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Finding People and Businesses

Tips for Finding Hard-to-Locate People and Businesses

How to find people and businesses is a common question at the library. Frequently, the patron needs to find someone so they can serve them with legal papers to start a lawsuit or family law case. Finding what you need might be as simple as using Google, but often those searches come up empty. Here are some resources and strategies to help you locate people and businesses, both in the Law Library and on the Internet. 


I.          Introduction

A.        Locating Individuals

B.        Locating Businesses

II.         Library Resources

A.        Self-Help and General Books

B.        Specialized Resources

III. Websites and Online Databases 


It is very important to keep careful records of every search you make, and the results of that search, when looking for a person or a business.  This is good advice for any type of research, but it is crucial if you are trying to find someone so you can serve them with legal papers.  If you cannot find a person, it may be possible to serve them by publication -- that is, by putting a notice in the newspaper for four weeks in a row.  To do this, you need a judge's permission, and to get that permission you will need to prove that you have made a thorough search for the person. Keep copies of your letters and responses, and keep a diary of your contacts.

A. Locating Individuals

Here are some steps you can take to search for individuals.

1. Contact relatives, friends, or neighbors who might know the person's whereabouts.

2. Contact the person's last known employer.

3.  Call telephone information (411). Try online phone books; one comprehensive service is (compiles data from many online phone listings).

4.  If you have a phone number but no other contact information, try a reverse telephone lookup at Yahoo's People Search ( (Cell phones and unlisted numbers will not come up.)

5.  Go to the last known home and work address of the person.

6.  Send a letter to the person at their last known addresses. Be sure to label the envelope "Return in 5 days if undeliverable." Send the letters registered and keep returns to show failure.

7.  Check the county tax assessor's records in counties where the person may own property (in Sacramento, the assessor's website is

8.  If you know their full name and approximate age, try to find their exact date of birth. This can help narrow a search.

9.   Search "people finder" sites on the Internet. Some suggested sites are listed below under "Free Websites and Databases."

10. Search for their profile on social media sites, like Facebook and MySpace, dating sites, or other sites that fit their interests, such as music or art sites. can help you search many of these sites at once.

11. Contact trade unions or professional associations to which the person may belong.  If they are a member of a licensed occupation, find the licensing agency and listings at

12. Contact the US Military for information about a service member's whereabouts at

13.  To locate an incarcerated person, visit the following websites:

14. If the person was ever on probation, contact the probation department in the city where that person was placed on probation.

15.  Use the sheriff or a process server to serve papers, as they can give you documentation of their inability to find the person.

16. Child support cases only: If you receive welfare benefits, contact the district attorney's office to seek help in locating the person.

17. Hire a private investigator. 

B. Locating Businesses 

Here are some steps you can take to locate businesses and their agents for service of process.  

1. Check free online directories. Some suggested sites are listed below under "Websites and Databases."

2. Call telephone information (411) for the area where the business is located.

3. If the business is a corporation (Inc. or Corp.), limited liability company (LLC), or limited partnership (LP), and does business in California, it should have a listing at the California Secretary of State's website: This listing will contain the entity's address of record and the name and address of its designated agent for service of process. Find other states' Secretary of State at

4. For any type of business, you may be able to get information on it from the city or county clerk where it is located. Ask about "FBN" (fictitious business name) or "DBA" (doing business as) listings, or business licenses. Sometimes this information is available on the city or county website.

5. If the business itself has a website, you may be able to find contact information for its headquarters, officers, or owners. You may find this under "contact us," "about us," "staff directory," or a site map.

6. If the business has a website, try using the "Whois" service to see who owns the website. Visit to search by typing in the website address (URL) for contact and address information. Some website owners shield their identity by registering through an intermediary such as Domains by Proxy ( If so, you might be able to get the contact information from the intermediary with a phone call or letter, but it may require a subpoena.

7. Search business directories, industry, or trade associations, and other business resources. The Sacramento Public Library offers free access to excellent "Business & Finance" databases at the library or from anywhere with your SPL library card ( ).

8. Publicly held companies (companies that sell stock) must file various disclosures with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). Annual Reports and other SEC filings can have a wealth of information, including contact information, reports of "significant" litigation, and more. You can search this information at the SEC's EDGAR site,

9. If the company holds patents, their contact information should be available in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's database,


A. Self-Help and General Books

How to Find Out Anything ZA 3075 .M33 (Self-Help)
This book includes information on the most recent technology, including Google and the "deep web" (online resources which, although open to the public, are not indexed by search engines). Chapter 7 focuses on finding people, while Chapter 8 focuses on finding businesses.  

