Very few people understand the stress and despair that can come from not knowing anything about a family member. Adopted children may need to find more about their birth parents. Estranged siblings may desperately try to find each other after many years. Whatever the case, there are resources available. While this is a long emotional process, it is also worthwhile. Start by creating a spreadsheet that includes: name, relationship, other people who are likely to know them, last place in which you saw them and any other information that you consider important. This will help you keep your records organized as you continue your search.
Use an Online Service
There are many websites in which you can search for someone. Most of these services will use technology to crawl the web, find relevant information, analyze it, and organize it in a report. Most of them offer a comprehensive report that includes personal information, data from social media accounts, and court records. Before you decide which site to use, visit UnMask. It will help you clarify your expectations and find the service that is better suited to your particular needs.
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System
It is a database used to locate and report missing persons. They can offer valuable help, such as providing posters for you to print, free DNA testing, access to coroner reports, and other identification resources.
Never underestimate the power of networks. You can use social media to find more information about someone, but you can also post about your search and ask people to share. Many people found missing loved ones through a viral post or tweet. Whenever possible, include a picture of your relative in your post, and keep the information short and clear as research shows that these types of posts are more likely to go viral. Remember to change your post’s privacy settings to public, so users outside of your network can share it too. Also, use all social media outlets: try Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn. You never know where your post may be picked up by someone that has further information.
You can run classified ads on newspapers detailing your search, and you may even contact your local news station and ask them to showcase your search through radio and television. You may also try to get on a national tv show, as they can reach a broader audience. Usually, all it takes to grab their attention is a well-written letter detailing your loss and your search.
Genealogy and DNA-based services
The most common of these services are Ancestry and 23&me. They have a database of users to which they compare and contrast your DNA samples and even offer a DNA tool to find and connect with people with who you share your DNA. These services are especially useful for adoptive children looking to find their birth relatives.
Several private investigators offer their services to help you locate missing family members. Before you hire a private investigator, check their credentials (they should have a state-approved license) and references and ask for a detailed timeline and a list of expected results. Not every private investigator is equipped to find lost family members, so look for agencies or services that specialize in this sector. Any professional private investigator will need to interview you in order to determine the legality of your search, as well as guide you through the process. Always ask for a budget before you sign a contractual commitment.
If you were separated from your family as a result of a natural disaster, social conflict, or migration, there are services that specialize in helping people like you. The Red Cross worldwide offers help in reconnecting families, and you only need to contact them through your local chapter. The Red Cross manages the Restoring Family Links website. Provide them with whatever information you have, and they will get back to you as soon as they have a lead.
Locating missing children is a very different endeavor, and it starts by immediately filing a missing person report with your local authorities. You can also contact NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). This is an agency that collaborates with many others in order to bring missing children home. To locate a teenager, also consider contacting the National Runaway Safeline.
In all cases with the exception of children, you will need to be patient. Sometimes people will claim to know something when they don’t, or information gets mixed up. Don’t give up.