5. Information Sources
There are a number of institutional sources at the community level, aside from criminal justice and social service agencies, that can provide valuable locating information. These sources include departments of vital statistics, court records, the Salvation Army, places of worship, departments of motor vehicles, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the IRS, colleges, utility companies, voter registration offices, and community clinics. Because searching these sources can be labor intensive, it is best to use them only for those clients that have been difficult to locate. Additionally, it may be necessary to approach these sources personally rather than by telephone, mail, or e-mail.
Birth, marriage, divorce, and, especially, death records can sometimes provide useful information when trying to locate clients. Each state has a Department of Vital Statistics or Vital Records, usually located in the state capital. Through the Department of Vital Statistics, you are often able to obtain these records. However, each county also keeps records for any birth, marriage, divorce, and death that has occurred there. It is sometimes faster and easier to obtain information from the county clerk's office, where you may be able to access computers to obtain information on your client. Note that some states are more restrictive about releasing information than others. A state-by-state summary of how to obtain vital statistics information is listed in Appendix H.
The National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control,
maintains a Web site with information on how to obtain vital records
from each state and territory. The site also includes a PDF (printable)
version of the information. The "Where to Write for Vital Records" Web
site is located at:
To find out if a client has died in your county, you can obtain information about the death by doing a computer search at the County Office of the Registrar/Recorder. You can search for more than one person at a time and under different aliases as well. This service is free and available to the public. If a client is reported dead, you can immediately request a copy of the death certificate.
Death certificates. Request a death certificate for all clients who are reported deceased by any information source. A death certificate assures you that a client is actually dead and includes the cause of death. Toward the end of your follow-up period, it may be helpful to check for death certificates for all unlocated clients.
County coroner's office. In certain circumstances, it is possible to access the County Coroner 's Office directly to find out whether a client has died. Records of any person who did not die in a hospital or of natural causes in the presence of a physician will be found in the Coroner's office. You may be able to obtain the information either by phone or in person.
If a client is thought to be dead but a request for a death certificate from the state or county health department produces no results, an alternative information source is the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). SSDI lists only those deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration and, as such, it has limitations. It is not a complete index to all deceased individuals who have held Social Security Numbers. However, it is often useful and easy to access via the Web.
Social Security Death Index on the Web. Two sites, RootsWeb.com
and Ancestry.com, offer access to the Social Security Death Index.
The information provided includes: birth date, death date, last residence,
and state where that person's social security card was issued. Both
sites provide information about how current their listings are.
The National Death Index (NDI) is a central computerized index of
death record information on file in state vital statistics offices.
Working with these state offices, the National Center for Health Statistics
established the NDI as a resource to aid epidemiologists and other
health and medical investigators with their mortality ascertainment
activities. NDI is available to investigators solely for
statistical purposes in medical and health research. It is
not accessible to organizations or the general public for legal, administrative,
or genealogy purposes. More information about access to the
NDI is available at:
If it appears that the client has been involved in litigation, it can be worthwhile to check court records. The courts (local, state, and federal) keep indexes of all filed cases, both civil and criminal. The indexes are kept in computer databases, in card files, on microfiche, or in ledgers. Criminal cases are listed by defendant; bankruptcy cases, by petitioner; probate actions, by the decedent's name. Civil suits are listed alphabetically by either plaintiff or defendant. To search the indexes, it may be necessary to go to the court and tell the records or docket clerk that you would like to examine the dockets index. Many courts provide information on their Web sites about current or recent cases. Use a search engine to search for your county, state, and the word "court." In Google, for example, a search using the words, "riverside california county court" brought up the Web site for Superior Court of California, County of Riverside, exactly what we were looking for. Current cases are on this site and you can look up names in both criminal and civil cases. Look for options such as case, name, or party search (people involved in court cases are often referred to as "parties"). On other sites, you can only look up cases by date (usually referred to as the court calendar or the court schedule), but within a certain date you can use your browser's "find" or "search-in-this-page" function to look for a specific name.
In some cases, the court orders a garnishment or assignment of wages for non-payment of child support, to pay a fine or restitution, or to settle a debt. A court-ordered garnishment will be on file at the county clerk's office. The file will be indexed by date and alphabetically by the name of the person whose wages were garnished. In addition to the name, the file should include his or her place of employment, the amount garnished, and the name of the aggrieved party.
