View Full Version : Searching for People...

11-26-2008, 07:47 AM
Hello again, guys!

Nowadays, looking for people is just as easy as googling their name. But what I'd like to know is how it was done during the late 1940s or early 1950s.

I need to have CHARACTER#1 try to locate CHARACTER#2. They know each other of course, but are separated for a number of years. #1 only has the following information of #2:

1. Name

2. Age

3. Date of Birth (optional only, as I want the search to be quite difficult)

4. Physical Identification (I'm pertaining to a scar, though I dunno if this will even be listed)

5. Names of #2's direct family

Now the questions. Take note this is between 1940s-1950s.

A. What method should #1 use to locate #2? City Hall records?

B. Will #1 even be allowed to view these records** (eg are the records public or not)? **If not I'm thinking along the lines of BRIBERY

C. If allowed to view records, what information do such records usually contain?

D. If city records are not an option, what other methods can #1 have in searching? (other than phonebook, I've already thought of this though this is definitely more difficult what with #2's name quite common).

Thanks for reading guys and hope to get some replies. Good luck to everyone in their endeavors as well ;)

Smiling Ted
11-26-2008, 07:58 AM
Not all records are kept in one place.
Tax records would be kept in different places, depending on whether they were local, state or federal.
Court records would be in a different place.
Land deeds would be in a different place.
And so on, and so on, and so on...

And all of this assumes that the two characters are still in the same town. If they've moved away, and there's no record in their former hometown of where they went, that's where the trail ends.

11-26-2008, 07:59 AM
#1 also knows whether or not #2 is likely draftable or of age/interest to sign up... and would check military records, starting w/ Army, then Navy.

You don't say #1 knows #2's city now, but it seems likely not. Ages are imp. So is the "number of years" bit. If it's been thirty years, thus they last saw each other in 1920... well, were they six or sixteen or twenty-six then? Was their connection school or work or neighborhood? Exploit whatever the connection was. Thus the search might entail interviewing and canvassing in th old neighborhod or checking the old church records or the garage where they worked. Without more specific info on the connection, pertinent ages, time lapse and geographical terms (did both move away from the old neighborhood in Georgia, one to New England, the other to CA?--go to Georgia first, get some scrap from someone) I can't offer more help. But I'll bet you've got something to go on.

11-26-2008, 08:03 AM
The way you would do it is the same as today: You'd look up the phone number or address of either your target or that person's family and star calling or go/send mail to the address. It's just a matter of getting the address from family or looking in the phone directory (it's only recently been called a "phone book" in general usage). You could even ask the post office for help (keep in mind that you wouldn't be dealing with the rigamorole that you would today). If the person had a reputation it would be even easier (the scar implies people have heard of him). If he has a police record, odds are the cops would be more than willing to help (as would his attorney).

With all of the information you have, there really isn't an issue finding the target or even getting a message to him.


11-26-2008, 08:05 AM
The industry term for such an investigation is "skip tracing". It's frequently done by those in the asset recovery business (i.e., repo men) and and private investigators. You might have some luck in googling a history of skip tracing.

11-26-2008, 08:07 AM
Ey, thanks. Perhaps I should've been more elaborate on the details. LOL!

#1 is a foreigner. #1 met #2 during the war, but #2 is not of the military.

Do you think it would be better if #1 searched through birth records? Or death records? I'm thinking some records didn't even survive the war, so he'd probably get better chance searching through the phonebook, though unfortunately , chances of getting the hit are still slim.

Thank God for Google, haha.

How about the statistics office? Did that even exist at the time? Then again, as far as I've learned, they only have the names, place and date of birth and parents. No addresses.

Good luck to #1, but any suggestion will help as well. Thanks

11-26-2008, 09:24 AM
#1 is a foreigner. #1 met #2 during the war, but #2 is not of the military.

Do you think it would be better if #1 searched through birth records? Or death records? I'm thinking some records didn't even survive the war, so he'd probably get better chance searching through the phonebook, though unfortunately , chances of getting the hit are still slim.

Wait, what country are you talking about? That's going to make an absolutely HUGE difference. Both in terms of where to look for records and of how complete the records are.

11-26-2008, 03:12 PM
I'm making some assumption here because I know a little about your story - I'm assuming #1 is an American GI and #2 is a Philippine girl. Start with the city where they met and then go down to location. Phone book would be the first look. Not there - go to neighborhood and ask oldsters if they know what happened to family. Go to church and check with priests and in parish records. Still no luck. Go back to phone book and look at everyone with the same last name - maybe map the locations of the addresses on the city map trying to narrow down who might be a relative. Still no luck - go to city hall (or whatever recording agency) and find out when the house that had been occupied was sold and whether there were any circumstances of the sale (sold by the children not the father).

I don't know if the Philippines have taxes for everyone - but if they do that would be the next step - find out from the government where the father or brothers in the family are now located from tax records. And that ought to be about the end of the search. Hope that helps a bit. Puma

11-26-2008, 03:20 PM
Thanks much for the replies guys!

Thanks much especially to Puma! That's actually a very good suggestion *slaps head in a why-didn't-I-think-about-that manner*.

The phone book is perhaps the best source. Lucky the girl's name is so common as to give the guy a harder time :P As for tax records, the tough part is this is after the war so things are kinda disorganized for the moment. I'll try to work this to my advantage. Thanks :)

Linda Adams
11-26-2008, 03:40 PM
Try hitting the geneology section of your library. Lots of information on researching records. Other records include land records, court records, newspapers (e.g., engagement announcements, marriage articles, deaths, etc.). I have an uncle who belonged to a local Elk lodge, and there might even be records on that. There are a couple of very good books that cover the topic on records.

