Tracing family and friends in Britain

You’ve lost the phone number of your best mate from college, you can’t remember your cousin’s address and you are not sure whether Great-Aunt Margaret is still living. What can you do, short of hiring a private detective? How can information be obtained when you are oceans away from those long lost special people?

Telephone directories used to be far more useful than they are today when more than one-third of UK residents do not have a listed phone number. Surnames and initials only appear in directories, so if the person you happen to be seeking is called P Jones you have a needle in a haystack situation. If you want to give this a try, however, the main site to check out is

However, if this doesn’t work help is at hand if you know where to look and it need not cost you a penny (or dime, peseta, rupee…).

To begin with, one invaluable site listing UK residents is the popular claiming to include over 50 million residents. This is based on members of the population who are eligible to vote, so will not include those under 18. Usually the site offers a few free introductory searches but you do have to register. Bear in mind that information is usually about a year old by the time it is available on this service. Data Protection law is tightening up in a big way in Britain and a new Act of Parliament will mean that information like this may not be available for much longer, so the time to act is now!

Message board sites are another useful way to make contact and have many successes, although they can be hit and miss. Here are a few free sites for the UK:
Friends Reunited at
Around at
Reunite at
And one that claims to be worldwide:

The British Legion website has a ‘Lost Trails’ message section on their site for services and ex services personnel –
Royal British Legion: Lost Trails

The Salvation Army runs the most famous tracing service in the UK. They have an excellent website explaining all aspects of their service:
Salvation Army: Family Tracing

Basically the conditions are that they search only for family members (no friends), do not handle adoption cases, will only search for fathers if parents were married and will contact the person sought on your behalf without revealing their address. If you can comply with all of these then as a non-profit making organisation this is an excellent option in terms of cost, but may take several months.

If your family member is missing and may be in a vulnerable situation, the Nation Missing Persons Helpline is a charity that helps with search and support. Their web address is

If you have no luck with any of the above, or just want the convenience of finding someone else to do the work for you, how do you find a reputable researcher or investigator?

Genealogists don’t just look for dead ancestors and many carry out all aspects of research including tracing living relatives and lost friends. The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) has an on-line list of researchers and their specialist areas. All members have been tested and approved as competent and must adhere to a code of practice. Find their details at

Detectives can be quicker as they may have access to sophisticated databases, but can be much more expensive so make sure you obtain a firm quote or set a budget first. The Association of British Investigators site at
also has a list of members that comply with a code of practice.