If you need to search extensively in legal records, then the use of a search service such as LexisNexis or ChoicePoint is advised. See Section 5.1, "Database Searches," for more on these services.
The primary purpose of The Salvation Army's Missing Persons program is to reunite people in families who wish to find each other. The right to privacy is recognized in that an individual's whereabouts are not divulged without his/her consent. All inquiries should be directed to the Territorial Missing Persons office serving the state where the inquirer lives.
The Salvation Army does not charge for the cost of its search service. However, a registration fee of $25.00 is required with all applications for service. This fee covers the cost of setting up the case only. There is no charge for search efforts or follow-up services. Further contributions to help offset the cost of the service are welcome.
Salvation Army Missing Persons Service Offices:
Central & Southern Territory
Churches, synagogues, and other places of worship may provide information that is useful in locating clients. Always check any religious agency your client listed in the Locator Form. When calling, introduce yourself, the organization, and the study. Larger religious institutions often have specific people in charge of outreach to youth or to the homeless. Find out who would be most likely to know your client and speak to him or her. Ask for the most current address and telephone number for the client. If the information is not provided, ask if a message can be relayed to the client to have him or her call the study. If the client is not known to visit any churches, synagogues, and other places of worship, check those in the client's present or previous neighborhood. They may operate store-front drop-in programs, counseling centers, soup kitchens, or other services for needy clients.
If a client was ever issued a driver's license or state ID card, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in each state will have a record of it. Because of the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (see Appendix I), all states have restrictions on who can obtain driver's license information. While federal law prohibits evaluators from obtaining personal information (i.e., subject's address) through DMV records in order to locate individuals, many states allow any requestor to obtain personal DMV information for any reason when the request is accompanied by express written consent of the subject. Some states do not release personal information even with signed consent. In those states that do release information with consent, the request and/or consent may need to be notarized and/or, accompanied by a copy of the subject's picture identification and/or may be time-limited. Since both federal and state laws allow for substantial financial penalties for violation of the regulations, it is imperative that you adhere to the laws of each state when utilizing DMV records for client locating. Contact the DMV in your state prior to the start of your study to obtain the most current policies, copies of required forms, and fee requirements.
The DMV report will supply one or more addresses, each associated with a date when (1) a license was issued or renewed, or (2) an accident or incident was reported. You may find an address that is more recent than the one in your files. Letters should be sent to all addresses you haven't already tried. Even when an address on the DMV report is older than the one in the files, it is often worthwhile to send a letter there. Someone who knows the client may still live there, or the post office may be able to provide a forwarding address. In addition to an address, the report will provide the client's birth date and the driver's license or ID number and date of expiration. The DMV will also record whether the client turned in his driver's license in another state in order to get a new license there. If so, you may need to review the client's locator to determine whether there are addresses or phone numbers listed for the new state. Requesting DMV information from the new state may become impractical, as you will no longer be able to obtain the client's written consent prior to the records request.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the branches of the military suspended their active duty worldwide locator and directory services. Currently, only active military, civilian employees of the military, national guard, retired military, and family members can gain information about a soldier or sailor's current duty station.
Another service that will provide locating information is the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). This service releases information per regulations contained in the Freedom of Information Act. To obtain the service records of discharged, retired, or deceased military and federal civil service personnel, submit a copy of U.S. Government Standard Form 180 to the National Personnel Records Center. Standard Form 180 is available on the Web: http://www.archives.gov/facilities/mo/st_louis/military_personnel_records/standard_form_180.html (for an example, see Appendix J). The information submitted on the Form should include the client's full name, date of birth, Social Security number, and branch of service or federal department that employed your client. A cover letter should accompany the Form to explain the purpose of the request and that the request is allowable under terms of the Freedom of Information Act. The information that NPRC will release includes dates of service, dates of rank and grade change, awards and decorations, duty assignments, current duty status, educational level, marital status, and the names, sex, and age of any dependents. Also, photographs and records of court martial proceedings are sometimes available.
For records of personnel who are deceased, discharged, or retired, submit the Standard Form 180 to:
If your client was discharged from the military/civil service fairly recently, or is receiving veteran's benefits, you may also want to request the National Personnel Records Center to forward a letter for you. They will assist your search by forwarding your letter to the service member's last known address. To pursue locating a client who is a former soldier, sailor, or civil service employee:
Please note that current addresses for discharged service members are not maintained at the records center - this center only has the service member's last officially recorded address. Letters to service members that the record center cannot identify or who are known to be deceased will be returned to you.
