Can we find an old friend?
February 21, 2011 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to locate a person when the only information you posses about them is their name?

My first MetaFilter post, so I hope I'm going about it correctly!

My sister and I (we are in the UK) are interested in locating a very old acquaintance who has recently left town. My sister knew the person in question, as a child, over 20 years ago, and I only recall them slightly for I was more or less a baby at the time.
Over the past 10 years or so, this person ran a local business, so we were pretty used to seeing her on occasion, yet due to one thing and another, we never became reacquainted with her, or caught up a conversation.

So, after her business closed a few months ago, I overheard someone in a local store mention that she was seriously ill, which was quite upsetting - especially since neither my sister or myself had spoken to her in such along time.

To cut a long story short, the only current info we have is her full name (she never married). We have no idea where she has been living since the early eighties, and do not have any links to her family or friends. We would basically love to be able to contact her, or at least to find out if she is doing ok, but how? We have googled and asked a few local people who may have had run ins with her via the business, but no joy. Also, people seem pretty reluctant to discuss her with 'strangers', which is pretty understandable - so how can we proceed? Do we bother? Having been 'out of her life' for so long simply makes us feel somewhat rude when asking people questions about her welfare, if that makes sense.

Is it possible to locate somebody upon name alone in the UK?

This is possibly a non starter, but thanks in advance folks!
posted by noella to Grab Bag (19 answers total)
You have more than the name. You have a business/employer's name, and if I am reading your question right, you also know her childhood school or schools.

Again, if I am reading right and that was her business, there will be license records and public property records somewhere (I don't know UK law) most of which probably also contain a contact address or number. Perhaps out of date, but another thread to pick up upon, at least.

Your sister may also be able to summon the names of other, mutual friends or acquaintances from childhood, which would help a great deal.
posted by rokusan at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2011

Something that you might do is give your contact information to mutual acquaintances to pass on to this lady; sometimes people are reluctant to share a third party's contact information without their permission, but will pass on the contact information they are given.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2011 often has information about people.
posted by katrielalex at 11:47 AM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your imput.

Basically, my sister attended a riding school at weekends with her in the early eighties. They were both pretty shy and did not share any other mutual acquaintances. We knew where she lived, and did try that route, which led to nothing since her old home no longer exists (development, etc).

We knew her primary school, and tried the usual sites like friends reunited, facebook, but nothing. The only business info available online was the telephone number.

The only people we are aware of who even vaguely know her are the other business owners in the area, and they just tend to look at us oddly when we enquire about her. Because they do not know us, I suppose this seems odd? We do feel a bit intimidated about prodding them further.
posted by noella at 11:52 AM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: Yikes, *input*
posted by noella at 11:54 AM on February 21, 2011 will give you a series of hits, based on recent council tax records. You can cross-reference that, assuming she has not witheld her info, on BT's site for directory enquiries. If she ran her own business, you could also run a director's search at Companies House, and services that use its data, for her address.

Also, if you can't find the person on FB, it doesn't mean they aren't on it. You might want to look for friends of hers and see if she appears as a friend.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:10 PM on February 21, 2011

posted by Night_owl at 12:40 PM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: A few obstacles we have found:

The business was in her own last name, and the word is incredibly 'everyday', so web searches go all over the place. Also, searching for the business info has a similar effect: a million similar trades all over the UK have the same name. I can't reveal the exact details of this on MetaFilter, but it is similar to searching for a baker called 'pie'.

So far, a business search returned a small amount of info that leads nowhere.
She does not appear to have marketed online at all.
The business was a family business dating back to the 60's or so, and so far as we know had only one outlet, a small, local limited company. reveals a few possibilities, but most of these searches only reveal the electoral number.

Sorry if I seem a little nonplussed, this is kind of out of my league!

Thanks for the help so far. I will continue to follow your suggestions.
posted by noella at 1:14 PM on February 21, 2011

It really depends enormously on the name. If the name is "Jane Smith" and that's all you know, you're up a creek. If it's "Hermione Higgenbothom", you're probably in better shape.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: Yup, it's as bad as Smith, almost.
posted by noella at 1:36 PM on February 21, 2011

It sounds like it should be pretty easy to find her based on just asking former neighbors or adjacent businesses. I don't see the problems with pressing them for information if you are legitimately concerned. I assume you would like to buy her flowers or take her meals. Just mention that to the owners to gain their trust.
posted by JJ86 at 1:41 PM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: JJ86:
I have asked a couple of adjacent business owners (we know of no former neighbours), and sadly the results were off-putting, but there is a possibility we are probably both a bit too shy to push it - just our nature.

But, when pressed, these people have given us weird looks, as if to say 'why did yo never speak to her all the years she was trading?'

Nothing we can do about that now. Whenever we saw her, we simply smiled or waved hello, and never seemed to have time (nor she) to really reconnect. So we never knew where she was living or what she was up to.

What we do know:
She never married.
She may have died.
She was extremely private, a loner.
Her full name.
posted by noella at 1:47 PM on February 21, 2011

Try to find her parents and ask them.

Since you know her approximate age and her name, then you can almost certainly find her birth record, which records her mother's name.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:23 PM on February 21, 2011

This isn't exactly an answer to the question but a suggestion -- how about writing a short note and asking several of these people who seem to know her to pass it on? Explain to them what you have stated here -- that you are old friends who had fallen out of touched but were saddened to hear that friend was in ill health and hoped to reconnect.
posted by countrymod at 2:48 PM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: As far as the business acquaintances are concerned, none of them have seen her since she left, and although they may know a little info (her health, general location) I have not been given the impression that they actively keep in touch, for two of them reported to have seen her once since the business closed, and this was in passing.
Not sure this feels encouraging with regards to the note.

I think these people only know basic info, so this is why I would like to search independently.

We are currently trying, but the site appears to be ignoring the money i have just paid to allow me to search! So frustrating.

Oh, and both her parents are deceased.
posted by noella at 3:01 PM on February 21, 2011

Did she continue riding? Is there anyone your sister knows through that who might have info? I've found the horse world tends to contain a lot of people who seem to know everything about everyone else in it.
posted by sepviva at 7:30 PM on February 21, 2011

I actually find to be both cheaper and more accurate than (I've used both). Tracesmart has electoral rolls and property records and I think a few other things. Feel free to MeMail me with the name and the place she was last known to live if you want me to look on tracesmart for you - I have a few spare credits there.
posted by andraste at 2:13 AM on February 22, 2011

Contact the local paper and either put a classified ad in (I suggest explaining why you want to contact her so you don't sound too creepy) or see if they carry a community news or long lost friends section where they'll include such a query for free. If it's a really local local, they might have a reporter there who remembers her and can help.

Also, see your Memail.
posted by penguin pie at 6:29 AM on February 22, 2011

Try calling or visiting the old age or long term medical care facilities in her/your area. You'll likely get some variation on "not here", until you get her or "not permitted to talk about patients" and then you'll know a bit more.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 7:03 AM on February 22, 2011

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