Deciding which members to find
The criteria for marking a member as one needing to be found/visited should be defined by the bishop and his counselors. A custom field could be setup in MLS to track this list. However, these fields must be maintained manually. If used, a custom report can be setup to show all members or families that should be found/visited. A ward could choose to be proactive and send a general mailing (such as a newsletter) to all the members on its records, say, annually or quarterly, with "Return Service Requested" (see below under "Send a letter to the member's address") as part of the return address.
Documenting search efforts
While the results of search efforts may be passed from person to person by mouth, it may prove helpful during changes in leadership and other instances to have the search results documented and kept on file in the clerks office. A form can be used for documenting the results of a search (see this sample form, which also contains suggestions on where to search).
To find members, visit the last known address:
- Talk with neighbors, a building supervisor, manager, or owner, if known or available.
- Contact other family currently living at the member's last known address.
- Contact the new individual or family living there.
- Contact neighbors adjacent to the member's last known address.
Or use the telephone:
- Call the member's last known phone number. It may be a cell phone that they still have or the member may have notified the phone company of their new number.
- Contact known relatives in the area.
- Contact the phone company information service or operator and ask for new phone listings in the area that may not have been published to online phone directories.
Within the ward:
- If the member was in the ward or area for some period of time, seek information from other ward members who may know the member.
Via the postal service:
- Send a letter to the member's address asking for their new address and expressing your concern for their welfare. In the United States, to find whether the member has given the United States Postal Service (USPS) a forwarding address, add the words Return Service Requested to the envelope. This instructs the USPS to not forward the mail, but return it to the sender with the forwarding address attached. (This is one of four different phrases the USPS uses; for complete details, see Special Address Services.) Postal service practices vary from country to country. Some countries prohibit the postal service from disclosing change of address information.
Here are some websites that might be useful for locating lost sheep, along with some comments about each. Note that:
- These sites are not endorsed by the Church, but other clerks have found them useful.
- Some of these sites may not be accessible from inside your meetinghouse firewall.
- Much of this information is specific to the United States, but may have application in other countries as well.
- Main article: Locating members (UK)
- Facebook is the most effective way to find someone. There may be many entries but you can sometimes narrow it down by their friend list i.e. known family members or friends. Be certain to try searching by the member's email address as well. If you don't have their email address, try finding it by using their address on Melissadata.com below.
- Spokeo is a paid site but one of the most effective and it's also easy to navigate. Search by Name, Address, Username, or email address.
- Melissadata Email Lookup is a free tool used to find any email addresses associated by looking up a physical address. Free Registration is Required. After you find the email address, use it to search both Facebook and Spokeo.
- WhitePages.com is great for finding people by their last known address. You can also search by phone number, or even locate the contact information for the neighbors to ask them where the member may have moved.
- ZabaSearch is a decent people finder. Most records display the date that data was collected which can help you track a person from place to place. Many of the records also display a birth month and year. Birthdates can help you identify the correct individual you are seeking. To search for common names, add their age, city, and other details using their advanced search. Search their free Public Database Directory for even more places to go to for searching. There are some good links to government databases here.
- Free411 is a United States phone directory service.
- Integrascan is a paid service, but the free preliminary results include full addresses.
- CrimCheck offers over 1,000 state, county, city and federal (court) web sites where you can search free public records. Most search services are free.
- Ultimate White Pages congregates several search services on one page, although you must search each individually. It currently offers search on Infospace, Dogpile, Whitepages.com, Yahoo, WhoWhere, and Switchboard. When you search more than once, this service reuses the second browser window for the results. It also offers reverse searches on phone number and address. Results may be dated.
- Ancestry.com offers a U.S. Public Records Index that compiles various public records from all 50 states in the United States from 1984 to the present. Entries may contain the following information: name, street or mailing address, telephone number, birth date or birth year.
- Birth Database is useful for searching for individuals based on other family members listed on their church membership record. Look at the names of sons and enter them into this database. Now compare the birth date given on his parents IOS. This will narrow down your search when looking for a John Smith in your other popular search sites. This works well for older members who move out and go live with their children.
- Social Security Death Index enables you to search for members who have died using as little as a member's first name. This makes it possible for you to find individuals who have uncommon names, including women who may have changed their names.