Most of this was fairly easy to get until recently, because the rules changes. I've had to request my birth certificate over the years, and I still remember when I just filled out a form, signed it saying yes, I was me, and they sent it. Now it requires a notarized affadavit.

By the way, if you need a complication, it's entirely possible that the person may not have a birth certificate or that maybe the information isn't correct. I have a family member who lost theirs in a fire at city hall; other didn't like the year she was born in, so she changed it and it became truth to her--until she requested it for a passport and discovered she was a year old than she thought!

11-26-2008, 05:07 PM
Another important source of information is the city directory. Companies would produce incredibly detailed directories of major cities. By using the criss-cross section, you'd discover who the neighbors were.

A lot of this is leg work. Once you find the house (which if the person is a landowner is relatively easy), you go out and start talking to neighbors. The busy-body older woman in the neighborhood can be an incredible source. Any hints are followed up, assuming you have the budget. Place of employment, education, bar that person hung out in, organizations, anything. As well as direct leads, you're looking for how to find the family.

Transients are much more difficult to track and a lot depends upon economic status. Here the poorer you are, the more likely you are to have success. Hopefully the person came into contact with such agencies as the Salvation Army, YMCA, churches, et cetera.

Bottom line is locating people is difficult. If they wanted to disappear, it's fairly easy to do. Even if you don't want to disappear, unless you talked with your neighbors a lot, leads are likely to be few and far between.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Ol' Fashioned Girl
11-26-2008, 05:29 PM
If by 'statistics' you mean 'census' records, you wouldn't be allowed access to current ones. IIRC, there's a couple decades wait before you can see them - as in today, we can look at the census records from 20 years ago.

Your character might also talk to businesses - small town? - where #2 might have worked, or where her family might have worked.

Mr Flibble
11-26-2008, 05:53 PM
Depending where you are, the Red Cross ( and I think the Salvation Army) also help find people - particularly those who were lost during wars / conflict / disaster - I know someone who used them to find his Dad.

11-26-2008, 09:07 PM
Jim is on the right track.
First thing we need to know - Is #2 hiding? or did he/she just move on?
Secondly did #2 leave town?

Start your search with a trip to the post office, - did #2 leave a forwarding address?
Next, do a neighborhood canvas - there's alway one busybody.
Go to former employer - Where did #2 ask him to forward last paycheck.
Go to relatives - was #2 in touch with any of them?
Talk to friends, did #2 say where he/she planned to go?
If you track down the new city, call directory assistance and ask for the number and address.
If you think #2 bought a house, go to county clerk in new county, and look up deed registrations under #2's name (back then probably not filed by name though).

Computerized records that are available to the public is a VERY new tool. They weren't available in very many places 5 years ago, and were unheard of 15 years ago.

11-27-2008, 03:49 AM
thanks much again, guys! I think you've answered all my questions. Thanks for helping me break through another writer's block, hehe.

Now, the final question.

Where can #1 find a list of the deceased? Death certificates and what not? Any public documents on this one fifty, sixty years ago?

11-27-2008, 03:54 AM
They might hire a gum shoe, and walk into his office with a fedora aslant. He might say, "What's your story, kitten?" and slide the bottle of whiskey back into the drawer.

11-27-2008, 11:05 AM
SSN death index

Linda Adams
11-27-2008, 04:35 PM
SSN death index

I believe the SSN Death index wasn't available before they had computers. During the timeframe of the story, it's also possible that people of that era might not have gotten a SSN, depending on the age of the individual.

Where can #1 find a list of the deceased? Death certificates and what not? Any public documents on this one fifty, sixty years ago?

Probably no lists readily available for the time frame you indicated (mcuh earlier, maybe). All the states started issuing birth and death certificates sometime around the 1900's--each state is a little different, but most were within ten years of each other. Before that, like in the 1800s, some counties kept lists, but not all of them did.

However, other places to look would be:

Newspaper obituaries and death notices
Funeral home records
Cemetary records/grave stones
Church records
WillsThis book deals with Courthouse Research (http://www.amazon.com/Courthouse-Research-Family-Historians-Genealogical/dp/0929626168/ref=pd_bbs_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1227788904&sr=8-7), which may give you some useful ideas for types of records available. This one is on Cemetary Research (http://www.amazon.com/Cemetery-Research-Sharon-Debartolo-Carmack/dp/1558705899/ref=pd_bbs_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1227788904&sr=8-8). I should note that if the person who died had other relatives in the area, it's very likely that they're all buried at the same cemetary. So if your character couldn't find the record, they might run across a name of a relative, head for the cemetary on a hunch, and maybe find the person they're looking for.

11-27-2008, 04:38 PM
If #1 knows the city where #2 died, City Hall will have the death certificate on file. City clerk's office.

I suppose #1 could write to Social Security. I don't know if They'd release the info, unless #1 were a relative, and it would probably take a lifetime to get them to rspond.

11-27-2008, 05:47 PM
Places you can look would be vital statistics for the death certificate, newspapers for obits, funeral homes (they usually know who they buried), and graveyards (usually have a list of residents and some of the best records). Also would want to check "John Doe" burials. The people responsible for John Does can be very helpful, as they like to give people a name.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

11-27-2008, 05:52 PM
In the time period and location, church records are likely to be the best source. Government records are possibly the second best source. Puma