Finding a Party

Collecting your Data 

Start by gathering as much information as you possibly can. Begin with basic information, (name, age, social security number) and then expand from there.  The more information you can gather the better. Good places to start looking are old bank statements, loan applications, bankbooks, and financial records. These documents are often treasure troves of information, such as a social security numbers or a date of birth.

Once you have this information, you should write it all down so that you have easy access to it while you are tracking down the person.  Use a Data Collection Worksheets (see sample below) to help you organize the information you have collected.  When the form is completed, keep it with you when you contact anyone. The worksheet will serve as an easy reference and a place to add any additional information you obtain during the discussion.

Contact their Friends and Family

Ask friends, relatives, old employers, social clubs or religious institutions.  You may be surprised at who has continued to keep in touch with your missing person.

We suggest that you initially attempt to locate the person by calling friends, relatives, and employers.  Some people will not take the time to respond to a letter, so you may get a quicker answer by telephone.

However, letters are a more "official" approach and can be used to document your attempts to locate the person when you are having difficulty finding him or her.

No matter how you start your search, be sure to record dates and whom you spoke with. (It is not necessary to contact all of the people on this list, but do especially try the ones that may be closes to the person you are seeking.) Use this Tracking Log to document your efforts.

Then try the U.S. mail

If you know a recent (within one year) address of the person you are seeking, you may be able to locate them if they have left a forwarding address.  To try this approach, address a letter to the most recent address you have.  Add the phrase “ADDRESS CORRECTION REQUESTED / DO NOT FORWARD” to the front of the envelope.  If the post office has a forwarding address, they will place a correction label on the envelope and return it to you.

If you are afraid the person you are looking for may get your address from the return address, you can use “General Delivery” to avoid this.  In the return address location write your name as usual, but where you normally place your street address, write “General Delivery.”  Under that write, your city, state and zip code as normal.  The letter will be returned to your Post Office and must be picked up by you within 30 days. There will be no way to figure out your exact address from the letter but if you are listed in the phone book, they will have the town in which you live. The U.S. Post Office’s description of “General Delivery.”

If you are using the U.S. Mail to show an attempt at serving someone on the other side of a case, you will generally have to use “Certified Mail - Return Receipt Requested”. The rules on what a court finds to be adequate service vary.

Tips on Documenting Your Search

Keep track of everyone you speak with and everything you do. It’s always a good idea to keep records of whom you have talked to. Use the Tracking Log below to document your efforts.

Whenever a phone call is made, or a letter is sent enter it in the log. Record what happened to each attempt at contact. If you are searching for someone in order to serve them, it is a good idea to keep a log of your attempts. If you still cannot locate the defendant after an exhaustive search, a record of all the steps you have taken could be enough evidence to prove to the court that you have tried. Remember that the court will have specific rules about what an adequate search might be. This will vary by your type of case, however, a well documented search is always helpful to show the efforts you have made.

Using Public Records 

Trade or Professional Organizations

If the person you are searching for is a member of a regulated trade or profession, such as a barber, hair stylist, cab driver, undertaker, paramedic, nurse, doctor, lawyer or private investigator, they will be certified, licensed, or registered through a state agency.

If the person whom you are searching for has (or should have) a state professional license, you can check that online for most states. For a complete list of links to professional licensing, just go to the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation.  Their web site contains over thirty professions in which licensing or certification is involved and provided contact information for most of them in each of the 50 states.  

The Maryland Department of Labor also has a very useful database.  If the person you are looking for is employed in Maryland, and is legally practicing in one of these fields, the database will have their name and address:

Architect, Barber, Certified Interior Designer, Certified Public Accountant, Cosmetologist, Examining Engineer, Forester, A Home Improvement Contractor, a HVACR Contractor, Landscape Architect, Land Surveyors, Master Electricians, Pawn Broker, Plumber, Real Estate Appraiser, Real Estate Agent, Professional Engineer, or a Second hand precious metal object dealer.

Vital Records Offices

Vital records can be a good place to start building your stockpile of information on the person you are looking for. Marriage, divorce, birth and death certificates are available from the Vital Statistics Administration.

Marriage certificates are useful for finding information about a missing spouse. They may also help you with information you may no longer recall such as birth dates or middle names or maiden names. The marriage certificate will be located in the state in which you were married.

Divorce records can be useful in a variety of situation, including determining if someone is actually divorced. You will have to look for the divorce certificate in the state and county where the divorce was filed.

Birth certificates can be used to locate an individual if you know or have heard that the person has had a child. If you know where the child may have been born, you may get some clues about the parent  from information on the certificate.  Information on the birth certificate can lead to more searchable information such the mother, father, or child.

Death certificates can be used to show evidence of death. 

Maryland State Archives

The Maryland State Archives contains a great deal of information, which could be useful in locating a person. The organization serves as the central depository for government records such as marriage and divorce information, family histories, county records, church records, newspapers, land records and many other sources of information. The Archives contain a surprising amount of information, most of which is somewhat old, but it could possibly contain relevant information to your case.

UCC Filing Records

When someone obtains a secured loan, there is usually a Uniform Commercial Code file that indicates that there is a lien on the goods. This is done on a county level and can be hand searched at the local county courthouse. The information is also forwarded to state records. Most states now permit access of UCC records online. In Maryland this information is available online at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. Information on liens, real property and other information is available.

Finding People Who May be in Prison

If you think that the person you are looking for may be in prison in Maryland, you can contact the Maryland Division of Correction. You may also search online using the Inmate Locator.

Finding People Who May be on Parole

If you think that the person you are looking for may have been released from prison and on parole, you can attempt to find out by contacting the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation.

Finding People Who are in the Military

Because of the large volume of requests that each service locator receives, this is a slow process. If you think it will yield results, try this first.  It will most likely take four weeks processing time per request. See Request for Military Mailing Addresses. Please note, the Army no longer provides this service.

If You Think the Person May be Deceased

You can search the Social Security’s master death list online.  This will provide you with the month and year of a person’s death. There are at least five versions of the Master Death List online. Read the description of each one. Some are updated monthly, others less often.

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Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – © Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, 2020.”