It is also possible to have the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs forward a letter to a veteran who is receiving benefits. To initiate a request, send a letter to the Department's regional or state office requesting that the enclosed letter be forwarded. The letter should be in an unsealed, stamped envelope, without a return address. The veteran's name and Social Security number or VA file number should be on the front of the envelope. In the request letter, include the veteran's full name, date of birth, and any information about his or her service (dates, branch of service and discharge status).
The Immigration and Naturalization Service is now known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) and is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If you have looked and looked and cannot find a client, you should consider the possibility that he or she may have been deported by or is in detention with BCIS. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 require the deportation of non-citizens if they are convicted of a felony (even if they are legal residents).
BCIS records are generally not open to the public; however, information
on deportations is in the public domain. To get information on the
disposition of a deportation case, submit a request to the Bureau of
Citizenship and Immigrations Services (BCIS) by completing BCIS Form
G-639, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request. The disposition
information will tell you whether the subject has been deported and
may provide additional U.S. addresses for the client. BCIS
available on their Web site, located at:
If you are part of a public agency, you may also be able to obtain deportation information by phone. Contact the nearest BCIS office, listed in the white pages of the phone book under United States Government Offices. As usual, introduce yourself, the organization, and the study, referring to the study as a health study.
When an immigrant becomes a citizen, a notice is filed at the county clerk's office in the county where the naturalization took place. The notice is public record, and information in the notice may include the person's age, address, and occupation. Also included are the date of naturalization, date of arrival in the United States, and former nationality. For a copy of the request form (G-639), use the link above or see Appendix J.
Like the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service will forward letters to individuals for humanitarian reasons. To request the Internal Revenue Service to forward a letter to a client, send a letter to the Disclosure Officer explaining the reason for the request and stating that you are asking the letter to be forwarded for humanitarian reasons. Your tracking letter to the client should be placed in an unsealed envelope with the client's name on it. It is not necessary to put a stamp on the client envelope. If you are requesting more than one letter to be forwarded, send a list of the clients' names (up to about 20) with their Social Security numbers. The request is submitted to the Internal Revenue Service District Office and addressed to the Disclosure Officer. To find the IRS office in your area, look in the phone book listing for United States Government Offices.
Most four-year colleges have student directories on their Web sites. Use a search engine to find the college's Web site, then look for the "Directory" or "Student Directory" or use the links below. Available information usually includes a student's name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. Two-year colleges and trade schools are less likely to have a student directory on the Web. To obtain information from a two-year college or trade school, call the registrar's office or admissions office. Colleges vary in their privacy policies and may not be willing to release information. Alumni associations may only release information to members. When calling, always introduce yourself, the organization, and the study, as usual referring to the study as a health study.
Below are some links for locating both current students and alumni.
The first site listed links to the main Web pages of colleges and universities
throughout the country. The second site links directly to college and
university phone books. The third and fourth listings are commercial
sites for linking to alumni nationally and internationally. Only if
someone has registered with the site can they be found there.
Information from utility companies about their account holders can sometimes be obtained over the telephone. To find out the name on the account for a certain address, call the utility company. If the account belongs to your client and you have received no response to your correspondence, it may be time to schedule a home visit. Not all utility companies will release information about their accounts, so it is a matter of calling each utility company to determine its level of cooperation.
Since the last edition of this manual, public access to voter registration records has been greatly curtailed. To find out if local voter records are available to the public, call the central voter registration office for your area. The phone number is usually found in the county government pages of the phone book under "registrar" or "recorder."
In some communities, free clinics or reduced-rate health services provide medical care or assistance. Clinic staff are not allowed to release any patient information without the patient's consent but will sometimes accept a letter to forward on to the client if he or she has been to the clinic. For that purpose, leave a stamped envelope with the client's name for the clinic staff to address and send out.
In recent years, a large number of books have been published to help people find friends, loved ones and acquaintances. One recommended book is The Investigator's Little Black Book 3 by Robert Scott. The book is carefully researched and supplies addresses, phone numbers, and Web site addresses for many sources and is updated often.
Other useful books are: