Before you start, you must have enough information to identify a person before you can do a comprehensive search for them, or for information on them. You should have their full name (first, middle, last), correctly spelled, and date of birth. Library staff cannot conduct searches for you, but can help you find the resources listed here.
This library's web page lists resources to help you search for people OTHER THAN a birth child or birth parent. For help with an adoption search, use the library's web site called Adoption Search Resources.
All these books will help you find people using public records, computer databases, and other methods. The strengths of each book are listed. To find them, check the catalog at your local branch, or ask at the reference desk. Some of these books are kept in the reference area.
How to Locate Anyone Anywhere Without Leaving Home, by Ted Gunderson. Call Number: 362.8 GUNDERS. An easy read on all the kinds of public records available, as well as other sources such as credit records and computer databases, and finding people who don’t want to be found.
How to Locate Anyone Who is or Has Been in the Military: Armed Forces Locator Guide, by Richard Johnson. Call Number: 355.0025 JOHNSON.
Locating Lost Family Members and Friends: Modern Genealogical Research Techniques for Locating the People of Your Past and Present, by Kathleen Kinckley, 1999. Call Number: 929.1072 HINCKLE.
When in Doubt, Check Him Out: a Woman's Survival Guide, by Joseph Culligan, 2001. Call Number: 363.258 CULLIGA.
Public records are records of incidents or actions filed with a government agency for the purpose of notifying others and are open to public inspection.
Public Records In the Library:
What records are deemed public varies from state to state and county to county. These records may be available by mail, fax, personal visit (sometimes the only option), or via a computer database (usually for a fee). These directories will help you locate and access the records you need.
The Librarian's Guide to Public Records. In the Genealogy Area at the Downtown Library. Call Number: R GEN 026.35 LIBRARI. Excellent introduction to public records. Lists access (e.g. by mail, phone) and costs of records from each state for 23 categories, including bankruptcy, credit, criminal, employment, litigation, and social security number.
The Sourcebook to Public Record Information. In Reference at the Downtown Library. Call Number: R 929.373 SOURCEB. Covers county asset/lien records, county court records (County courts handle felonies, civil actions, probate,misdemeanors, evictions and small claims. Lists access (e.g. by mail, phone),and what information is required (e.g. name, birth date), state records and federal court records (e.g. criminal, bankruptcy).
Public Records Online: The National Guide to Private and Government Online Sources of Public Records. In Reference. Call Number: R 350.174 PUBLIC.
Public Records on the Internet:
While many useful resources are available on the Internet, many are not. Public records are highly used in the search for missing people, but it is estimated that as of 2004, 65% of public records are not accessible in a computer format (not always the Internet) and often require a fee. Of the 35% available online, many do not contain personal identifiable information.
Search Systems Page of Searchable Public Records Databases. This Internet site links to many free public records databases on the Internet. It claims to be the "largest free public records database collection." Search by keyword or browse by state, Canadian provinces, or country. You can track things like farm subsidy recipients, child support payments, corporate records, automobile lemon records, campaign contributions, physician discipline records, etc.
Justia: People Finder Guide. This web page offers an annotated guide to web resources. Some charge a fee.
To find a date of death in Washington State you can check the Death Index at Social Security Death Index provided by Family Search or the online Washington State Death Records which covers deaths in Washington State from 1907-1960.
To search the Federal Bureau of Prisons , a complete first and last name is required.
Free Public Records Sites from BRB Publications. This page contains links to over 300 state, county, and city offices that have made their public records available at no charge on the Web. Among the types of offices and public sources listed on this page are: corporations, UCC, trademark, vital records, business names registry, workers compensation, criminal cases, court dockets, property assessment, land records, tax assessors, fictitious business names, probate, registry of deeds, unclaimed property, and more. Note: the public records search box at the top of the page is a paid advertisement.
Public Records Online. Portal to web sites for property records online. "Public records information that you may find includes copies of deeds, parcel maps, GIS maps, tax data, ownership information and indexes, and will vary to the extent that the particular office has developed their site."
Public Record Sources. "Find the right vendor for your public records needs." A guide to free public records sites, local documents retrievers you can hire, databases and vendors, screening firms, trade associations, and private investigators; all from BRB, a publisher that specializes in this field. Note: the public records search box at the top of the page is a paid advertisement.
State Government & Legal Resources. This site offers a listing of state's government and legal resource. Some states include criminal background checks.
