This article is a continuation of “Finding next-of-kin using United States sources, Part 1 and Part 2.” In the first of the previous articles, finding next-of-kin was introduced, and newspaper records were discussed in some depth. In part two, additional types of records in the United Sates were discussed and how they are useful for finding next-of-kin. Strategies and record types useful for locating known next-of-kin were also considered. Part three covers “people search websites” and social media.
People search websites
Locating current contact information for a person is often done using a website commonly known as a “people search website,” or by a similar designation. There are many of these websites, and their marketing is sometimes misleading. The user should be cautious. Many such websites claim to give all kinds of background information on a person for extra fees. These extensive reports are typically no better, and often less complete, than what a researcher can find using cheaper options. That being said, paying for a report or a membership can be worthwhile on some of these websites, depending on the researcher’s needs. Many of these sites claim to have birth, marriage, and death records for individuals, and they use attractive graphics and wording that will appeal to beginner genealogists. It is important to recognize that these sites are selling public record information that has been compiled into databases. They almost always do not contain actual birth, death, or marriage records even when that is their claim. Instead they contain will sometimes contain information like a date of birth, a date of death, and a name of a spouse. These websites are comparable to having all the phonebooks for the entire United States on one searchable website. The websites provide a person’s current address and phone number, as well as past addresses and phone numbers. Other than that, exactly what the website includes varies slightly from site to site. These websites also often have advertisements that are mixed in with the search results, making it easy for the inexperienced user to inadvertently click an advertisement instead of a search result. Therefore, even with a website that is generally free, if one clicks the wrong thing he will be taken to a page (often on a different website) that will ask for payment.
Another major caution about these websites is that their information is often out of date or out of order. Once the researcher finds the person of interest in a listing, there will be a list of several addresses and phone numbers. In some instances, none of these are current. In other instances, the number or address that works is not the first in the list. Even with these serious issues, it is possible to learn to use them to great advantage.
A third caution is that these websites use computers to analyze huge sets of records, and put together data from various sources into record pages about people. Often people with the same name, residences, or age, have been combined by their algorithm into a single record. Therefore, these sites sometimes serve up mis-assigned addresses, phone numbers, etc., mixed in with accurate ones.
Below are some of the reputable and useful “people search websites.”
This website is free, but incomplete. Beware of the many ads that often are mixed in directly with search results so that the researcher may easily confuse the free results from the ads.
There is a minor charge to view each report or a monthly fee for unlimited access to basic reports on individuals. The information on the website suffers from the usual problems of sometimes being out of date or out of order. It has proved thorough in years of use to be a solid option. Even when contact information is out of date, other clues are conveniently brought together, such as who owns the home for each address on the list which is often from tax records of the previous year. If the person owned the home the previous year, one can sometimes determine the address on the list that is correct, even if that address is not at the top. There are many techniques like this that are possible to learn over time with experience using these websites. Another advantage of the website is the built-in map feature to visualize where a residence is, the names of likely relatives, and the display of death dates for many deceased individuals who were at one time part of the database.
This is another fee-based website like Intelius. Researchers often prefer one over the other, but this in itself does not make one better than the other. Opinions differ as to the accuracy of phone numbers on this site compared to other sites. One feature that is of interest on this site is the fairly robust breakdown of possible relatives and possible associates. Another feature of interest is the social media section. It may have some broken links or go to accounts no longer in use, but the links themselves include valuable clues like usernames and photographs.
FamilyTreeNow is completely free and is even better than paid sites in some instances. The most useful features of their person reports are their lists of relatives, as well as their detailed history of residences that show dates for when the person lived at each address. Most “people search websites” are not this accurate in telling when people lived at particular addresses.
Ancestry.com’s public records found in the “U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and 2,” are typically out of date. This option is very useful though for genealogists who already have access to the site and may hesitate to jump into some of the other less familiar sites.
Family Search has a United States Public Record collection for the years 1970-2009. Much of the information is old and suspect, but also many entries provide the names of relatives.
Social media is a useful tool to find and contact the living. Some people may be much easier to contact through social media than traditional methods. These include those who have purposefully removed themselves from certain public records, or who have moved frequently, thus complicating finding their correct address. Social media is also an amazing tool for determining a person’s relationships, occupation, residence, etc. The success rate for these things will depend on the person’s use of social media and their privacy settings. There are numerous tricks to using social media to the fullest extent possible for finding and contacting next-of-kin. Detailing all of these would likely make some readers uncomfortable and motivate them to tighten their privacy settings. These tricks can change as quickly as websites change their settings, which is quite frequent. There is clearly a movement among some for increase privacy online. Researchers searching for next-of-kin, on the other hand, are hoping that the individuals have minimal privacy settings so that the information they find can further their research. One common example is that Facebook users can choose to make their friends list public or private. If it is public, one can potentially identify a family of interest by noticing that there are multiple names in a person’s friends list who are known family members. With so many people on Facebook having the same name, learning that a particular person has the right people among their list of friends is a great clue that the right family has been found. Making contact is sometimes difficult, as people often are put off by contact from a stranger through social media, or they simply do not check their messages from those who are not already connections. Even in these cases, the clues that can be gathered about the person may help the researcher to identify someone in the family who they can contact, or to identify other ways to communicate with the individual.
This three-part series has covered the purposes for finding next-of-kin, using sources to determine who they are, and locating their correct contact information. Through education and experience, you can learn effective strategies to find living cousins and next of kin. Some projects will be especially difficult or require many hours of research. If you find yourself needing help with a difficult problem, Price Genealogy’s team is well equipped to meet your research needs.