Judging by the standing room only crowd gathered to hear Howard Trivers, Sr. Reference Librarian at Baker & Daniels, an Indianapolis based law firm, speak on “Information Professional: The New Private Investigator”, there are many people who want to find information about people. Trivers is known as the “dirt meister” in his firm and has become a recognized expert in investigative information retrieval. He feels strongly that information professionals are ideally suited for this activity because they know the alternative sources and have the necessary skills to find and analyze the information.
There is a definite art to locating information about people. It is important to use alternative sources and find out exactly what requesters are looking for. Success comes as one becomes familiar with the public information resources for a community and state and is aware of current trends (such as the trend towards cell-phone only households).
An increasing amount of information is available on the Web, but different jurisdictions provide different coverage. Some information is free, but you often get what you pay for: good information must be paid for. Although Lexis and Westlaw are very large databases, Trivers uses many alternative ones as well. And it’s very important to be acutely aware that such databases have many errors in them, so expectations must be realistic.
Besides Lexis and Westlaw, today’s players include Accurint, ChoicePoint, Loislaw, Intelius, Merlin, Locateplus, and many more (which you can find by Googling “people finder”). For historical information, Trivers recommended Polk’s City Directory, old telephone books, directory assistance services, and the old-fashioned techniques of calling friends, neighbors, and acquaintances about the person about whom information is being sought. Some systems have batch facilities, allowing searches on large numbers of people to be submitted at once.
An increasing number of public records are now available on the web, and some of them are free. It is important to think local (Trivers repeated this several times during his talk) and uses the free services. Two excellent public records portals are Searchsystems.net and BRB Publications Company. For criminal records, Westlaw and Lexis are the best sources.
Trivers’ recommendations include:
- Don’t forget news sources; access local newspapers using their websites.
- Use Google Maps at the street level to look at the type of buildings where people live.
- Use several search engines.
- Search genealogy records to find relatives of people no longer living.
- Don’t pay commercial databases for death records; use the Social Security Death Index instead.
- Social networking sites may be useful, particularly in the future as they grow in popularity. Many people post information there carelessly, not considering how it can be used to trace them.
- Use the phone!
- Get out of the office!
Columnist, Information Today