What are Public Records?
Public records refer to data and information that has been filed or recorded by public agencies that is not considered to be confidential, meaning they are available to the general public. This generally includes such information as records of court proceedings, land records, recordings of births, marriages and deaths, and statistical information for the economy or population data. Although these types of documents are considered to be public, that doesn’t mean that anyone can access them without any restrictions. The availability of the such information varies by state, county, and city.
Where can public records be found?
Many records are available at the office of the clear of the court. United State citizens may personally visit the court during business hours to view and inspect records. In addition, many city, county and state governments provide online access to such records via an online searchable website. In most cases, basic information is available to the public for free. In some cases, a small fee may be charged for miscellaneous costs such as printing, shipping and handling, etc.
What do Private Investigators need to know?
Private investigators will encounter the need to conduct some type of records search on an almost daily basis. Private eyes may need to gather the facts of a court case, conduct a background check, track down a missing person, or verify property ownership records. Knowing how and where to search can save you valuable time and money.
Private investigators should understand the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives people the right to access information from the federal government. It is often referred to as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement. The FOIA also requires agencies to proactively make available via online access certain categories of information, including frequently requested records. Learn more at https://www.foia.gov.
Public Records Research Tools and Websites
Following are miscellaneous search tools and databases that may be helpful for private investigators. Private investigators spend a great deal of their time searching through public records databases, court records and running search reports on a variety of online sites and tools. The following tools may be helpful in certain situations:
Government Accountability Office Investigators Guide to Sources of Information – Government Accountability Office Investigators Guide to Sources of Information
ICE Database – A massive new database program named that culls information from more than nine federal sources will help law enforcement agents link possible terrorists or other suspected criminals with associates whose records are in the system. The program’s goal is to close gaps in information-sharing identified in the 9/11 Commission Report, which chided law enforcement for failing to piece together the hijackers’ terrorist cell. Other federal, state and local law enforcement will be able to access the ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection System, named “ICEPIC.
Intelius– Intelius is a powerful search tool that allows you to search Nationwide Public Records by such data points as maiden/spouse name, age, date of birth, social security number (SSN), unlisted numbers, addresses, roommates and family members.
Kelly Blue Book – Database of car information for conducting research on automobiles.
KnowX– KnowX is a great place to start to find accurate information about businesses, people and assets, and to discover the critical relationships between them. Run a background check on a business, locate assets, verify property value, and more using nationwide public records compiled from official data sources.
Lexis-Nexis – LexisNexis® is a leading global provider of content-enabled workflow solutions designed specifically for professionals in the legal, risk management, corporate, government, law enforcement, accounting, and academic markets. LexisNexis originally pioneered online information with its Lexis® and Nexis services. A member of Reed Elsevier, LexisNexis serves customers in more than 100 countries with more than 15,000 employees worldwide. Through the integration of information and technology, LexisNexis uniquely unites proprietary brands, advanced Web technologies and premium information sources. Across the globe, LexisNexis provides customers with access to billions of searchable documents and records from more than 45,000 legal, news and business sources.
Pacific Information Resources – Offers access to free Canada and other International records, United States Nationwide, State and County public records, criminal records, court records, death records, marriage records, birth records, property databases, divorce records, business filings, deeds and mortgages, license verification, unclaimed property, and much more.
U.S Search– U.S. Search provides a variety of online search tools and reports to help you find people and information.
Spokeo People Search– Spokeo is a search engine specialized in aggregating and organizing vast quantities of people-related information from a large variety of public sources. The public data is amassed with lightning speed, and presented almost instantly in an integrated, coherent, and easy-to-follow format. There is a fee associated with this search, but the results are worth it.
RecordsProject.com– The Records Project provides access to relevant state and county public records. The Records Project is an online community dedicated to building the largest, free public records encyclopedia. Skip confusing government red tape and become your own public records expert. Learn how to retrieve vital, court and genealogical records online.
Search Systems– This website is a large directory of links to free public record databases on the Internet. Use this resource to find business information, corporate filings, property records, unclaimed property, professional licenses, offenders, inmates, criminal and civil court filings, and much more.
Search Public Records – Search records for Bankruptcies, Tax Liens and Judgments, Amount associated with Bankruptcy, tax lien, or judgment, Corporate Record Summary, Company address, UCC filings, UCC Debtor, UCC collateral listed, Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN)
Switchboard – Switchboard is a leading provider of local online advertising solutions and Internet-based yellow pages, interconnecting consumers, merchants and national advertisers. Switchboard helps consumers quickly and easily find and compare local businesses offering specific products and services, while creating revenue opportunities for merchants.
ZabaSearch– This is an excellent and powerful public records search engine. First of all, it is a free service. Second, it aggregates data and information from a huge number of public records databases and presents the information in an easy to use and coherent fashion. It’s a great site for the busy private detective.
If you are looking for a private detective to perform lookups for you, please visit our Private Investigator Directory to find a local PI.
Public Records Research Books
Public records come in many different forms – court documents, property records, land records, tax filings, vital records, marriage licenses and more. Many public documents and files are available at your local court house or for free online through public records research websites. As a private investigator, you’ll spend a great deal of time sifting through public records, performing research at the local courthouse, and searching through online databases. Having a good understanding of where to look and how to search is critical. There are a number of great books on the subject that can help you pick up the skills you need. Public records search books provide helpful information on:
- Public information research websites – how to find them, which ones are the best, and how to search for the free public records you need
- Other sources of public data such as national database information providers such as Intelius and US Search
- How to navigate the county courthouse to find the info you need
- How to gain access to databases and search systems that aren’t completely “public” information
- How to understand the laws related to accessing public files and data, especially related to the Freedom of Information Act
Public Records Online, 6th Edition: The Master Guide to Private & Government Online Sources of Public Data – Book Description – This book claims to be the Master Guide to online public record searching, The sixth edition details nearly 10.000 research websites, both government agencies and private sources. This new edition is completely revised and updated.
The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records – Written by a journalist, this helpful book explains how to use the law and legal ingenuity to obtain access to public documents. Learn how to get past roadblocks and overcome illegal denials to access, how to find better online resources and mine them more effectively for the information you need. Has a comprehensive appendix with a list of all resources. We highly recommend this book.
Find Anyone Fast – This book will help private investigators learn techniques for locating people, info and data. The book, published in 2001 is a bit dated, but it still presents the reader with good ideas for finding information.
The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook: A Guide to Documents, Databases and Techniques – This book is an indispensable reference guide for private investigators, students, journalists and reports, and teachers. The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook is the most comprehensive classroom text available for courses in investigative reporting. A great read for new detectives.
Buy these and other books at Amazon.com and start building your library of reference materials today.
Note: It is important to note that, due to the nature of the origin of certain records, the information and data sources used in reports may contain errors. Source data is sometimes reported or entered inaccurately, processed poorly or incorrectly, and is generally not free from defect. Before relying on any data, you should verify the source and determine if it is considered to be official.