You know how it is, you meant to write or phone but… It's all too easy to loose touch with family and friends over the years but when you want to track someone down who may not even live in this country anymore, where on earth do you start? Your PC of course!

The Internet is jam-packed full of resources, directories and databases that can help you to find people, even if they are not Internet users themselves. Even so, with the number of people now connected and on-line there is a good chance that your search will quickly yield an E-mail address or phone number if not for the actual person, then a close relative who may be able to help.

Before you begin arm yourself with as many details as possible about the person you are trying to find. That includes obvious things like their full name, but it may also help to know apparently trivial facts, such as the name of the school, college or university they attended. Their occupation or membership of professional bodies or associations can often provide useful leads, as can any information about hobbies, interests and sporting activities.   

It is worth trying a basic E-mail search first, however bear in mind that there is no such thing as a central E-mail directory, nor is there likely to be for quite some time. The Internet is simply too big and it is growing at a phenomenal rate with new Internet Service Providers and 'domains' coming on stream almost daily.  Moreover, there is a significant churn rate -- especially in the UK -- as users chop and change their ISP's, often creating E-mail addresses that subsequently lapse into disuse.

Nevertheless, if the individual uses one of the longer established service providers your chances of success are quite good. The Yahoo People Search web site (see Contacts) is one of the best places to start. All you need is the person's surname and first name (always try both forename and initials); don't be surprised if you get multiple entries and a lot of irrelevant 'hits' from people with the same name, especially if it happens to be a common one. Even if you think the person is unlikely to have an E-mail address try it anyway, but if that doesn't work the next step is a telephone search.

British Telecom still refuse to put the UK telephone directory on the Internet but this hasn't prevented others from creating their own searchable residential and business telephone number databases from information available in the public domain (electoral register, commercial lists etc.). The controversial UK Info Disk CD-ROM contains the telephone numbers of more than 42 million UK residents. BT have tried to suppress the disc but it is now freely accessible on its own web site (see Contacts). It will search out an address and telephone number using just a surname, though refining the search with a Christian name or initials usually produces more manageable results. This site also gives you the opportunity to send a card, gift or flowers to the person. It is also possible to carry out a 'reverse' search if you are willing to buy the CD-ROM or pay a subscription; this will allow you to find a name and address from just a telephone number. There are also several commercial and business directories such as Thomson's and Yellow Pages (see Contacts), that may well help if you know the person's trade, business or profession.

Incidentally, if you are concerned about your own address and telephone number being available on the UK Info Disk and published on the Internet you can request that your entry be deleted.

If you are seeking someone who has moved abroad, and you know which country they are living in then there is a chance they'll be listed in one of the hundreds of searchable international telephone directories on the Internet. The Excite World People Finder web site has a list of almost 70 countries with links to residential and commercial directories (see Contacts).  The quality and depth of these directories varies from country to country but in many cases these are the country's main telecomm company databases.

If phone and E-mail listings draw a blank try using the person's name as a key word in any of the larger 'search engines', such as Altavista, Infoseek, Lycos, WebCrawler, Yahoo etc. You may well come across a family 'homepage', possibly with links to the individual or his or her relatives.

If you are attempting to trace old school or college friends then use a search engine to find out whether the school or university has its own web-site. Many of them have alumni notice boards dedicated to finding old boys and old girls, often with details of recent or forthcoming class reunions. You may even be able to post a 'wanted' notice in the hope that ex pupils and students may still be in contact with the person you are seeking.

Although few clubs and associations post details of members on their web pages it is well worth E-mailing or writing to membership secretaries of relevant organisations, asking if the person you are looking for is known to them, and if so to pass on your message.

Next week -- Your PCs best friend -- Tweak UI




Yahoo People Finder:

UK Info Disk:

UK Yellow Pages:






The unique name that identifies an Internet site


Internet Service Provider, company providing individuals with Internet access. Until recently most ISPs charged a monthly subscription though a growing number of ISPs now provide free access


Internet sites that seek out information, by topic, keyword or name


Normally the contents of the Taskbar sitting at the bottom of your screen (or wherever you decided to put it) are decided for you by Windows and the applications you are running. You can take control of it and turn any folder on your PC into a Toolbar icon on the Taskbar, so you can quickly access the programs or files it contains. All you have to do is put the mouse pointer into an empty area on the Taskbar and right-click, from the menu that appears choose Toolbars and select New Toolbar. This will open a directory tree dialogue box, choose the folder you're interested in and click OK. The folder and its contents will now be displayed on the Taskbar; you can shuffle through the folder by clicking on the little arrows. If you want to get rid of it go back to the Taskbar menu, click on Toolbars again and de-select the item. If the layout of your Taskbar changes don't worry, you can move the item blocks around by dragging the dividing bars with the mouse pointer.

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