I Wonder What Ever Happened To …
by Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd

Finding lost friends is easier than ever on the Internet.

As we start getting more candles on the birthday cake, we often find ourselves wondering what ever happened to those friends and associates who are no longer in our circle of acquaintances. What ever happened to Joe, that old roommate from college, or Sally, who used to live next door but then left for New York seeking fame and fortune on Broadway?

If we were really serious about finding these people, we could always hire a private detective or go to the public library and dig through the phone books for distant cities. But what about using the power of the Internet? We always hear people bragging that you can find just about anything “out there,” provided you know where to look. We might have also been intrigued by those hokey ads on late-night TV, offering the ability to find just about anyone for $29.95. Does any of this work, or are they all just more schemes to separate us from our hard-earned money?

Most of us do not want to find someone badly enough that we’ll hire a detective or pay for a search service, but for finding casual friends and former associates, there are some pretty powerful people finders that can be accessed free of charge through a web browser. We will give you some of the addresses for these later, but for now, let’s look at how they work and what they provide.

Just for fun, we used one of these people-finding tools (www.555-1212.com) to search for a former ward member who lives in Salt Lake City. We entered his last name, first initial, and the name of the city and state. The search took just a few seconds, and returned with four “hits,” or items that matched our search criteria. The third person on the list was our friend, and clicking on his name revealed his full name, mailing address, and phone number.

There are also some other interesting options. We can produce a map that will show his neighborhood, with his house being identified with a red dot in the center. Another option gives us driving directions, and it will provide detailed directions for driving to his house from any other location we choose. Another option will show us his neighbors, giving similar information for those who live on the same street. If we are curious as to the quality of the neighborhood where he lives, one of the tools will even list the average price of the homes in that area, and the average age of the occupants.

“Well, that’s great,” you might be saying, “but what if we don’t have a city or state?” Some of these search facilities require at least a state and a last name, although some will search if given just a last name. Obviously, if you can provide the first name and the city or state, it will speed the search, and reduce the number of matches that you have to wade through. Some tools will limit the number of results so that you only see the first 250 matches.

These tools probably work by searching public records, such as phone directories. There are built in limitations to searching public records, however. You may not be able to find someone who has an unlisted number, and there is a possibility the first name will be abbreviated, or not spelled the way you would assume. Omitting the first name will remove that possibility, but will also result in more matches. Try just using the first initial of the first name to see what matches are produced. Because these source records can be up to a year old, there is also a strong possibility of finding obsolete information if the person you seek moves frequently. And don’t bet the farm that the information was correct in the first place!

As we experimented with the sites listed below, we found that they all worked similarly, but they produced varying results. We searched for an old college buddy of Clark’s who has an unusual last name. We searched only on the last name, and did not limit the search to a particular state. Some of the tools returned three of four matches, and some as many as ten. So don’t give up if you don’t find that buddy at the first site you try. Just about all of the tools found the friend we were seeking, and we discovered he lives in Texas these days.

In addition to searching for people by name, many of these tools allow you to do “reverse look-ups.” Doing a reverse search allows you to find the name of a person who lives at a particular address, or to find the name and address of a person who owns a particular phone number. Now you can know whom you are calling before you call those numbers scrawled on bathroom walls! Reverse look-up books have been available at public libraries for years, but it’s nice to have that tool always be just a mouse click away.

The LDS Church maintains a file of “lost members” who have moved and left no forwarding address. A large percentage of these lost members would not have been lost if the ward clerks and ward leaders had been doing their job, instead of letting the trail get cold by not doing some searching immediately after the member moved. When the ward finally runs of patience or options, the leaders usually give up and send the record into the headquarters membership department with a status of “address unknown.” When Clark was a membership clerk years ago, he always hated to do this, and only used it as a last resort if none of his other amateur detective tricks worked. We’re not sure how the membership department goes about finding these lost souls, but we hope they use some of the tools that are available free of charge on the Internet.

Now that you know a little about how these tools work, we’ll show you some common ones that you might want to try. As we noted above, they are all similar and yet different, so give them all a try and pick your favorite:

www.555-1212.com

www.bigfoot.com

www.infospace.com

www.lookupusa.com

www.switchboard.com

www.yahoo.com (choose “People Search”)

www.lycos.com (choose “Find People”)

Another approach to bringing old friends together has been taken by a couple of sites that allow you to keep track of the fellow students in your high school graduating class:

www.highschoolalumni.com

www.classmates.com

Both of these require you to register online before you can do anything useful at the site, but registration is free, and only takes a matter of minutes. As part of the registration process, you supply the name of your high school and your graduation year. Your name is then added to the registry for that high school and that graduating class. But once you’re registered, your access is not limited to just your own class and school, and you can find others (provided you know their school and graduation year). There are also other features provided, such as message boards, the ability to coordinate reunions, and the ability to see high school yearbook photos of famous people (proving that they looked just as ordinary in high school as the rest of us).

There are a couple of things that prevent these sites from being more useful. First, you only see information about others who have bothered to come to the site and register themselves. Thus, for Clark’s graduating class of almost 2,000 students, there were fifteen names listed. Also, to access many of the more useful features of the second site (ClassMates), you’re required to purchase a paid membership. This is similar to the strategy used by many so-called “free” Internet sites these days. You let people come in and go to the trouble of registering before you let them know that anything useful they’ll want to be doing is only available for paid members.


After all the work of registering, the webmasters assume people will naturally spring for the paid membership, but we always just use this as an excuse to leave.

With just about every university having a web site these days, that is another potential way to find old friends – provided they are an alumni of that school. Some schools (such as BYU) do provide a directory of alumni on their web site, so that you can find that old college buddy if he has taken the time to register. One annoying aspect of the BYU site is that you can only register if you’re an alumnus of BYU. Apparently someone wants to prevent those U of U heathens from browsing the BYU alumni files.

It will be interesting to see if children who are growing up today will maintain their friendships any better than their parents did. After all, this is the first generation of children for whom email and web browsing come as naturally as making a phone call or turning on the television. Thanks to modern technology, physical location is becoming less important as a factor in maintaining friendships. But friendships still require a commitment of time, so we suspect that even those born in 2000 will eventually lose track of their early friends and schoolmates. That’s why it’s a comfort to know that there is help available when we catch ourselves saying, “I wonder what ever happened to…”