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Free Public Records Searches: An Overview of What is Free on the Internet

February 18th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Since its inception, the Internet has been billed as something of a mega-library, giving searchers access to more information at their fingertips than anything in human history.

Of course, this claim is true. There’s just one problem: the methods, techniques and tools we collectively use to search for information has not caught up with the sheer overwhelming volume of information available to us. In other words: often, we know that what we seek is out there somewhere, but we just do not always know how to find it. It is like finding a needle in a haystack.

The world of online public records access is no exception. It is true that if you are looking for free public records searches on the Internet, the information you need is out available somewhere. But, how do you know which are the best free sites?

Here, categorized by type of information sought, are some of the best sites I have found when you want to conduct free public records searches online:

1. Personal searches: people and contact information

Looking for that high school classmate, a past neighbor, an old flame or an ex-business associate? You need a people finder, and there are plenty to choose from. Try these free sites: ZabaSearch.com and Yahoo! People Search (people.yahoo.com).

2. Vital records: birth, death, marriage, divorce info

“Vital” comes from the Latin word for “life,” so of course vital records are any records related to the big events of our lives, such as births, marriages, and deaths. Visit VitalRec.com to obtain records such as birth certificates, death records, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, naturalization, adoption and land records.

3. Licensed professionals

Need to find a good doctor or lawyer in your area or who are working in a certain area of practice? For lawyers, check out the online directory FindLaw.com. (Caution: note that while the service is free, the lawyers pay for position on the site, so do not expect the highest-ranking lawyers to necessarily be the best choice). To find a doctor in your area or one working in a certain specialty, see AMA Doctor Finder (ama-assn.org/aps/amahg.htm).

4. Criminal records

Looking to find out where someone you know is doing hard time or behind bars in a minimum security prison? Check out the Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator (bop.gov/iloc2/LocateInmate.jsp). Search by name, age, race and sex and find out the prison name or release date.

5. Background checks

If you are considering hiring a new employee but need to run a background check, I recommend ZabaSearch.com. Note that while regular “people searches” on this site are free, background checks fall under their premium service and do involve a fee.

6. Military personnel records

National Personnel Records Center (archives.gov) is one of the National Archives and Records Administration’s largest sites. They claim to be “a central repository of personnel-related records, both military and civil service. [Their] mission is to provide world class service to government agencies, military veterans, former civilian Federal employees, family members, as well as researchers and historians.” This free site is worth checking out.

7. Copyright, patents and trademarks information

Got that creative itch, or looking to find out which existing writings, products, processes, idea and logos are already spoken for? The U.S. Copyright Office runs an amazing site at copyright.gov that gives you access to free copyright information. Meanwhile, the United States Patent and Trademark Office runs a very easy-to-use, free site (uspto.gov) that allows you to conduct comprehensive patent and trademark searches.

8. Phone directory

If you are trying to find the phone number of someone special or looking for the number of an old acquaintance or colleague, check out AnyWho (anywho.com) and Infobel (infobel.com/teldir/), both fre online phone directory services.

Susan Willis

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