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Thanks to the internet and the ever-growing population of worldwide web users - finding information about someone in a snap has never been easier...

However, that said - while some cases are as simple as searching for the person's name in a search engine like Google.com - some people searches can literally take years. Some individuals, for a variety of reasons, simply do not want to be found.

While we can't guarantee that you'll find whoever it is you're trying to track down, what we can guarantee is that after you've read this article, you'll be equipped with a comprehensive knowledge of how to use the internet to its maximum potential for searching for that long lost relative, friend, old romance - or maybe for other reasons (deadbeat parent, debtor, etc.)

Whatever your quest may be - here's how it's done...

Getting Started:

We all know the quote about "those who fail to plan, plan to fail". It's a cliche, to be sure, but it's certainly not invalid. This especially applies to investigation. As you undertake a search of any kind, it's important that you're working from a foundation of as many details as possible that you might have about your subject.

So the planning stage, in this case, is that you'll need to compile and organize as much information about this person as possible. Their full name(s) and initials, any known aliases, their address or previous addresses, their workplace(s), where they went to school or took post-secondary education, any sports clubs or memberships they might belong to - and the list goes on.

When you're conducting a person-search, most people get hung up on just the person's name. In many cases, though, the person's name is going to yield zero results or leads. As with most investigations, it's the details and connections that form an eventual path comprised of several "links" that lead you to your subject.

For example - let's pretend that you're looking for an old classmate that you knew from growing up in Seattle. You know the school he went to (obviously), and you also know that he dated a girl that you know obtained her law degree, and now practices corporate law in Tacoma. So you then head over to Washington's state bar association website, search for her lawyer profile, and then send her an email asking about your old friend (and her ex), and perhaps also reminiscing about old times.

Turns out she'd exchanged emails with him just the other month, and he's now travelling around Europe. She sends you his email address - and now you're in contact.

That's a simplistic example, but it's typical of how most successful "people searches" actually occur where the subject's details aren't listed in a typical directory like the relevant phonebook, or WhitePages.com. So in this case, it's the details and connections around the person that conclude the search - not their name alone.

We suggest putting together a summarized list of pertinent details about your subject somewhere visible in your workspace, or on your computer. This way these details, connections and possible information sources are always on the forefront of your mind.

Now let's get specific...

Mainstream Online Searches:

As we previously mentioned, you'll want to start with resources like searching WhitePages.com, InfoSpace.com and so on to see if they have a listed phone number and address in connection with their name. Be sure not to narrow your search terms too much whern you're starting out. Just type in their last name and first initial, for example.

Or if their surname is obscure - don't bother with the first initial. Also, it may be unlikely, but if there's no results, try searching a few misspelled variations of their surname, as that can happen sometimes. (I know from experience, actually - my surname always gets spelled wrong...)

Also run a search using Google.com. Type in their name inside quotation marks ("john brown") and hit the search button. If no results are displayed, try the search without quotes. If too many results are displayed, keep the name in quotes, but add a qualifier to the search query.

For example: "john brown" + nevada

Or "john brown" + accountant

Or whichever profession or title they may have. You can also add sports team names, aliases and so on to the search query if it's a common name that pulls up far too many results.

Now let's talk about how to "go deep" on the web...

Deep-Search Online Resources:

First of all, what you'll want to do is visit and bookmark our People Search Resources page for search assistance both now and in the near future. It's a comprehensive directory of all the sources you'll want to search through online to find potential information or leads about your subject.

Much of the internet's content is not indexed by search engines like Google. In fact, with the explosion of community sites, social networking sites (like Facebook.com) and other similar topical sites - many of which do not display their content to public or guest users (and that includes search engine spiders) - it's more likely than ever these days that you actually won't find contact information about someone by "Googling them".

Instead, it's more likely that you'll find success searching the major social networks - like Facebook.com. Again, for a full list online search resources, see the people search resources page.

You'll also want to search any relevant "classmate registries", alumni databases and any other similar network which they may be a part of. Since many of these social services encourage members to "add" their friends, or previous classmates, it's not uncommon to see a good portion of a given graduating year as "active members" in these kinds of groups.

If the subject ever served in the military or the reserves, you may want to search any active military networks or other related "buddy finder" searches. Again, click the people-search link above for a comprehensive listing of these sites.

And finally, as we'd alluded to in the first section - the details are your most-likely bet for finding your subject. Refer to your initial "list" and start tracing down potential contact leads by searching community sites related to their interests, professional directories which might list job positions or professional standing, sports clubs in which they might be active, and so on.

Then - repeat this process for finding known acquaintences, past friends they had, past employers - anyone who might know of their current whereabouts.

Anytime you come across any potentially useful or even historic information connected to the person (and old phone number, an expired email address, etc) - save it in your "list" and run searches on those items as well.

It's the details that will bring your case together - so make sure that you exhaust every potential lead.

So now that you know what to do - it's time to get started.

Start by visiting our people search page, and once you're done that, you might want to consider using the SnoopStation wizard for a more interactive and thorough approach.

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