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© Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang) |

Looking for a long-lost relative? Try these steps to find them

As many as 23% of American children live without at least one parent. The good news: in our internet world, finding them is easier than it would have been in the past.

Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to set out on an investigative journey yourself. Where should you begin when searching for estranged or missing family members? Here are the steps to finding long-lost relatives.

1. Gather as much information as possible

Many things may prompt you to seek out family members, such as the death of another relative or an unforeseen disaster.

RELATED: Mapping your family tree? Try one of these free templates

First, start asking the critical questions: who are you looking for? What’s their name? Where were they the last time someone was in touch with them? If you’ve got family nearby, they might be the best place to begin.

Next, look through old records, journals and photo albums for other clues. Even knowing their date of birth will help narrow your search significantly.

The internet should be employed here. You might be able to dig more up even if all you have is a first and last name. Vetting potential addresses through Google Maps can also save you some time. Where else should you be looking on the internet?

2. Use your clues to scour public records and social media

Search engines themselves, as mentioned, may yield results. Social media sites may also get you closer to actual results.

One important consideration here many young folks may neglect is public records from the county, state or even the news. Libraries (physical buildings) can also give you access to other genealogy research services, including one database courtesy of

If your family member belongs to a particular industry or trade union, reaching out to them might be a great idea. This is especially relevant for military members. Background checking sites can also unearth unexpected details, but your mileage may vary, depending on whether you’re willing to pay.

3. Lean into resources and agencies dedicated to family and human services

Finally, when in doubt, be assured that you have many people on your side. 

Refugees, for example, might consider contacting the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR, 1-800-203-7001), an organization that may be able to help you gather more information at the very least.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS, you can find contact info here). If you’re dealing with somebody who’s gone missing suddenly, your first point of contact should be the police.

If you’re dealing with a long-lost relative, we recommend moving forward with another trusted family member. It’s best to have help even if you’re simply sending a preliminary Facebook message to confirm their identity.

Your family’s legacy is valuable and deserves to be preserved. Ensure your children and grandchildren will never be without their family’s story.

You may also like: How to record your family’s history and preserve memories

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