How do I track down an old friend
December 16, 2019 8:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to track down a friend in Portland, OR, who I lost touch with & very much want to talk to again. Is there a better way to do this than the free info that comes up with a Google search? If I have to pay for a search, can you recommend a specific service that worked for you? I am to the point of writing letters to his old addresses. Thank you for any ideas/help.
posted by fairlynearlyready to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Linkedin can search on a name by region. Facebook too.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:10 PM on December 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm not aware of any paid search sites that aren't scams. If you're going to pay someone, call a private investigator.

I've had good luck with Facebook -- even if your friend isn't on FB, you might know their mother's name, sister's, etc, or a mutual friend.

If you know their occupation you might be able to find a professional organization that would list them. Or if they are/were in college an alumni organization might be worth a try.
posted by mmoncur at 10:52 PM on December 16, 2019

I’ve found people who didn't show up in google by doing a google image search.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:57 PM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

A letter to his old address isn’t a bad idea. What information do you know about him? Occupation? Employer? Hobbies?
posted by bluedaisy at 11:37 PM on December 16, 2019

Intelius. It will cost but unless s/he is completely off-grid or out of the US it will usually work
posted by TheRaven at 2:20 AM on December 17, 2019

Yeah, I've used Intelius a couple of times with no problems and a couple of those other ones, can't think of their names now. They are not scams and give good info for a couple of bucks. I wonder if you can charge stuff online with a giftcard? If you can and set up a throwaway email you'd be safe.
posted by mareli at 3:49 AM on December 17, 2019

I have used Spokeo in the past when I needed to find info about people a few times a month. It was somewhat hit and miss on what info it had on people and worked best if you have an email address for the person, but I never had any problem starting or stopping my subscription or other actual scammy behaviour.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:46 AM on December 17, 2019

Best answer: Hi. I do this and other difficult case searching professionally. If your friend is in the US and not actively hiding, this should be possible, but there can be a lot of dead ends or false leads.
Do you know the birth date? Previous cities? Names of relatives?

MeMail me if you want help - I can work with you at any level you feel comfortable. My treat!
posted by Glomar response at 4:46 AM on December 17, 2019 [18 favorites]

I have found tons of old friends online. Usually a search of Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook will give me a lead. Sometimes I first have to go find people that I know the friend would have been in contact with and ask them, or go through a group that the friend might belong to. (Alumni associations, local events, professional associations, and the like will often post newsletters or other publications that help an offline friend show up online.)

I have never paid to search for someone, but I've never needed it that badly. *shrug* I think only about five people have remained lost to me in all the years I have been looking. Only one person has ever told me that they wanted not to get back in touch, and that's fine by me. Wait, two -- but one of them seems to have relented and is on Twitter now.

If your friend has the same name as a famous person, this is MUCH more difficult. (This stumped me for about fifteen years in one case!)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:25 AM on December 17, 2019

Yes, use a gift card or throwaway credit card. Intellius and beenverified are totally legit: for ~$25 you can get a lot of info about people, but they do sell your data to third parties, and I had my regular credit card compromised. Good luck.
posted by Melismata at 6:38 AM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lately, I've found to be very good with lots of free information. Search by name and location. Putting in just the state works.
posted by beagle at 7:02 AM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could check with your local public library to see if they have the database ReferenceUSA.
posted by sugarbomb at 9:11 AM on December 17, 2019

College/university alumni directory?
posted by gottabefunky at 4:14 PM on December 17, 2019

An anecdote that likely doesn't apply to your situation, but did to mine: I had an old friend from childhood that I wanted to reconnect with. I searched everything free online, even checking obituary sites to see if he had passed away, when one day, out of the blue, I received an email from him that said "I don't know if you remember me, but we were friends up through middle school..."

It turns out he had been in prison for the previous 15 years so he had zero footprint on the internet. If I had searched prison records in the state I grew up in I could have found him, but I hadn't even considered that he was incarcerated.
posted by tacodave at 5:24 PM on December 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've seen both scarily accurate and bizarrely incomplete information from (free) searches on
posted by Blue Genie at 6:56 PM on December 17, 2019

I signed up for a free month-long trial at a background-check company. I found mostly accurate information about a couple of friends. This also showed criminal offenses and stuff like speeding tickets.
posted by bendy at 2:24 AM on December 18, 2019

Best answer: I found the old friend, using an Oregon-customized search heuristic.

I checked a variety of standard sources - local news, civil and criminal court records which easy to look up in Oregon, and the data brokers. I gained little bits of info from these, but nothing that looked like a recent address.

I did have enough detail at that point that I could look in the Oregon voter registration database and that got me a current residence! The friend is found!

Voter records are available in some states and not others. They are very useful for getting a recent address. Oregon has streamlined registration, so a lot of people are represented.
posted by Glomar response at 6:30 AM on January 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

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