Searching for Public Records

Many governments have put public records online, but all too often in Invisible web databases that can't be found by search engines. The Search Systems Public Records Locator can help.

The site is a searchable directory of more than 11,000 free public record databases. There are also links to databases where the provider charges a fee. Each link is labeled "free" or "pay" so you'll know up front whether or not to expect to pay for the service.

What kinds of public records are available? The "about us" section of the site talks about the focus of the directory.

"At the State level we've concentrated on locating databases that provide business information (corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, assumed business names), licensing (dentists, physicians, real estate, therapists, etc.), criminal records, sex offenders, inmates/offenders, missing children, unclaimed property, trade names/trademarks, state employee/department lookups, uniform commercial code filings, and state codes.

"At the City and County levels we've concentrated on locating links to: local civil, criminal, probate, family, and traffic court records; birth, death, and marriage records; assumed/fictitious business name filings; recorded documents; county/city inmates; and tax information."

There are two ways to find the types of records you're looking for. In most cases, your best bet is to browse by geographic area, since public records tend to be much more localized than other types of online information. The directory is organized into country, state, county, region, and city categories.

Alternately, you can use the site's search engine. This will match your search term(s) with 3 fields associated with every link (Title, Description & Keywords), and provide you with all links that match your search term(s).

You can limit your search in three ways, using a drop-down box next to the search form. The default is to match all keywords, the equivalent of ANDing your search terms together. You can also match any keywords (OR), or match the exact phrase. The advanced search page also provides a "without keywords" field that excludes terms from your results.

You can choose to display 10, 25, or 50 results per page.

The Search Systems Public Records Locator is primarily a U.S. public records locator, but there's also a category for Canadian public records. The Worldwide category is useful, but contains far fewer resources than the U.S. and Canadian categories.

Be sure to check out the "outer space" category. This isn't a joke -- rather, it's a directory of some excellent databases of extraterrestrial information, such as earth images, an interactive sky chart, potentially hazardous asteroids and other interesting "spacey" information.

Given the scattered, diverse nature of public records, finding what you're looking for online still remains one of the most challenging web search tasks. But the Search Systems Public Records Locator makes the job a lot easier.

Search Systems Public Record Locator
One of the largest and most comprehensive collection of links to free public record databases on the Internet.

The Truth About Big Brother Databases
SearchDay, Oct. 3, 2002
Worried that your personal details may be stored away in a database that anyone can search? Two public records search experts set the record straight on what exactly is -- and is not -- included in "big brother" databases.

2002 Search Engine Watch Award Winners Announced

The winners of the 2002 Search Engine Watch Awards have been announced, and while Google had another great year, numerous other services put in strong showings, meriting kudos and awards for excellence.

In January 2003, Search Engine Watch members were invited to nominate search engines in various categories for the Search Engine Watch awards. Winners of the nomination round were then voted on by readers of Search Engine Watch's various newsletters.

The votes and suggestions were used by Search Engine Watch editor Danny Sullivan and associate editor Chris Sherman in making the final decisions about award winners. More details are available via the link below about each of the award categories and winners.

2002 Search Engine Watch Award Winners

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.