Monday, June 22, 2020

Everyday People (Research)

People-finding research can take many forms: locating needed contact information; tracing your family history; finding background on a client, judge, opposing counsel, expert witness, or even the forgotten inventor of the rape kit. The increased online availability of public records has made this research easier than ever before - which can present ethical dilemmas related to "doxxing" unsuspecting persons, such as those mistakenly identified as criminal suspects whose information is posted on the internet. The following people-finding resources should only be used for legitimate and responsible research purposes.

One powerful research resource that is available to the Duke Law community is the Locate a Person (Nationwide) database within Lexis Advance. To reach it, log in to the Lexis research system and choose "Public Records" from the menu in the top left corner. You can conduct searches for people, including options to search addresses and limit by dates of birth. Results often provide address history, phone numbers (sometimes unlisted and/or cell phones), real property ownership records, voting registration information, and (all the way at the bottom of a search result) email addresses associated with that person's record. The information can contain inaccuracies, particularly with regard to address history, but it is an excellent starting place to locate basic biographical and contact information about people.

Another people-finding resource available to the Duke University community is Ancestry Library Edition. This popular genealogy website provides access to birth and death records, city directories, immigration documents, military records, historical Census logs, and many other databases from various time periods and jurisdictions. Often, databases within Ancestry do not contain more recent data, but this can be a good starting point to locate historical information about a person or their family members. (Not affiliated with Duke? Check your local public library for potential access to Ancestry, like Durham County Library's.)

Even without access to these premium, subscription-based resources, there are still many people-finding research tools and techniques that you can use for free. One approach is to search government agency websites directly to locate needed information. For vital records and property records, this information is generally held at the county government level. While not all governments have created public-facing databases, real property tax bill information is frequently available online, and other public records (such as Clark County, Nevada's Marriage Records database) may be available for searching.

For law students who are enrolled in the Summer Legal Research Bootcamp, this week's module focuses on Finding People, and includes tips and tricks for researching everyday people as well as specialized resources for researching legal professionals. For those not eligible for the bootcamp session, more information about the specialized legal resources can be found in the research guides to Directories of Lawyers and Directories of Courts & Judges. For help with using these resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.