Tracing Lost Loved Ones

Reminders of a missing loved one can bring up painful emotions, but they also can inspire new connections and keep the person’s memory alive. Here are some tips to help your search:


Begin by gathering critical information, including a full name, nicknames and aliases. Then, contact banks and mortgage companies and search their records for financial documents.

Gather Information

The death of a loved one can be especially difficult if you’re the person who has to settle their estate or tie up any loose financial ends. Often, this will require you to track down their personal information like names and addresses of financial planners, brokers or banks as well as contact details for mortgage companies, insurance agencies and other providers.

Search through their emails, phone logs and social media accounts. Look for clues in their online profiles including pictures, nicknames and other unique identifiers. You can also try using a website like Trace the Face that specializes in reconnecting families separated by conflict, disaster or migration.

If the missing person was part of a trade, union or other organization, check with those groups to see what records are available. You can also use the Freedom of Information Act to request federal records such as military files, IRS filings and pilot licenses.

Search Their Desk or Computer Files

People tend to keep important documents in a folder or binder. Check these files for information regarding financial accounts, insurance policies, and other assets. Be sure to read through any recent tax returns as well to find references to any assets that produce capital gains, dividends, or other income.

Look through their desk or office for papers that can provide information about the location of assets and other assets, such as a recurring rental payment on a storage unit. Also, be on the lookout for keys to safe deposit boxes. Most banks have procedures in place to give family members access to these boxes.

If your loved one used a computer for their financial transactions, search email, file locations, and browser history for any clues. You can also ask their employer for access to records, but this can be difficult because of privacy laws. If your loved ones use a social media account, they may keep passwords in their phone’s notes app or written down near their computer. Getting into these accounts can be more challenging because of privacy laws, but some social media companies do allow a user to request that their account be memorialized upon death.

Search Their Social Media Accounts

If your loved one used social media, check their profiles. Their friends may know where they have recently been. They might also have used sites such as CaringBridge, Facebook or Lotsa Helping Hands to organize support and share information during their illness.

In some cases, a deceased person’s online accounts are left open after their death. These can become a source of distress and confusion for family members, and they are vulnerable to people with bad intentions.

Some companies, such as Google, have processes for closing or deleting an account. They will request documentation that you are authorized to act on behalf of the deceased or their estate.

Others, such as LinkedIn, allow users to report a member as deceased and to hide the account. They require a scan or photo of proof of identity and the date of death to fulfill this request. Pinterest, on the other hand, will close an account if you email them. They also require a date of death and evidence you are an immediate family member or authorized representative.

Search Online Directories and Social Media Sites

In a time when many people are constantly on the move, life circumstances may cause individuals to lose touch with friends and family. Fortunately, there are methods of tracking down missing loved ones and even connecting with them again.

Try searching online directories and social media sites, especially if the person you’re looking for is well-known. Try entering their name into a people search site and narrowing your searches by locations, known addresses or workplaces. You can also use image search tools like Google Lens to identify parts of photographs.

Another option is to contact mutual contacts. Ask them if they’ve heard from the person you’re seeking, and check with old employers or schools that they might have gone to.

Search for your lost friend on trade organizations’ member databases if you know what their profession is. Finally, consider creating and distributing missing person posters in their area. This method is often used by law enforcement agencies and bounty hunters. In addition to these professional services, there are a variety of independent search and investigation firms that offer skip tracing, a process that involves combing databases to find individuals who attempt to hide from their past.

Contact Law Enforcement

If your loved one has been reported missing, law enforcement should be your next stop. Keep in mind that every missing person case is different. Some individuals may voluntarily go missing while others are considered abducted or forcibly taken.

If you are still struggling to find your loved one, you should consider working with a private investigator. They have access to higher-level databases and a wide range of tools that can make it easier to locate missing family members. While they can be more expensive than other methods, they also tend to produce the best results.

You can also try searching public and state records for their profession, such as cosmetology, nursing, counseling, therapy, or law. Creating missing persons posters is another way to spread information about your loved one’s disappearance. Be wary of anyone who approaches you offering to help you locate your loved one, as some people will seek to exploit the situation and demand money for their services. Report any such activity to law enforcement immediately. Also, be on the lookout for scams, such as those by psychics or private investigators.