Businesses move, change names and sometimes disappear altogether. Just like people, businesses leave paper trails. If you know anything about your missing company's business form--whether it's a corporation or limited liability company--that can help expedite your inquiry. A little detective work can usually turn up whether a company is still in business.
Check with your Secretary of State or division of corporations if a business is listed as a current corporation, limited liability company or limited liability partnership. State-registered business entities also file for dissolution, which becomes public record. Many states, including California and New York, make company registries available online.
Contact the county clerk, recorder or registrar where the business is located, and ask if the company has registered a fictitious business name. Partnerships and proprietors that don't use the owner's personal name must register for a fictitious business name. If the business operates in multiple counties, then you may need to check in each county. Counties don't require notice of dissolution, but will have records indicating a fictitious business name has lapsed. Most counties offer name registries free online, although you may need to call in your request.
Check with other states, if the business isn't turning up in your state or its local counties. Companies sometimes incorporate or organize in other states. Delaware and Nevada are common states for incorporation, because they lack corporate taxes and easy incorporation rules.
Query the city where the business is located about a business license. Businesses with storefronts and offices are required to license themselves with their municipalities. If a business license has lapsed, the company may have closed shop. License records may help you find any name changes.
Research and contact the appropriate state or federal agencies if the company operates in a regulated industry. For example, securities brokerages are licensed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. If a securities company changes names or goes out of business, it must inform the SEC. The same goes for insurance brokerages and state insurance commissions.
Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.