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The Spire Project: Personal Information
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There are tools to assist you to either locate someone you know, or dig up background information. The internet has email directories and phone directories aplenty as well as tools to trace internet communication. Beyond this, there are tools to find silent numbers, business and asset ownership, newspaper articles and more. You will start with a name or email address.


to article list Finding an Email Address
webpage The Yahoo People Search ( is an important and flexible tool for finding email & address information.
webpage Switchboard ( also offers several people search tools.

webpage You may need to search the people databases from several internet websites to be successful. For further assistance, consider the FAQ: How to find people's E-mail addresses and the phone & address references on Yahoo.

to article list People who Publish Online
webpage Has the person published anything on the internet? The simple way is to search the internet for the full name of the individual in the hope they included their email address or real name on the webpage. Use Altavista and Debriefing for this task. For more depth, read the article: Searching the Web.
Altavista has a very large, fast search engine. Type the name using quotes to keep the words together. Add in further information if you know using url:edu or keywords (use the + sign). Also, capitals matter with Altavista.

Debriefing, is a meta-search engine optimized for finding people & named websites.
Finger is a lesser-known internet protocol which sometimes reveals information about a person given an email address. It used to be more common and may give name & perhaps if a person is currently logged in. It is easy to make a finger request from a Unix command line (finger email@host). Some web-browsers will allow you to enter a finger request directly (as finger://username@host). Alternatively, use a finger gateway like this one from MIT.

to article list Tracing Online Communication
webpage usenet archive ( maintains a very large database of newsgroup discussion. The's power search is a must-see and will give you a brilliant author profile. Here is a quick search; the power search has more flexible options.
webpage Searching mailing list discussion is more difficult. If you know a forum a person is active in, see our article: Discussion Groups for further instructions. Alternatively, search the web for the email address. Hopefully you will catch list discussion picked up by zines or directly by search engines. Use Altavista for this:

to article list Phone Directories
There are several tools available to you here:
Printed Directories: White pages - if you know the name but not the address or phone number. Yellow pages & other business listings - if you know the business but not address or number. Sometimes libraries and post offices will have the white pages to different states. A better alternative may be to search the white pages through the internet. For a very complete list, visit Telephone Directories on the Web.

Directory Assistance - if you know an approximate name/address combination but not number. Directory Assistance is a service provided by your phone company.

Phone directory databases - usually prepared as a CD-ROM, listing all the phone numbers in Australia. this is particularly good for a reverse search: seeking the name and address from the phone number.


to article list Biographical Directories and Databases
If the person is famous, newsworthy or historically important, this may be a worthwhile option. Directories like the series of Who's Who directories will list some basic biographical details, most likely prepared by the person involved. Who's Who directories exist for many categories and countries like Longman Who's Who (EINS) Marquis Who's Who (SilverPlatter & Dialog) or Who's Who in European Business (Datastar).

Alternatively, consider the collection of biographical directories and databases like Wilson Biography Index (see SilverPlatter or FirstSearch), Wilson Current Biography (SilverPlatter), Bowker Biographical Directory (Dialog) or Biography Master Index (Dialog). The Wilson Biography Index, for example, cites a large number of periodicals & books which include biographies.

There is also a simple biographical database online: Biography Online (, with 15000+ biographical abstracts - but most are really really short. Access is free on the net. Of course, for very well known people, consider an encyclopedia.


to article list Newspaper Search
Local newspapers are a brilliant resource for information about individuals, and most anyone running a business will try to be featured in their local newspapers. The key here is local newspapers, and historical databases (not current news).

There are no shortages of electronic access to good news too. Datatimes presents a single access point to many of the North American newspapers. Global Textline included access to a wide range of different countries. With both these news archive databases, you must be careful to specify exactly what you are looking for. You would be surprised how many David Novak's there are in my state alone. Use the full text databases in particular.

to article list Asset Searches
The asset search involves searching a selection of government databases for home and business ownership. The presence of a mortgage on a house is public knowledge (though the information is not particularly current). National business ownership databases, like ASCOT in Australia, will give you the ownership of businesses and association management. For a small fee through the department of business registration, or a collection of commercial retailers, you can search the ASCOT database by name.

One elegant suggestion is to seek help from a professional information broker from the area where a person lives. The mailing list InfoPro is a particularly large collection of brokers who routinely distribute this kind of information. Consider emailing a request for assistance to the list manager James and ask your request be circulated to the mailing list.

to article list Reverse Telephone Directories.
Previously these were primarily police resources but today they have become tools for telephone marketing. CD's are pressed with all the phone numbers in Australia, or all the numbers in the US. The search function lets you run this as a reverse directory just by searching for the phone number. Look in the yellow pages, or perhaps ask a librarian for leads to these resources.

to article list Commercial Personal Information Profiles
There are commercial products supporting the needs of human resource departments, legal research and the police. Information is collected and distributed as like Credit Reports, or personal profiles. As an example, running a level three Missing Links search on CDB (for about US$15.00) will usually return a US silent phone number.
webpage CDB Infotek ( maintains a selection of commercial databases of personal information. Look at their database descriptions.
Further firms have been mentioned as active in this industry, including American Information Network, Know-x and IRB OnLine


There is a serious issue as to the morality of easy access to personal information. There is an equally important moral value in empowerment: what is publicly available to should be publicly known.

Article ListResearch CommentarySeminar datesUpdate Notices Beyond these resources we have to tools available to private investigators: rummaging though garbage cans, following the suspect, etc... There are also computer files and databases with better controlled access: drivers databases, police arrest records, voters registration, medical records, passport and immigration records, banking records. Most of the latter resources will only be available to you with the direct permission of the one involved. Further databases, like a database of known pedophiles, while available, would only be useful if you had previous suspicions.

to article listThe Spire Project - better ways to find information.
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