Finding a Party
There are various reasons why you may need to find someone, including serving court papers. The steps below may help you find the person you are seeking.
- Gather as much information as you possibly can.
- Contact their friends and family.
- Try the U.S. Mail.
- Use public records.
- Document your search.
Gather as much information as you possibly can.
Start your search by gathering as much information as you possibly can. Begin with basic information (name, age, Social Security Number), and then expand from there. The more information you can gather the better.
Good places to start looking are old bank statements, loan applications, bankbooks, and financial records. These documents are often treasure troves of information, such as a Social Security Numbers or a date of birth.
In addition, online genealogy websites may help you find more information about the person. Many public libraries will provide library card holders with free access to online genealogy websites.
Write everything down. Once you have this information, write it all down so that you have easy access to it while you are tracking down the person.
Use a Data Collection Worksheet (see sample below) to help you organize the information you have collected. When the form is completed, keep it with you when you contact anyone. The worksheet will serve as an easy reference and a place to add any additional information you obtain during the discussion.
Contact their friends and family.
Reach out to their friends, relatives, former neighbors, former landlords, current employer, old employers, social clubs, or religious institutions. You may be surprised at who has continued to keep in touch with your missing person.
Some people will not take the time to respond to a letter or email, so you may get a quicker answer if you contact them via phone, chat, or social media. However, letters are a more "official" approach and can be used to document your attempts to locate the person when you are having difficulty finding them.
Write everything down. No matter how you start your search, record the dates and to whom you spoke. It is not necessary to contact all the people suggested here, but try to contact the ones that may be closest to the person you are seeking.
Try the U.S. Mail.
If you know a recent (within one year) address of the person you are seeking, you may be able to locate them if they left a forwarding address with the U.S. Postal Service. To try this approach:
Address a letter to the most recent address you have.
Add the phrase “ADDRESS CORRECTION REQUESTED / DO NOT FORWARD” to the front of the envelope. If the post office has a forwarding address, they will place a correction label on the envelope and return it to you.
If you are afraid the person you are looking for may get your address from the return address, you can use “General Delivery” to avoid this.
In the return address location, write your name as usual, but where you normally place your street address, write “General Delivery.”
Under that, write your city, state, and zip code as normal.
The letter will be returned to your Post Office and must be picked up by you within 30 days.
There will be no way to figure out your exact address from the letter, but they will have the town in which you live.
See the U.S. Post Office’s description of “General Delivery.”
If you are using the U.S. Mail to show an attempt at serving someone on the other side of a case, you will generally have to use “Certified Mail - Return Receipt Requested”. For more information about service, see Service and Certificates of Service.
Use public records.
Use public records to gather additional information.
Trade or Professional Organizations
If the person is a member of a regulated trade or profession, such as a barber, hair stylist, cab driver, undertaker, paramedic, nurse, doctor, lawyer, real estate agent, or private investigator, they will be certified, licensed, or registered through a state agency.
If the person has (or should have) a state professional license, check that online for most states. For a complete list of links to professional licensing, check the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation website, which contains over thirty professions in which licensing or certification is involved and provides contact information for most of them in each of the 50 states.
The Maryland Department of Labor has a license search database. If the person you are looking for is employed in Maryland, and is legally practicing in one of the fields listed on the website (e.g., architect, barber, plumbing, etc.), then the database will have their name and address.
Vital Records Offices
Vital records can be a good place to start building your stockpile of information on the person you are looking for. Maryland marriage, divorce, birth, and death certificates are available from the Vital Statistics Administration.
Marriage certificates are useful for finding information about a missing spouse. They may also help you with information you may no longer recall such as birth dates or middle names or maiden names. The marriage certificate will be located in the state in which you were married.
Divorce records can be useful in a variety of situation, including determining if someone is actually divorced. You will have to look for the divorce certificate in the state and county where the divorce was filed.
Birth certificates can be used to locate an individual if you know or have heard that the person has had a child. If you know where the child may have been born, you may get some clues about the parent from information on the certificate. Information on the birth certificate can lead to more searchable information such the mother, father, or child.
Death certificates can be used to show evidence of death.
Maryland State Archives
The Maryland State Archives contains a great deal of information that could be useful in locating a person. The organization serves as the central depository for government records, such as marriage and divorce information, family histories, county records, church records, newspapers, land records, and many other sources of information. The Archives contain a surprising amount of information, most of which is somewhat old, but it could possibly contain relevant information to your case.
UCC Filing Records
When someone obtains a secured loan, there is usually a Uniform Commercial Code file that indicates that there is a lien on the goods. Buying a car is a common example of a secured loan. This is done on a county level and can be hand searched at the local county courthouse. The information is also forwarded to state records. Most states now permit access of UCC records online. In Maryland, this information is available online at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. Information on liens, real property, and other information is available.
If you think that the person may be in prison in Maryland, you can contact the Maryland Division of Correction. You may also search online using the Inmate Locator. Other states may provide similar databases. Check with their state division of correction or similar department.
If you think the person may be in a federal prison, and the person was incarcerated from 1982 to the present, use the database made available online by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
If you think that the person may have been released from prison and on parole, you can attempt to find out by contacting the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation.
If you think the person has a current, active court case in Maryland, check the Maryland Judiciary Case Search online. The docket information on Case Search may include the parties’ addresses. Other states may offer similar online databases.
If you think the person has a current, active court case in the Federal Courts, PACER provides public access to electronic court records for the Federal Courts.
If you think the person is in the U.S. military, the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force provide military personnel locator services. Because of the large volume of requests that each service locator receives, this is a slow process. If you think it will yield results, try this first. The Army and Coast Guard no longer provide military locator services. Learn more.
If you think the person may be deceased, you may wish to search the Social Security Death Index. The Social Security Master Death list is no longer freely available online. Instead, you will need to access it through various online genealogy websites. Note that some websites may allow free searches if you register. Also, many public libraries will provide library card holders with free access to online genealogy websites.
Document your search.
Keep track of everyone you speak with and everything you do. It’s always a good idea to keep records of whom you have talked to.
Use the Tracking Log below to document your efforts.
Whenever you make a call, send a letter, or search an online database, enter it in the log. Write down what happened to each attempt at contact or search.
If you are searching for someone in order to serve them court papers, keep a log of your attempts. If you still cannot locate the defendant after an exhaustive search, a record of all the steps you have taken could be enough evidence to prove to the court that you have tried.
Remember that the court will have specific rules about what an adequate search might be. This will vary by your type of case. However, a well-documented search is always helpful to show the court the efforts you have made.
If you have exhausted all these options, consider hiring a private investigator.