John Cady

John Cady's Guide to Finding Classmates
2002; edited for broken links 2006 by JIN

There are four points of attack that all need to be pursued if you want to give everyone a chance to attend your reunion. 

First is finding people the old fashion way - asking everybody you find for information they may have about others who are still missing.   Communicate with them personally and promptly when they are found and enlist their help.  If they offer any information, respond with questions, contact information for their friends, choices from a web directory (which of these is the right Joanne in Toledo?) or whatever.   Fast positive reinforcement.  Make them feel instantly part of a team that's action oriented.  Keep score.  Keep your website's missing list absolutely up to date with the percentage found prominently displayed.  Let everyone follow the team's success.

Second is using free websites to hunt people down.  You can make a lot of progress this way particularly with finding men.  The balance of this page is about how to conduct these searches and use the Web to leverage every clue to people's whereabouts that you can obtain. 

The third point of attack is publicity.  Put ads and meeting announcements in newspapers, signs in front of the school, public service announcements (PSAs) on local radio shows and posters around town with a list of the missing.  These will all help achieve the goal of finding everyone.

The fourth point of attack is to tap deeply into the informal social/information networks of the community, the schmooze centers.   Do this by enlisting the help of beauty salons, social clubs, firehouses, butcher shops, insurance agents and small grocery stores.  These establishments have a unique communications role in in the community, especially beauty salons and social clubs.   They are rich repositories of the local lore of yore, with clientele and members that have a moment to sit and peruse a list of the missing.  These establishments may be the only way to make a real dent in the final 15 to 30% of the class that will be missing without their help.  Make a special appeal to them.

Guide to Finding Classmates Using Free Websites

Powerful, free Internet sites make finding lost friends simple, fun and rewarding.  (This page assumes you have checked out already.)  Help make your reunion a BIG success by finding your friends.  Check the list of the missing on your reunion web site and use this guide to play detective.   Give your friends the opportunity to join the fun.  Besides, you'll learn how to use some very cool sites. 

People-FindersThis free public records database is great for finding the town of classmates and a good place to start your search.   For many names they give an age and you can search just for records that have ages by including a year of birth in the search.   If you know an actual birthdate, this is the place to use it.   Use the city you find here in a directory like Switchboard to get a street address and phone number.  The service knocks you off the site if you use it too intensively, sometimes after only a couple searches.  Come back the next day, switch browsers or try a similar site - US Search

SwitchboardSwitchboard is a free national phone directory.  It's key advantage is that it doesn't require you to provide a city or state (or even a first name) for the person for whom you are looking.   Last name is the only thing required.  As people sometimes only list themselves with a first initial or nickname you may want to try that.   You can enter just a last name and a state to find all the folks with the same last name in a particular state.   Directories don't all have the same information, so you may want to try more than one.  Anywho , WhitePages and Infospace  are also worth trying.  See how to play Beat the Directory! below.

Public Records - Lots of occupations and activities are licenced and require people to reveal address information about themselves in records that are open to the public.  Occupations that involve dealing with other people's bodies and money are a good bet here, plus pilots, boat registrations and inmates. Federal, state and local governments are putting more and more of this stuff online.  Also try assessor's offices for property records if you know the town or county but the person you're looking for seems to have an unlisted phone.  In Google type in   assessor  property  records  (and the name of the town or county). 

GoogleGoogle is the most powerful, smartest search engine.   It will retrieve only sites that have all of your search terms.   Put phases in quotes, i.e. “jane doe” .  You can combine phrases and single words, i.e.  “jane doe” citicorp london    will retrieve only sites that contain all three terms.  "jane doe" won't find "jane c. doe" so try both ways.

In the results list, your search terms will appear “in context”, with the words that are next to them on the Web page, so you can get an idea of their relevance to what you are looking for without clicking through to the page.  If the page you select has disappeared from the Web, you can try clicking on the word cached  in the Google results to retrieve the page as it was indexed by Google. 

You can limit the results to certain “domains”  such as .edu    If you know the college or university your friend attended or organization they work for you can search just a particular site or type of site such as just educational institutions (.edu).   To do this include as a search term    or   or   or   or whatever.   (There is no space between site: and whatever comes next - don't forget the dot before edu or com or org.)    Sometimes college class notes are on the web and you can find clues as to how to locate people in them.  Don't forget to try nicknames.

ThinkDirectMarketing  - This site is worth a shot because the data comes from a different source than phone directories and public records.  It's based on junk mail address databases.  Even those hunkering down get junk mail.

2006:  ThinkDirectMarketing no longer offers free searches of its direct-mail-advertising lists, but here is a similar service from Directory Assistance Plus / infoUSA that also takes wildcard searches (asterisk place holders).

Let's Play Beat the Directory!! 

So you tried a few telephone directories to find a friend and came up empty.  Is the person unlisted?  Maybe not.  Maybe….

  • The listing has an unexpected spelling.  Surnames such as De Angelo might be listed as De Angelo or Deangelo or D'Angelo. 

  • The listing is under the person's nickname or initial(s) or first initial, middle name, last name.  Andrew H. Bowman started listing himself as A. Hunter Bowman after an unfortunate misunderstanding. 

  • The name has changed slightly.  Andrew became Drew.  Kelly decided she was a brand and changed her name to Kelli.  Donna moved to Boston and didn't like the way they pronounced her name (Dawna) so she changed it to Dana (besides, it was really Donna Maria which she hated).

  • The listing is under the spouse's name.   Sometimes the listing is under the wife's first name or maiden name, or they use both - Hendersen, Alice and Ted. 

  • The listing is purposefully confusing or misleading.  Some people hunker down and create unusual or misleading listings to avoid being found by Feds, hit men or disgruntled employees. They may use their middle name only. William James Robert may have moved to Texas and become Billy Joe Jim Bob.

  • More Tricks
    • Use yearbooks from adjacent classes to find brothers, sisters and cousins.  Maybe they are still living locally  and listed in the Internet directories like Switchboard.  Use to find siblings and cousins.
    • See who is living at their last address.  Use WhitePages by filing in the address and getting the current phone number for that address.  Maybe they know the whereabouts of the parents or other family members. 
    • Buy access to public records: or (No endorsements implied.)
    • Maybe they are no longer living.  The Social Security Death Index gives date of birth and death and location at time of death.  Check obituaries for the individual.   A parent's obituary in the local paper will tell you where their kids live.
    • Is there a detective or librarian in your class?  Get them on the search committee.  They love this stuff.
    • There could be two lists of the missing on your web site.  One with names listed alphabetically and the other with the same names ranked by how unusual the last name is using census data.  Even if you don't post such a list, concentrate your search efforts on those easiest to find (the more unusual last names).  As more people are found they hopefully will contribute addresses, phone numbers and emails for some of the harder to find folks with more common last names.  This way, given the same amount of effort you will find more people.
    • Check local bars and see if they've seen your friend.  ;-)

    Last revision 11/2/2002  Copyrighted 2001 - 2002.   John Cady