- PeopleSmart shows all records it finds in the state provided for a given name, their age, cities they have lived in, and likely family members associated with the person and the address.
- PeekYou correlates data from multiple sources.
- Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is a national index for U.S. District, Bankruptcy, and Appeal courts. If the member has ever been either a plaintiff or a defendant in the United States Courts, then this site will show you the details (Examples include Incarceration or Bankruptcy). This is a very reliable method of finding people because by law they must provide the courts with accurate contact information. Pacer is also a pay-per-use website but if your balance is less than $15 at the end of the quarter then they waive the entire balance. Alternatively you can go to your County's Courthouse to locate county-specific records free-of-charge. How To Locate a Member's Contact Information With PACER:
- Register for a UserID. Your login information will be mailed to you.
- Login and enter the member's Last Name, First Name Middle Name (or middle initial). If they have a common name it is recommended that you also select the Region.
- If you did not select the region then the results for all States filed will be displayed. You can narrow your search down further by selecting a Filter or by looking in the Court column. The first two letters of each court name represent the State in which the filing was made. Find the case most likely to be the Member's then select the Case Number hyperlink to open the case details.
- Select Party to display the contact information for the Member. It will show the member's name and address, and sometimes their phone number.
There's also the usual search engines: Google, MSN, Yahoo, Ask.com, etc. that can come in handy. They can help you find:
- Obituaries, which almost always list a lot of living relatives with their home cities.
- Wedding announcements.
- Newspaper articles about people graduating from a college or university.
- Professional associations. For example, a licensed nurse might be listed in a state's licensing verification web site.
Voter registration records
In many states you can check voter registration records online. This method tends to be THE BEST way to find members.
The intent of this database is to make sure that the state has your correct address and see which precinct you are in and such, but it can be used as a way to confirm that the John Smith born on 14-Feb-1955 lives/lived at a particular address. When people get a drivers license, they will usually simultaneously register the person to vote which means that the voter registration records will usually match someone's drivers license. Please note that people are not very good at keeping their drivers license or voter registration record up to date so it might not be accurate.
If you are not sure if your state has an online system, you can probably go into the voter registration office in your county and they can look people up for you. If you go in, they can often tell you if the person moved out of state. They might not have their new address, but they will usually know which state their record was sent to.
NOTE: If someone has re-married or divorced their last name will change. In the search box you should try alternative last names or their name may not show up. Facebook is a good way to determine if someone has changed their name.
Voter Registration Sites:
Property tax records
A really, really good thing to have is online property tax records. They vary a lot on what you can do with them. Some even let you enter the VIN for a car and it will show you the progression of owners. This can be used to find a relative since cars are often sold to family members.
- New York
- Ohio also Ohio
- Most counties in North Carolina
- Most counties in South Carolina
- Many Texas counties have online access to real property information via a county appraisal district web site.
The Texas Appraisal District by County page at AppraisalDistrict.net contains links to an information page for each Texas county.
A link to the county appraisal district web site, if one is available, can be found on the county's information page.
The basic information (name and address) for records of most Texas counties can be searched online at TaxNetUSA (which despite its name only has Texas counties).
Another classification of web site that we hope never does us any good (but has at least three times in my efforts) is the sex offender registries and criminal records databases. These are usually done at the state level, but some counties lets you look up bookings and releases within the county. Some cities, especially larger ones, do this also.
Utah Divorce records
Utah Divorce Records searches public records by first and/or last name, or browse all divorces in alphabetical order. It displays couple's names and the decree date.
Some other general notes on finding members:
- Well-intentioned church leaders may at times discover that a member has moved. In an attempt to find the member, they may add the address and phone number of someone in the same area with the same name. Verify information before you record it.
- Don't forget to check the member's MLS Individual Ordinance Summary to find the names and birthdates of parents, spouses, and children. If you can locate one of them they may give you the information you need. You can use this information to find obituaries for parents, which can help you locate the member's city and perhaps their spouse's name.
- Reverse searches using just the street name without the house number can often show you that you just had the wrong house number, or provide you with contact information for relatives or at least former neighbors or new occupants of the house. Calling these people to ask if they know where so-and-so moved to is a lot easier than visiting in person. People might not be as open as they would in person, but it's quick. You can always follow up in person if you need to.