The quest to find a long-lost family member starts with talking to those who were last in touch with them. Their stories might provide new information to help you get further, like a name, event, or date. Then, you can do additional research and maybe even find some important documents you’ve never seen before.
This short guide offers some tips to help you find a family member you haven’t seen in a while. People finders are a good place to start. They can be very useful as long as you know how to use them. You need to have an exact relationship with the person. Names of other relatives will be helpful. Armed with that, you can start to search for people.
It won’t be hard to find a person who’s one or two generations removed, thanks to modern data and recordkeeping. However, you’ll need to research more deeply if they were a member of your extended family. Try their name and the last location where they made their home. Try a variation of their name if applicable.
People finders can reveal family lines you never knew about. A background screening site can help if you enter their full name and place of birth.
Sources to Turn To
Use the information you get from first- and secondhand sources alongside information from newspaper archives, census records, electoral rolls, and other external resources. Newspaper archives are a good starting point, particularly local dailies, as they usually reflect important events in our ancestors’ lives.
Most print media now have online versions, and you can browse past editions online. You might find your relative had an important athletic achievement, was appointed to a position within the local government, or another fact that can result in more information.
Data within birth records and marriage records are publicly available. You need more than their name to go on to search public records, though. Bit by bit, you’ll find more information. If you use their place of birth, it could lead to where they are now. The hospital they were born in might keep some records. Check public registers for marriages, name changes, a divorce, or a criminal record. The national service of vital stats or your state might also provide access to public information.
Social media like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others can help you track down people based on their place of birth, name, workplace, current location, and address, or through relatives or friends. If you know where they went to school or university, look for alumni groups. Check for information about graduates on their college or high school website.
The Local Library
Local institutions like these are a valuable but often overlooked resource. They can be a rich source of information. What’s more, it won’t cost you any money, or very little. Your library will provide free access to relevant genealogy websites. The national project USGenWeb has helpful links to state and county databases, which provide access to online genealogy resources, state and county histories, and map source listings.
The National Archives
The National Archives contain all kinds of records that might prove useful, such as records of public land transfer, naturalization, military, and census records. You might find something related to your lost family member. All of these records will potentially be accessible online.
Chronicling America is a state-sponsored project that provides digital access to all newspapers published in the last three hundred years. You might find a mention of your lost relative.
Talk to members of your extended family if your closest relatives don’t have enough facts for you to do a proper online search. Your search target may have been closer to them. Write down everything you find out and keep it in one place. Your relatives might have photo albums, scrapbooks, birth certificates, immigration records, letters, diaries, etc. Anything can turn out to be a helpful source of information, even a seemingly useless scrapbook.