Dear Savvy Senior: I'm interested in tracking down some old friends I've lost touch with over the years but could use some help. What tips or resources can you recommend to help me find them? - Searching Senior
Dear Searching: It you have access to the Internet, tracking down long-lost friends from many years ago is relatively easy to do, and in most cases it won't cost you a cent. Here are some tips and tools to help you get started.
Before you begin your search, a good first step is to jot down any information you can remember or find out about the people you're trying to locate. Things such as their full name (maiden and married), age or birth date, last known address or phone number, old email address, names of family members, etc. Knowing details can help you turn up clues while you search.
After you compile some information, a good place to start your search is at google.com. Just type in the person's first and last name in quotation marks to indicate you're searching for a specific phrase - for example, "John Smith."
Unless your friend has a unique name, you're likely to get dozens of results. You can narrow your search by adding other criteria like their middle initial or middle name, the city or state they may live in, or even their occupation. You can also do an advanced Google search at google.com/advanced_search, which helps you specify your search for better results.
In addition to these search engines, try social networking and affinity sites where your friend may have registered, such as facebook.com,
Another option is to check out high school alumni websites. Not every school has its own site, but some do, and you can look for it by going to any search engine and typing in the name of the school with the city and state it's located in. You also can search at alumniclass.com, a huge hosting site for thousands of high schools across the U.S.
If you're looking for old college friends, your university alumni association may be able to help. While they probably won't give you the contact information of the person you're looking for, they may be able to forward a message for you.
If you're looking for someone you served with in the military, military.com offers a free "Buddy Finder" service that has a database of more than 20 million records.
And if the person you're looking for is politically active, the Federal Election Commission's Web site (fec.gov) lists the addresses, ZIP codes and occasionally even the occupations of those who have given $250 or more to a national campaign.
If you can't find any current information about the person you're searching for, it could be that he or she is dead. To find out if that's the case, several sites including familysearch.org and tributes.com offer free access to the Social Security Death Index, a listing of around 90 million deaths in the United States. Legacy.com also adds a database of published obituaries from hundreds of American newspapers.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC "Today" show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org