Other sources of information
This page collects together a variety of useful information sources you should consider while performing a search for a relative
If your relative married but you cannot trace them under their married name you may wish to check to see if the marriage ended in divorce and their name has changed again. However, you cannot do this yourself and so it can be costly. The way to do so is by application to the Central Family Court, which holds the Central Index of Decrees Absolute. For further information and to download an application form (D440), go to: https://www.gov.uk/copy-decree-absolute-final-order.
It will cost upwards of £60, so before doing so it might be worth looking again at marriage record indexes to find a remarriage first, as this would give you their name and address at that time, bypassing the divorce.
Local newspapers (online and physical)
Once you know about an event it might be worth looking at the local newspaper for announcements of birth, marriage or deaths in the classified section, wedding photographs or an obituary. Local libraries hold copies of newspapers in their area. They may also have a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, a searchable database of local newspapers from all over the country. This is useful if you are looking for any information prior to 1960.
Once you have a name or an event most of us would be tempted to try an internet search.
Be careful however as, depending on how much information you have or how active your family member is, you may find potentially upsetting or emotionally provocative results much faster than you would by any of the measures mentioned previously – for instance you could theoretically find a picture or even a video of them online. It’s also possible you could find out that they have died.
Unless they have a very unusual name it is also likely that you will find multiple people and as a result may end up tracing the wrong person.
In general, it’s worth taking the time to conduct an internet search with the same discipline and attention to detail as you would with a search of birth, death or marriage registers, and to ensure you so do only when you’re feeling calm, safe and comfortable.
Social networking sites
Websites such as Facebook can be another useful tool for searching and can provide a rich amount of information about the person’s life and situation – including changes in address etc.
However, the same rules apply here as to using internet search engines as a whole with the added concern that messages you send, for example, might be visible to other people.
In fact the immediacy we discussed in using search engines is even more of a concern here as the medium is so fast that it’s likely that everybody will be completely unprepared for all the consequences.
Although there is a chance of it all working out fine people may be extremely unhappy about being approached in this way, and the risk of accidentally informing extended family and friends through a public post or response is higher.
Therefore it’s crucial that if you’re considering contacting a relative in this way that you do it in a considered fashion. Most importantly you need to pay attention to your privacy settings. Although all social media platforms are different you need to ensure that:
- Your contact details are not available on your profile.
- Only friends can see your profile
- Only friends can see your posts.
- You’ve restricted whether people can tag you in posts or post on your profile.
- People can’t find you using just your name or contact information
- You restrict friends to people you trust and/or know
- Restrict who you can receive messages from to people you know
- Ensure your location is not made available to people viewing your profile
- Ensure you know how to take your site down in advance just in case you feel it’s necessary later.
In most cases the social media sites themselves produce guides as to how to maintain your privacy, so consider visiting their homepages to investigate further. These are commonly held in an area of the site called the “help centre”
In the modern world direct-to-consumer genetic testing and home DNA testing kits have become ever more commonplace, to the degree where this is something that might come up, at least theoretically, during your search.
These consumer tests are often aimed at connecting families and distant cousins and will give you a breakdown of your ancestry and ethnicity. More importantly they also match existing people on the database who share the same genetic makeup. The percentage of DNA shared indicates the strength or closeness of the relationship.
Because of the sheer number of people whose DNA has been registered the person you may be searching for doesn’t need to be on the database to find a possible match, as you may be able to work your way through a family tree to find them.
DNA testing can be an attractive option as it’s quick, relatively cheap and easy and currently free of many of the legislative barriers and gatekeepers involved in traditional search and reunion methods.
DNA testing does, however raise a lot of ethical questions and personal dilemmas:
- You may discover that what you thought you knew about your family is incorrect, e.g. that your siblings are half rather than full siblings.
- Due to the relative youth of DNA testing relatives are unlikely to be aware that this is an avenue you may find them by, which might lead to stress and feelings of persecution on their part. Not everybody wishes to be found.
- Alternatively it might also result in people finding out about health conditions or susceptibility to hereditary disease.
- Because the database may not contain the DNA of the person you are looking for you may find an alternative relative – such as a second cousin, for instance – instead. This can compromise the individual you’re looking for, who may not even know that you exist, and may take control of the situation out of both of your hands.
- In cases where a birth father is approached without prior knowledge of having had a child DNA testing may also be a measure they feel is required to accept a care-experienced person who locates them by other means.
For all these reasons we would recommend that, if the option is available to you, you seek support with the process if you are considering DNA testing at any part of the process. This is to ensure that you have considered the possible outcomes of your decision.
Internet directory sites
You can use these to search for a name and then narrow the search through region or age range. This can sometimes be a good way to find an address, particularly if the name you’re looking for is uncommon or you only have details such as the initials. Be aware these services usually charge for anything other than the information needed to identify the individual (only the first three letters of the postcode may be given as an address, for instance).
Former neighbours and addresses
As a last resort you can try writing to addresses you know they lived at or the neighbours of that address. Please remember though that you should maintain your anonymity for both your sake but also to protect your relative, who may not have prepared for contact. Prepare a cover story (like trying to find an old friend) or use an intermediary service like the Salvation Army Family Tracing service to do it on your behalf.