of the company, or toll-free number. Ex: Nike.
- InfoSpace international dialing codes: Here's a good 'un - look up the dialing codes for almost every geographical location in the world.
Need to find a professional license for someone? No problem:
- FindLaw's Legal Directory: State by state database of licensed attornies.
- AMA Doctor Finder: information on nearly 700K licensed doctors in the U.S.
- You can also do a simple Google search to find other licensed professionals, i.e., Oregon contractors.
You can use the web to find an obituary:
- Legacy.com obituaries: Type in the last name and you'll get a list of newspaper obits along with records from the Social Security Death Index.
- Social Security Death Index: Type in as much info as you know for better results; a very good tool.
- Death Indexes: A very extensive state by state (and county) list of death records, death certificate indexes, etc.
- Cyndi's List: Superb list of death and obit sites; ranges from general indexes to locale-specific.
Criminal records are somewhat easy to track, though it varies by state.
- FBI Most Wanted: Includes alerts, featured fugitives, etc.
- Sexual Offendors: state by state list of sexual predators and where they live.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator: Needs the first and last name in order to work; returns vital stats.
- You can also search prison by prison simply by Googling your state+"department of corrections", or your state + "death row", etc.
There are so many more great sites for public records. Here are a few more of my favorites:
- Ellis Island: Completely free research site for Ellis Island information.
- National Personnel Records Center: The first place to start for military records.
- NNDB: "NNDB is an intelligence aggregator that tracks the activities of people we have determined to be noteworthy, both living and dead." Fascinating site.
- U.S. Copyright Office: Search records, registrations, and documents; helps to have as much information to start your search as possible.
- Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents: Pretty much what it sounds like; released every Monday.
This list is by no means conclusive. Got a favorite public records search site? Please share in the comments.