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Public Records Online: Ten Free Sources You Can Use To Jumpstart Your Search

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Locating public records is one of the most popular search activities on the Web, and millions of people look for vital, historical, and other publicly registered documents every day online. Find a birth certificate, locate census records, track down land use documents, and much more with this list of the best websites for finding public information on the Web.

Note: These resources only cover publicly available records that are made accessible online. Some kinds of public records, such as birth certificates, are not made freely available online and must be accessed via your local records office. DO NOT pay for information that you find online, unless it is from an approved, secure state or federal resource. Read "Should I Pay to Find Someone Online?" for more information.

1. Google

Google Logo officially released on May 2010
Google product logos/Google Inc./Public Domain
Yes, Google definitely belongs on this list of free public records search sites. Not only is it free, it's also one of the world's largest databases of information. For more info on how to use Google as your own public documents locator, read these articles titled Google Search, Google Cheat Sheet, Google Reverse Lookup, and How to Create a Google News Alert (a great way to track mentions of your topic across the Web).

2. VitalRec.com

free public records search
VitalRec explains how to obtain vital records (such as birth certificates, death records, marriage licenses and divorce decrees) from each state, territory and county of the United States, as well as an impressive international section. The site is organized by state; locate your state, then browse the available vital records links. No registration is required to use this site. One particularly useful feature of VitalRec.com: all fees that might be included in your public records searches are clearly listed and frequently updated.

3. Obituary Searches

free public records search

Obituaries, both present-day and historical, can be found online with a little bit of sleuthing. Most obituaries are placed online, eventually, via the newspaper that originally published them. It can take some considerable patience and preparation in order to find many obits, but they can be found on the Web. This tutorial, How to Find an Obituary, takes you step by step on how to research obituary records both on the Web and off.

4. Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records

free public records search
DeathIndexes.com is a (mostly) free genealogy search site; excellent for those researching genealogies in particular. The website is a comprehensive directory of death indexes on the Web listed by state and county, with easily navigable links to everything you might be looking for. Death records are included here, as well as death certificate indexes, death notices and registers, obituaries, probate indexes, and cemetery and burial records.

5. Google People Search

free public records search

Google is one of the most useful places to start looking for all sorts of records, simply because its index is so incredibly large and can pull in details and resources you might not have thought to include otherwise. This article, How to Use Google to Find People, delves into the specifics of using Google to find people and people-related information on the Web.

6. Zabasearch

free public records search

Zabasearch is somewhat controversial because it brings back so much information. However, all of this information is publicly accessible; Zabasearch just puts it all in one convenient place. Zabasearch is considered a good "jumping off point"; it gives you a lot of publicly accessible information that you can use to track down even more public data using other Web search tools (such as the ones included in this top ten list).

7. FirstGov, the US Government's Official Search Engine

free public records search

FirstGov.gov is is a search portal that gives users instant access to all sorts of information from the United States government, state governments, and local governments. Every agency that handles public information in the United States can be found somewhere in this huge database. The site can be somewhat overwhelming at first simply because of the volume of information available; use the FirstGov tutorial to get an overview of what this incredibly useful site has to offer.

8. Find a Grave

free public records search

One of the more common public data searches pertains to finding grave information: cemetery records, interment information, even images of the gravesite. The website Find a Grave is extremely helpful in this regard. Celebrity interments can also be found here, with accompanying information and photos.

9. Census Finder

free public records search
For the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Census Finder is a free public records search site that can help you track down all sorts of interesting demographic information. For genealogy researchers or anyone looking to track down vital records, census information can become some of the best and most often utilized sources for content, especially since most censuses in the last century are recorded or transcribed online.

10. DirectGov (UK site)

free public records search
DirectGov is a searchable public data search database of a wide range of government information and services in the United Kingdom, and is considered an excellent source of free online information. All public services in the UK are located here: job search resources, student finance information, taxes, housing, all sorts of governmental resources can be found all in one convenient place. Personal public records are not necessarily available here, but if you're looking for more general bureaucratic resources for the UK, this is the first place to look.
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