How to Search Public Records for Free Information

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Public records become easily accessible with the help of the Internet. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer various ways to view information about a potential employee, distant family member or long-lost friend. With Google, anyone can search for information on lawsuits, licenses, businesses, and other vital public records. However, searches may be time-consuming if a person does not know the best places to look for public information.

Find the best search engine

Determine what kind of information you are looking for. Every state has a database for information on businesses, licensed professionals, plots of land, voter registration, marriage and divorce records, and other information. Search engines contain general information but may be the best source for finding information on a broader scale.

Google is a great point of entry when looking for information on anyone or anything. Results may return from many different websites, which lead to other resources. For instance, typing in a person’s name may bring you to a personal Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or other networking page.

If you seek more specific information such as an address or phone number of a person, Whitepages and Zabasearch provide basic listings when given a name and location. The search is easier if you know the location of the person. You can also use Peoplefinder to expand basic information, but they require payment for more specific background checks.

Add certain parameters to your search if results are lacking. Knowing the location or specific name pertaining to the public record you wish to obtain may return better results than simply typing “John Smith.” Similarly, if you add Facebook, Whitepage, Yellowpage, Myspace, or other specific type of record to the search, you can narrow down the results.

The U.S. government provides the website to look up any public information databases. You can search for title information, business licenses, court cases, and many other public records. Again, knowing the location is helpful to generate specific results.

The Freedom of Information Act provides pages that pertain to each federal agency. If you need a document relating to a federal agency, then an FOIA website is a great source. Check out for a list of FOIA websites.

For local lawsuit and marriage records, find the county clerk website for the location of the record. Many agencies now offer online databases for their records, but you may need to register before gaining complete access to motor vehicle information, secretary of state filings, property records, utility records, voter registration records, marriage or divorce records, and occupational licenses.


  • Most detailed background checks will require payment information. Knowing the location of your search query helps narrow results. State government websites provide the most reliable record information.


About the Author

Karen Adams has been writing professionally since 2003. At the University of Florida, she worked on the school's newspaper while earning her Bachelor of Arts in English. She contributes to many different publications regularly. Currently she lives and works in Florida and is a member of Florida University's Fiction Collective and "Tea Magazine."

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