Washington State Courts offers the ability to search for someone under their name.
If you're looking for someone who was in the military, was a Japanese-American intern, or immigrated to the US due to the Irish Potato Famine, use the NARA's Archival Databases system.
For information about public records on the internet, see the Public Records section of this web site. Here are some other useful sites.
Washington Association of Legal Investigators allows you to search for investigators in the state and specify for which type of investigation you are inquiring.
NamUS. The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a clearinghouse for missing persons and unidentified decedent records. NamUs is a free online system that can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials and the general public to solve these case.
Telephone Directories on the Web. This Internet site links to telephone directories for the US and other countries. (It also includes links to business directories and e-mail addresses.) These directories are only as reliable as the telephone books they come from, and the latest version of a phone book may not be in the database.
Yahoo’s Missing Persons Section. This site links to some useful Internet pages including posting services, where you can post information on a person you’re looking for, and search other people’s postings.
Classmates.com is a good place to look for former classmates.
Search this site for burial locations of veterans in military cemeteries.
Doe Network is an organization for unidentified and missing persons covering the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and Mexico.
These resources may help if you’re looking for someone who was alive before the 1920’s, or for someone who has lived in the Spokane area. Many of these sources are in the Genealogy Area on the Third Floor of the Downtown Library. You may ask questions at the Third Floor Reference Desk, but staff aren’t trained genealogists. You may have to come to talk to an volunteer from the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society. Volunteers are on duty every Tuesday 10 AM - 12 PM and 1 - 4 PM and every first and fourth Thursday from 3 - 6 PM and every first Saturday 10 AM - 12 PM.
Crisscross Directories and Telephone Books
The Genealogy Area of the Downtown Library has a collection of Polk crisscross directories for Spokane dating back to the 1890's. Polk directories list residents by name, street address and telephone number, and sometimes give occupation or employer. You can trace a person through the years to see when they were listed in the directories, their address, and sometimes where they worked. Also, the Northwest Room has a collection of old Spokane telephone books dating back to the turn of the century. Lastly, there is a selection of crisscross directories from so me California and Idaho cities on microfiche in the Genealogy Area. Dates range from 1900-1980's.
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
The Downtown Library has back issues of the Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper from 1887 to the present on microfilm. If you have the date of a wedding, birth, death, accident or other newsworthy event, check for an article, legal notice or announcement around that date. There are subject indexes to the Spokesman-Review covering1887-1920, and 1988 - present. However, several of these indexes do not include personal names.
Death Indexes and Obituaries
A death index may tell you if someone is dead, when and where they died, their age, and sometimes other information. They are on microfilm and microfiche in the Genealogy Area.
Spokane County: 1889-1907 (also Spokane county births1892-1907)
Washington State: 1907-1997
Once you have a death date for a person, you may want to look for an obituary. An obituary may tell you if the person you are looking for has died, or may list that person as a surviving family member, or give you the names of relatives. The Patchen Obituary File is an index of obituaries and death notices that were printed in the Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper through the years. From 1980 to 1995 they were put in book form. These resources are available in the Genealogy Area of the Downtown Library.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the public to obtain the records of federal agencies (with some confidentiality restrictions). You can find out about an agency’s actions and get information it has collected on any subject. People often use the FOIA to request records that the government has about themselves or their next of kin.
Your Right to Federal Records: Questions and Answers on the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act, by US Department of Justice, Federal Citizen Information Center, 2011. Call Number: 323.445 YOUR. Also available on the Internet.
A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy First Report, by the U.S. Congress House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 2003.
These Internet sites may also be useful:
Freedom of Information Act page. Read the Act and read about how to request information using the FOIA. View frequently requested information in the Electronic Reading Room.
State FOI Resources Provides links to the FOI Internet sites for every state. It also includes sample FOIA request and appeal letters.
Automated FOI Letter Generator, created by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press. For use with requests to the Department of Justice only.
Salvation Army Missing Persons Service. This web page tells you what you need to do and who to contact. Check website for current fees.
Washington State Missing Persons Information Center. The Missing & Unidentified Persons Unit (MUPU) assists law enforcement agencies and parents in locating missing persons.
California Missing Persons Home Page. Includes searchable records of some missing people in California (a very small selection from the thousands reported), statistical reports on missing children and adults in California from 1995-2001, contact information for reporting missing people or information about them, and a quarterly newsletter with photographs, descriptions, and possible reasons why the newly listed people are missing. From the California Department of Justice.