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Private Investigating KF 2042.D48 B76 2007 (Self-Help)
Chapters 4-8 discuss "skip tracing," or finding people who have dropped out of sight, including the use of public records, courthouse records, and for-pay databases. Chapter 22, "The Diligent Search: Adoption and Estates," discusses requirements for service by publication, problems with the requirements, and possible approaches to fulfilling them. While the book is aimed at private investigators, non-PIs can also benefit. 

B. Specialized Books

The Lawyer's Guide to Fact Finding on the Internet   KF 242.A1 L48 2006 +CD
Chapter 7 deals with finding people, Chapter 8 with using public records, and Chapter 10 with finding information about businesses. Many useful websites (free, free-with-registration, and fee-based) are detailed and instructions on how to use them are provided. The book was printed in 2006, so it will not cover newer resources, but many of the resources it discusses are still helpful.

The Sourcebook to Public Record Information: The Comprehensive Guide to County, State, & Federal Public Records Sources JK 468.P76 S693 (Reference)
An encyclopedic, relatively recent (2009) listing of public record sources and how to access and use them. The first 69 pages discuss types of records that may be useful in researching businesses and individuals and what types of information they may yield; guidelines for using public records; and methods of accessing them.  


People Search Sites and Databases


For a modest fee, Spokeo provides a one-stop place to search 70+ social websites, including blogging, dating, music and video, location review sites like Yelp, and professional community sites. A unique feature is the ability to search by username or email address as well as name, phone number, and physical address.

Subscription (free with Sacramento Public Library card):

ReferenceUSA  (Click on "Business & Financial")
Contains information compiled from current residential phone directories. 


Pipl searches the "deep web," including blog entries, photos, publications, donations on public record, profiles on social and business networking sites, and other overlooked sources. Pipl supports searching by name, username, phone number, and email. 

Yahoo! Search - People Search  
Search by name, email, or phone number. Results may include social media websites and news.

Zabasearch is a free people search engine that scours freely accessible public information and records. More detailed information is available for a fee.

Telephone/E-mail Directories

These sites let you look up names, addresses phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Most are updated only as often as printed directories and most do not contain unlisted numbers. Some also include reverse directories. They often provide inconsistent results; try more than one. Here are a few to start with:

Reverse Phone
Exclusively a reverse directory.

This newer site aggregates many of the others, letting you search many databases at once. It requires payment, but you can request a free trial.

Public Records 

These resources gather links to free public records databases:

Social Sites

Any number of social networking sites can be useful in locating a missing person. Here are three that may be particularly helpful:

Adoption Search & Reunion  
Registry for birth parents and adoptees wishing to find each other, and forums for asking for help and advice. - Find High School Friends, Plan Reunions.  
Includes elementary schools and colleges, too. You must register to use the website, and some features, like viewing people's locations, reading bulletin board notes, and reviewing yearbooks, require a subscription.

Facebook is not a search engine, per se, but hundreds of millions of people are listed, many of them showing location information and other information that can help locate them. is another popular site to try.

Business Information

Subscription (free with Sacramento Public Library library card):

Business & Finance Research  (Click on "Business & Financial")
The Morningstar and "Reference USA" company listings can help you find profiles, including the names and contact information for officers, directors, and agents. 


Coordinated Legal Technologies
This site gathers web sites offering governmental data and other reference information. Particularly useful for locating companies are the California county online databases are available from the California Fictitious Business Names / Official Records page, pointing to online fictitious business name searches, official records (such as grantor/grantee indexes) and property information searches; the Secretaries of State page, a page designed to assist in finding online databases available by the Secretary of State or related Corporations Division of each of the fifty states for corporate status, corporations searches, business entity searches, name reservations, UCC, etc.; and the Professional Licensing Lookups page, which offers navigation links to occupational and professional licensing and regulation lookups at various states across the country.

Information on large companies, including top management, summary of business, and competitors. Basic information is free, but details require a subscription or purchase.

Smaller companies are listed here, along with top contacts, news, and reports (may require payment). This is a good resource for finding information on local businesses.
Pulls information from the Securities & Exchange Commission's EDGAR site ( and presents it in more easily analyzed form. Information on all publicly traded companies in the United States, including executives, contact information, and much more information.

This site offers information on businesses, including parent and subsidiary companies, revenue and number of employees, and a summary of the business. You can also find contact information for business people. Basic searching is free.

Online Guides

Cyndi's List - Finding People
Lists many resources for finding people online. Cyndi's List is primarily a genealogy site, but this page lists resources for finding living people.

Find People - How to Find People Online Quickly and Easily 
From free resources that can help you find people and businesses online by using search engines, phone directories, social networks, and sites developed specifically for finding people, such as

Sacramento Public Library's "Finding People" Bookmark Archive
The Sacramento Public Library has compiled even more websites to help you find people.

Links to hundreds of indexes, useful sites, and specialized search engines. Scroll partway down for "People Finding."


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