Advanced back-grounding requires more than the general sweep for names, addresses and telephone numbers; it commands greater scrutiny, knowledge of available resources, and a willingness to lift the carpet and suss out the nuggets of data and information.

Find Contacts/Family/Neighbors


Social Media

If you’re working on the cheap, then Google, and social media networks are an intuitive and familiar first stop – Spokeo Facebook Twitter


Public Records by State & County 




If you’ve got a few bucks in the treasury, then Accurint public records database is a great jumping off point when going after background on relatives, neighbors, property, past/present employment, professional licenses, bankruptcy, death, divorce, criminal record… (See Barbara in the J-School Research Center – she’ll search for you).

In class sample search:  Paul Massey, Jr.



Reference USA is another valuable backgrounding tool; in addition to its datasets of company information, RefUSA’s datasets of Standard White Pages, and New Movers are loaded with information.  And you can find it on the J-School database list.

LexisNexis – Public records lookup (access via the J-School Research Center; Barbara or Tinamarie will log you in). 


If you made a positive hit in your initial public records search, then chances are you’ve found additional bits and pieces that might prove useful as you build that profile.

Let’s have a look at a few possibilities:


Property Records

In addition to Accurint, get acquainted with the NYC Department of Finance Property Records and in particular, ACRIS (short for Automated City Register Information System.)

All property sales in New York City and its boroughs are a matter of public record.  Anyone can look up information about deeds, past sale prices and mortgage info for  specific properties. Records go back to 1966.

Want to know whether your subject is current with his/her property tax payments? Have your address or BBL (borough, block lot data) ready to search your subject’s account history.

Caveat:  While the online presence offers convenience, be mindful that you may not always find the most current data.

Tax Warrants

If someone owes taxes to the State of New York, a Tax Warrant , which is a lien against your property (including personal property), is the State’s legal action against you.  These warrants are initially filed with the county clerk, and are a matter of public record; warrants are later filed with NYS Department of State.  Searchers are encouraged to search in the offices of the appropriate county clerk(s) to determine the most recent status of filing(s) against a given taxpayer.


Professional Licensing and Misconduct/Discipline 

The New York State Education Department exercises oversight of the licensing of professionals, and its staff investigate and prosecute professional misconduct and unlicensed practice.  Data is reported in the New York State Professional Licensing Database.   Records of Professional Misconduct are reported here. Updated daily, and considered to be a primary source.

The Appellate Divisions of the State Supreme Court regulate and discipline lawyers in New York State; unfortunately, most current data is for January 2014, making the cases library less than ideal.  Contact information for the court is available. Since early 2015, it has gotten easier to find out if an attorney practicing in New York has been disbarred, or suspended. In addition to finding out if an attorney is registered and from which law school he or she graduated, New York State’s online attorney database now contains attorneys’ disciplinary history.


Verifying Employment or Education

Accurint  has a People at Work database (See Barbara in Research Center – she’ll search for you).
NYC Civil List  provides names and titles of NYC employees
SeeThruNY  gives New York’s taxpayers insight into how their tax dollars are being spent.
Call the University’s registrar office

Back-grounding the Well-Known

In addition to the go-to Google search, the J-School’s Research Center Database List provides several resources for gathering bio-background on well-known persons; here are a few sources you should remember:

When searching for profiles of prominent persons, consider the following search strategy: hlead(firstname w/3 lastname) AND atleast4 (lastname) AND length(>900) (Word count and ‘atleast’ command added when looking for extended profile pieces.)

Dow Jones Factiva

Access World News.  Good for small regional and community papers.  Use Shortcuts-USA-New York (in left navigation bar)

Biography Reference Bank.  Biographical information on over half a million well-known individuals.

Literature Resource Center.  Biographical information on more than 130,000 contemporary writers

Guide to Accessing NY FOIL

J-School’s FOIL Guide