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Tracing People / Public Records / Criminal Background Searches

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This page provides information about how to search for missing persons and how to access public records.

  1. Understand criminal background searches
  2. Locate an active duty serviceman or woman
  3. Locate a missing or abducted child or a runaway
  4. Locate a birth parent
  5. Locate an old military buddy
  6. Locate a refugee
  7. Locate a friend or relative
  8. Locate a U.S. citizen living overseas
  9. Locate someone in prison
  10. Do genealogical research

Privacy Concerns: The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are advocacy organizations working to defend privacy in the electronic realm.

The Sourcebook to Public Record Information notes, "The Social Security Number is the subject of a persistent struggle between privacy rights groups and various business interests. The truth is that many individuals gave up the privacy of their number by writing it on a voter registration form, product registration form, or any of a myriad of other voluntary disclosures made over the years. It is probable that a good researcher can legally find the Social Security Number of anyone (along with at least an approximate birth date) with some ease."


Before you start

Only about 50% of all public records are available online. It is often necessary to request public records by mail or telephone, or to visit the relevant county courthouse.

Large private companies called data aggregators create vast databases containing public records and personal information, but there are gaps, errors and omissions.

While there is no reliable way to do a reverse lookup for a mobile telephone number, it is possible to determine the carrier by using carrierlookup.com (one free lookup per day). There simply is no national directory that is publicly accessible, so be cautious of claims to be able to do a reverse lookup on a wireless number for a fee. For landlines, reverse lookups are definitely possible. One excellent resource is ReferenceUSA, which is free to Dallas Library cardholders or when accessed at any of our library locations.

You may find it helpful to read To Catch a Thief, an article from The Virtual Chase, a website frequented by legal professionals. Zimmerman's Research Guide is also worth noting.

USEFUL WEBSITES

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1) Criminal Background Searches

Searching Criminal Background: There is no one, free place to do a comprehensive criminal background search that we know of; however, the sites listed below offer limited search possibilities. The FBI's National Crime Information Clearinghouse comes close, but is only available to law enforcement agencies. It too has important gaps and limitations. The Wikipedia article on criminal records in the United States is informative.

For a comprehensive search, it is necessary to enage a fee-based service. Nonprofit organizations can obtain criminal background checks on volunteers for a reasonable fee by partnering with the Volunteer Center of North Texas. Organizations not located in North Texas may wish to consider other options.

To understand the limitations of criminal background searches, it is useful to view this online presentation.

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2) Locate an active duty serviceman or woman

In the case of a family emergency, contact the American Red Cross. Otherwise, consult one of the individual service member locators listed at the US Consumer Information Service web page, linked below.

Useful Websites

AGENCIES, PROGRAMS & ORGANIZATIONS

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3) Locate a missing or abducted child or a runaway

The following resources have been selected as a starting point to assist parents who have experienced the tragedy of a child abduction or who have a child who is a runaway. As the Team Hope organization, linked below, notes, "According to Federal law, the police are obligated to take the missing persons report and enter the information into the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) without a waiting period. If you encounter problems reporting your child as missing, please share these laws with your police department."

AGENCIES, PROGRAMS & ORGANIZATIONS

USEFUL WEBSITES

AGENCIES, PROGRAMS & ORGANIZATIONS

Books by Subject

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4) Locate a birth parent

A number of resources exist to aid those in search of birth parents, including books, websites, adoption registries, and "search angels" (who do research for free). A selected few of these are highlighted below. The Texas Adoption Registry, hosted by Gladney Adoption Center, may be of particular interest to those who were adopted in Texas.

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AGENCIES, PROGRAMS & ORGANIZATIONS

Books by Subject

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5) Locate an old service buddy

Several military publications regularly publish ads from veterans seeking to get in touch with others with whom they served. These include Shift Colors (Navy), Leatherneck Magazine (Marine Corps) and Veterans Magazine. A wide array of websites, most of which require registration, also track reunions of Army units, Navy ships, etc.

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Military Reunions MIA's / POW's

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6) Locate a refugee

A Red Cross website notes: "The American Red Cross works with other members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around the world and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to locate missing loved ones during or after war, civil unrest, or a disaster in another country. Not only do we accept tracing requests from residents who lost contact with family members overseas, but we also search locally for people whose overseas relatives believe last resided in our county. Our national headquarters in Washington, D.C., acts as the conduit to and from other Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the ICRC. As with all international services, this tracing service is provided free of charge."

Note that the Red Cross cannot accept requests when there is insufficient information to conduct a search; or when it is for genealogical research; or tracing regarding legal matters such as wills, child custody etc.; or the tracing of birth parents or third party requests. To begin a search, call your local American Red Cross chapter.

Agencies such as the Red Cross, International Rescue Committee and UN High Commissioner for Refugees coordinate the reunification of persons who have sought asylum. There are also services that work to assist individuals searching for information about relatives who were separated during the holocaust.

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AGENCIES, PROGRAMS & ORGANIZATIONS

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7) Locate a relative or friend

If you know the person's Social Security Number, the Social Security Administration "will forward letters under circumstances involving a matter of great importance, such as a death or serious illness in the missing person's immediate family, or a sizeable amount of money that is due the missing person." See their web site for details, conditions and fees.

The Salvation Army also operates an international locator service for the purpose of trying to restore (or sustain) family relationships, by locating relatives who for various reasons have become out of touch. To seek this assistance, you must contact the regional office in your area. The majority of requests is for help in tracing a divorced spouse on behalf of young children who want to make contact with their estranged parent.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) publishes a useful guide, linked below, for parents and loved ones trying to reach homeless and mentally ill children and relatives. To identify local support groups and service agencies, Dallas area residents should consult our Community Information Database, and search for "homeless" as a subject heading.

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Books by Subject

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8) Locate a U.S. citizen who lives overseas

There are situations -- a civil disturbance, the outbreak of war, a family emergency -- when it becomes imperative for families to reach their children or other close family members who are U.S. citizens and living abroad. The Department of State operates an Office of Citizens Services, linked below, which can be very helpful in such circumstances. In other cases, it may be more appropriate to contact the American Red Cross.

AGENCIES, PROGRAMS & ORGANIZATIONS

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9) Locate someone in prison

Individuals who have been incarcerated in the Federal or in State prison systems can often be located by contacting the relevant locator services, linked below. Dallas area residents can search the Library's Community Information Database using the subject term prisoner re-entry to locate agencies and nonprofit organizations who are engaged in providing support and assistance of various kinds.

AGENCIES, PROGRAMS & ORGANIZATIONS

Books by Subject

  • Behind The Walls : A Guide For Families And Friends Of Texas Prison Inmates (365.60976 R395B 2002)

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10) Do geneaological research

Located on the 8th floor of the J. Erik Jonnson Central Library, the genealogy section is among the top resources in the country for doing genealogical research. (Please note that many of the human services agencies listed on this web page, such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army, explicitly state that they do not wish to be approached by genealogists.) The unit's research tools and collections are vast.

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Prepared by staff of the Dallas Public Library's Urban Information Center.

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