Whether due to distance, time, or just growing apart, every family has long lost relatives - and many wish to reconnect with them. Fortunately, the internet provides almost endless opportunities to find missing relatives online, and reunite with them.

Ready to find out how to find a lost relative? Follow these 5 steps to start searching for your missing family member now:

  1. Create a list of all the information you have on your missing relative.
  2. Employ major search engines and advanced search techniques.
  3. Use social media sites to expand your search and follow family links.
  4. Use genealogy records to find public and historical records of your relatives
  5. And, if all else fails, hire a private investigator and get some professional help in finding your missing family member.

1. Create a List of all the Information You Have on Your Missing Relative

This is an important step, so don’t skip it and go straight to searching. You’ll need to include more than just their first and last name too - add information like where they went to high school, previous phone numbers and addresses, vehicles they might have owned, and more. If you get stuck later on, this kind of information might be able to help add to your search.

Private Investigator Tip: Before you start searching for your relative, verify all the information you have. Incorrect information will derail your search, and decrease your chances of finding them.

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2. Use Major Search Engines

Search engines are an excellent way to find the information you're searching for quickly. Google, of course, is the leading search engine - to the point of being common household name.

However, despite its dominance you should expand your search beyond Google. Search engines are not all identical, and will not return the same results. Each search engine uses a different database and search algorithm, and this will affect what information is returned. You should never rely on just one search engine - private investigators search multiple search engines to find information and obtain the best results.

Try these search engines:


Meta search engines are an excellent way to search multiple search engines at the same time. Instead of using crawlers to index the web like Google and others do, they send queries to a variety of search engines, combine the results. Here are a few examples of meta search engines that best for finding people:


Advanced Search Techniques

Advanced search operators use things like Boolean logic to help you filter out the junk that isn't related to your search, by allowing you to combine words and connectors to exclude certain results.

Here’s how it works: If you search for “Jimmy Ricks” then search engines will return results with all web data with the words 'Jimmy' and 'Ricks.' Chances are, they won’t be what you want. By using ”Not” or “–“ before a term, your search will exclude web pages that contain those terms.

A typical search would look something like this:

“Jimmy Ricks” and Virginia  or  + Jimmy + Ricks + Virginia

Google has an extensive list of operators and other tips and tricks to help make your searches more powerful on their advanced search page. Other search engines will have their own specific operators, so be sure to look them up before you start using them.

3. Search on Social Media

Social media networks are the perfect place to start looking for someone online - especially family members that have fallen out of touch.

Your best bet is to start with Facebook. 79% of American internet users are registered on Facebook, making it the biggest and most extensive search engine by far. Despite the fact that Facebook has killed off their advanced search function, some features are still accessible on your friend request page. It’s still possible to search for people using names, locations, and even groups  - like the graduating class of your missing relative’s high school for example.

LinkedIn is another great place to look for people, particularly if you happen to know details about your missing family member’s employment history, or where they might currently be living. At the moment, the free version of LinkedIn has limited search results. You can get a free trial of the premium membership that will let you see the full results, and access more powerful search features.

Private Investigator Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of social engineering. Social engineering is a fancy term for getting information out of people by talking to them. Some searches can be completed simply by talking to the right people. Start by using Facebook to talk to friends and relatives who might have had (or even still have) contact with the person you’re looking for.

4. Search Genealogy Sites and Resources

By doing a little bit of research into your genealogy, you might discover family members you had no idea existed. Genealogy research can often point you in the right direction if you’re stuck elsewhere. Here’s a list of some of our favorite (and completely free) genealogy resources.

  • Access Genealogy - Includes old letters, Native American historical records, and military documents.
  • The Olive Tree - This is a private researcher’s collection of links and other resources that are incredibly useful and in-depth.
  • Family Tree Searcher - The Family Tree Searcher is yet another website that was created by a private researcher to educate and assist amateurs. The interactive quizzes that ensure your search is customized for your particular search are a tremendous help.
  • Genealogy Today - This website has an impressive searchable collection of traditional and unorthodox historical records.
  • Cyndi’s List - This site has 332,340 genealogy links that you can access.
  • RootsWeb - Part of the Ancestry.com family, RootsWeb is a massive, community maintained database of US genealogy records searchable by first and last name, created by thousands of genealogists.
  • US GenWeb Project - The U.S. Genealogy Researchers website was created by a collection of history and genealogy enthusiasts to share resources and educate the public about genealogy and ancestry research.

5. Hire a Private Investigator

Seriously - we do searches like this for a living. You can give an investigator all the information you have, and they can conduct the entire search for you. They’re extremely skilled at uncovering information and can do it quickly and efficiently. Private investigators also have access to information that you won’t be able to access as a civilian either - we’ve found people using everything from vehicle registration tags to good old fashioned charm and wit.

Worried about cost? We have an entire article outlining the cost breakdowns for hiring a private investigator and the general costs for common cases like finding a missing family member.

If you think you need some extra help with your search, let us know.




Danny Boice
Danny Boice

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