Tracing Lost Loved Ones

When loved ones go missing, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Tracing experts use their skills to unobtrusively uncover a wide range of information from public records to social media.


Start by reaching out to their neighbors, employer, friends and places of worship. Look for them at senior centers, trade organizations, social clubs/centers and fraternal organizations.

Gather Information

Before you can start your search, it is important to have as much information on the person as possible. Take the time to think of their interests and hobbies, favorite idioms, or even middle initials (this can help narrow down your search significantly). This information will also be helpful in creating a memorable tribute wall for your loved one.

Depending on the person’s profession, you may be able to locate them by searching their trade organization’s database. This is a good place to start, but you should also go through their wallets, files and mail in order to get more information. This can include the address of their employer, insurance companies and banks.

Another great way to find out more about a lost relative is by asking family members. They will often have a wealth of knowledge that can help you narrow down your search and even connect you with the missing person.

Other free resources that many people don’t think about are their neighbors, co-workers and community members. These are all places where your loved ones will be well known and might have a better chance of being located. Don’t give up if one method doesn’t work; be creative and persistent.

Search Social Media

Social media makes it easy to connect with people. Many people use their accounts to share photos, reflections and stories of loved ones even after death. These memories and conversations can be comforting to the grieving, but can also cause unintentional hurts.

One example of this occurs when a classmate posts on Facebook about the death of a loved one before the family has had a chance to tell friends. This can upend relationships and create feelings of isolation for those closest to the deceased person.

If you find that your loved one had social media accounts that need to be closed or memorialized, do so. This will prevent them from being accidentally re-opened by other users. It will also remove any photographs or information stored on their account.

When contacting these platforms, be sure to follow their procedures for requesting the account to be memorialized or removed. Facebook, for example, offers the option to memorialize an account (allowing the profile to stay up with photos and memories but preventing anyone from logging into their account) or removing it altogether. Instagram offers the same options but requires a copy of a death certificate to be submitted in order to have the account permanently memorialized or deleted.

Search Their Computer

Many people keep their most important papers in a desk or file cabinet, so this is the first place you should look. If you find any financial records, tax returns, or other documents, you can contact institutions like pension and insurance companies to find out more information about the assets your loved one has. You can also reach out to your loved ones’ most recent and former employers to locate life insurance policies, retirement plans, or 401(k)s they may have paid for with their paychecks. Talking to a computer data recovery specialist can help you determine how encrypted your loved one’s device is and whether or not it’s recoverable. You may need to hire a professional to do this, but it’s worth the expense.

This step is especially important if your loved ones did most of their financial work online.

Contact the Police

If you are looking for a family member who is considered to be missing and may be in danger, it’s important to contact the police right away. They will be able to help in ways that social media searches and other methods of finding people online cannot. The police will be able to place the missing person on a database that is accessible to other law enforcement agencies nationwide.

If the missing person is an adult, you can also provide information to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS). This U.S. Department of Justice system helps law enforcement and medical professionals identify missing persons. This organization can also provide you with missing poster templates that you can print. If the missing person is a professional, search their records in trade organizations.

It is also possible to hire a private investigator to help you locate someone. This method is more expensive but can produce results quickly. It can also be unobtrusive and discreet, so it’s a good option if the missing person does not want to be found and has a history of being difficult to get in touch with.

The methods you use to trace lost loved ones will largely depend on why they are missing. If they are a refugee who has been separated from their family because of war or natural disaster, there are special organizations that can help you find them.