General search engines a la Google or Yahoo are ill-equipped to effectively search for the type of personal information – public records, documents and reports in online databases – known to reside in the ‘deep web or invisible web’; many of these sites require registration, or are password protected, and offer information to subscribers exclusively.

Resources, such as the ones we will discuss today are all part of this ‘deep’ or ‘invisible web’.

When you’re on the beat, and are trying to verify a source’s identity, or are gathering background on a person or corporate enterprise, your facility for use of the following resources will prove most valuable when on deadline, and time is at a premium.


Lexis Nexis Accurint

While you’re at the CUNY J-School, do take advantage of the premium public records database, Lexis Nexis Accurint; it’s my favorite starting point when looking for personal information – current and previous addresses, home ownership/value, work contacts, criminal and civil records, neighbors, relatives, e-mail addresses…

Visit the Research Center and talk with Barbra Gray or Tina Marie; they will assist you with your search(es).


When you have a name, and maybe a neighborhood and you want to verify a source’s address, or talk with neighbors, or get a quick feel for the face of the community/neighborhood, have a start with RefUSA; loaded with valuable information and continuously updated; available via our J-School Database List.

For this session, let’s select the custom search form in the the U.S. Standard White Pages.

-If you have the bare minimum – a name and a neighborhood – you have a reasonably good shot at finding the person you are looking for.

Let’s see what a custom search form looks like:
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  1.     Custom Search form
  2.     Type the name of your subject here
  3.     Select the Geography and drill down to the specific geography; in most cases,   you will want to select either the zip code or neighborhood. The system will then prompt you to include the State, Metro Area, and name of Neighborhood
  4.     View your results
 Sample Search:
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Result includes the use of the most recent census ACS estimates to provide a quick feel for the neighborhood; full address and if available, telephone will be included in the report document. Notice the option to show neighbors; great tool for finding neighbors.

FYI: RefUSA’s New Movers/Homeowners database is a great way to find new residents (homeowners or renters)  in the neighborhood (recent six months)

REMINDER: Stay in the know by always checking the data quality – the source of your information.



Social media networks are good starting places when attempting to do background checks in that they provide the palette for many people to share information about themselves.

There are a number of social media tools that allow you to search multiple social media networks simultaneously.  All provide some free information – address and sometimes telephone – but remember, social media resources like Spokeo, Pipl, and Peekyou do not always provide irrefutable content.

Before you start checking on someone’s background, it will be important for you to have some bits of information about the subject you seek; having a person’s full name and their current address should be the very least.

Spokeo assembles and organizes white pages, public records and social networks information. The free version usually provides sparse information- name/address, maybe; log in to the J-School website via your WordPress account and check the Research Center page for secure login protocols. You can get phones and emails and find people on various social networks.

Pipl searches the top social networks, directories, public records, publications, associations, ecommerce sites and thousands of other sites. Results include contact, social media information, employment, education, demographic and background information.  Free and Fee.

In defining how it works, PeekYou, “…collects and combines scattered content from social sites, news sources, homepages, and blog platforms to present comprehensive online identities.”  With more than 6 million monthly subscribers, this free people search engine is a top people-finding source.



Clip searches – should be the first step in your search process.  Look for news, reports, articles about your subject.

Use Lexis Nexis Academic when searching for profiles or features of prominent persons; here’s a sample search:  hlead (Rachel w/2 Noerdlinger) AND atleast4 (noerdlinger) and length>800 [Add word count only for extended profile pieces.]  For less prominent folks, drop the hlead, firstname w/2 lastname is enough.

Another good source to have in your virtual library when searching for news appearing in small, regional and community papers, some of which are not part of the LexisNexis database is Access World News (avail at J-School Database list)

Don’t forget Google News; search for a person by ‘firstname ** lastname’ (this will search up to two more words, in case of middle name or initials)

Biographical research databases (mostly for prominent people)   Each of the following is available via our J-School Database List:

Biography Reference Bank is a database of biographical profiles of well-known persons, gathered from periodicals and solid reference sources.  If you’re after a good profile of a prominent local politician, have a go at the Bio Reference Bank 

The Biography Reference Center includes biographies of writers, politicians, executives…



Trying to find former employees, or graduates of a particular university, who reside is a particular zip code?  Use the LinkedIn Advanced Person Search. The advanced search will also prove helpful when trying to find experts, and drill down to experts in a particular zip code .

Lexis Nexis Accurint has a People at Work database (Barbara Gray in the Research Center will do the search for you).

ZoomInfo offers free and premium information on business contacts. Continuously updated.

SeeThroughNY will verify names, titles, salaries and pension benefits of NYC and NYS employees

Looking for a good source for verifying a source’s academic credentials? Call the registrar’s office or try the fee-based National Student Clearinghouse.