Question Internet Research vs. Looking For A Person

One of the services I'm planning to offer is something I'm really good at, which is internet research.

However, even I have not been successful when it comes to locating people from my own past - people without much of an internet presence.

Part of the reason for this is that I've not invested in any of the paid services out there for searching public records. Since it's not inconceivable that a client might ask me to locate a person, I'm wondering whether I should: (a) invest in some of those legitimate services (and if so, which ones?), or (b) Tell them that this is a task for a PI, and refer them to one?


New Member
That's a good questions, Karen!

In my opinion, unless you're offering yourself as researcher of genealogy, I don't believe it would be necessary to put out the time and expense for paid services. Most individuals that I've seen that offer these services are offering research on a particular subject not an individual.

If you do decide to subscribe to paid services, I personally use With a paid subscription, you also get free access to other sites for military records and The only downfall to this is that you are not likely to find any information on recent events as the last census released was for 1940! Either way, it is a very time consuming task to take on; perhaps better suited for a stand alone niche!

I would definitely offer internet research; however, if you decide not to offer research for individuals, simply let them know that it is out of the scope of your services and refer them to one of the sites I mentioned above.

Hope that helps!


My mum spent most of her life researching our family genealogy. Before she died, she had enough information that she was able to write and sell an 800 page book on it. She hit a wall in the 1500's, though. Apparently during WW2, the area of our family that lived in Germany at one time had almost all the family files in a church. Hitler being Hitler, he burned down the church. As a result, all the documents from before 1524 for that side of the family were completely lost.

My family has two coats of arms, so at some time in the past, we must have done something for the nobility in Germany but my mum was never able to find out what. Most of my family history is German. So much so that, after my family moved to Canada and during World War 2, they were so horrified by what was going on from Hitler, that they threw a everything they had brought with them from Germany (including all family documents, guns, and even the family bible) into the nearby lake. is great if you are searching for family histories and the like. If you are doing genealogy, it is NOT an easy thing to find because isn't going to have all the information.

Ok, so from my mum's experience doing the research, I can make a few suggestions. Contact the governments of the countries for the people you are looking for. Sometimes they will let you have the information if you can prove the relationship to them and sometimes they won't. Sometimes there will be a fee and sometimes there won't. I'm sorry but I don't know the section of the government to talk to. Usually, provided it isn't currently a communist country, they will allow you to have the information because it impacts nothing. Ask for birth records, death records, marriage records, etc.

Also, and this may sound like a bit of a strange thing, but the Mormons are veracious record keepers, even of those that don't belong to their religion. They have centuries and centuries of information on file somewhere. My mum used to get microfiche's from them all the time but I imagine they have computerized it by now. I have never seen them have a problem with sharing that information with anyone, you just have to ask.

Other churches can be great resources as well with some being more accurate than others.

Try to see if libraries and other historical societies have very old newspapers. Sometimes you can find portions of them. Usually they will have been moved to a digital format nowadays, though it was all microfiche when I was a kid.

Much of this, you will be able to rent for a while then be expected to send it back.

You will likely come across some family members along the way and they may be delighted to hear from you. If so, they may give you crumbs of information that you can follow to find out even more information. Sometimes you will find phone numbers and email addresses or web pages of family that can provide you more information.

If this is something you are looking to do, it can take YEARS of investigation. Professional genealogists usually charge quite a bit because it really does take so much work. It can be very grueling work but it is worth it if you really are interested in the history.

For example, I know my family landed in Pennsylvania in the late 1600's (not long after the Mayflower, etc. They are mostly from Germany though there is also some Irish and Scottish mixed in. My original family name is Torgunspun but no one could say it properly when they moved here so they changed their name to Wannamaker with various different spellings. One of my family is an actor who has been in several movies though he is not "famous" as we could consider it. He's a small time actor. Unfortunately I don't know the given names of any of these people because I don't remember them. I also know that during the war between the North and South it was literally was brother against brother, though not in the way you think. There was a portion of the family that insisted they had to stay and fight for the north and a portion of the family that didn't want to get involved (they were Quakers, since that time they have adopted other religions with some Catholic, some belonging to various Protestant religions, and some not belonging to any at all). The family that didn't want to get involved move north to Toronto and over the next 150 years moved slowly west toward Alberta Canada falling out of contact with the Pennsylvania family. My family has, almost always, been farmers, though most of the current family are not. My grandmother does own a farm in Saskatchewan that is part farm, part oil rig (she really doesn't get much money from either. I think she's getting robbed but its up to her). There is more but that's basically what I remember. It's hard to summarize hundreds of years of information.

I hope I have helped you a bit.
Thank you to both of you. Though, I was talking about living people. In my particular case, there have been 4 people from my past I'd lost track of, and not one of them has a "findable" online presence, even using everything I know about them. One of them decided to erase herself from the web and she did a darn good job of it. I only found one reference with her name but luckily, that was enough to find her (we were both glad I did).

So it's not inconceivable that a prospective client might want me to do that, too. I know there are lots of places to find public records, but it seems like all of them want some cash for access. So that's what I was asking about.

It has occurred to me that helping people find other people might be a liability exposure? In a "And now, for our breaking news!" kind of way. No one wants to see that happen. But I may just be paranoid. Or a contract might fix that exposure. Or, like you suggested, I could Just Say No. But in that instance, I'd like to have a PI to refer them to.



If they are older and on't have much contact with the internet, its often hard to find information.

I had added some cousins on my dad's side to my facebook page and didn't think much of it. Then was suddenly contacted by a VERY VERY old friend from when I was in grade 1. I honestly barely remember her but I started following links and couldn't believe what I found. Suddenly I was finding the web pages of people that I had gone to grammar school, junior and senior high with. I contacted a bunch of them and they are now facebook friends. I did disconnect from one of them after because it turned out she was a druggie and constantly posted about nothing but marijuana and other drugs she was doing. It very much disappointed me because she was my best friend for two years when we were little. Others I am definitely glad that I found.

I suggest looking for names of people that knew those you are looking for and seeing if that drops any crumbs for you. At the least you can ask them if those you knew are still alive and if they know of a way you can get in touch with them. Just because you aren't finding their names on the net doesn't mean they aren't there.