Advanced back-grounding requires more than a general sweep for names, addresses and telephone numbers; that exercise always occurs at the start of every effort.  But the activity with which one is engaged when attempting to do advanced back-grounding commands greater scrutiny, knowledge of available resources, and a willingness to lift the carpet and sift for nuggets of valuable data and information.


Find Contacts/Family/Neighbors

Social Media

If you’re working on the cheap, then social media networks are an intuitive and familiar first stop.  Spokeo assembles and organizes white pages, public records and social networks’ information.  The free version usually provides sparse information- name/address, maybe; with a subscription, one can find phones and emails and social media footprints.  As a J-School student, you have access to a paid version of Spokeo; check your email for a registration notice from Spokeo.

You can also avail yourself of Facebook Twitter / LinkedIn, especially when going after contacts for family, friends, neighbors, verifying employment, colleagues or classmates.

Looking for a good source for verifying a source’s academic credentials? Call the university’s registrar’s office or try the fee-based National Student Clearinghouse.


Public and Property Records 

If you have the basic contact information, and are considering your next move, then delving into public records resources that offer more information about your person of interest is a good second step.

NETRonline is a portal to official state web sites, and to the tax assessors’ and recorders’ offices that have developed web sites for the retrieval of available public records over the internet.  When you hear the term ‘tax assessors’ or ‘recorders’, think property records – valuable repositories of additional personal information.

Some recorders’ offices have marriage and birth records available online, and while not every county and parish has data online, many have home pages, and where neither is available a phone number has been provided.

Let’s have a look at the type of backgrounding information which may be retrieved from the Kings County Public Records?


If you lose your link to NETRonlineget acquainted with the NYC Department of Finance Property Records and in particular, ACRIS (short for Automated City Register Information System.)

All property sales in New York City and its boroughs are a matter of public record.  Anyone can look up information about deeds, past sale prices and mortgage info for specific properties. Records go back to 1966, but you will probably have to visit the City Register in order to retrieve older (pre 1993) documents.

Want to know whether your subject is current with his/her property tax payments? Have your address or BBL (borough, block lot data) ready to search your subject’s account history.


If you’ve got a few bucks in the treasury, then Accurint public records database is a great jumping off point when going after background on relatives, neighbors, property, past/present employment, professional licenses, bankruptcy, death, divorce, criminal record… (See Barbara in the J-School Research Center – she’ll search for you).

In Class Drill


Reference USA is another valuable backgrounding tool; in addition to its datasets of company information, RefUSA’s datasets of Standard White Pages are quite valuable when trying to find neighbors.  Available via the J-School database list.

Tax Warrants

If someone owes taxes to the State of New York, a Tax Warrant , which is a lien against your property (including personal property), is the State’s legal action against you.  These warrants are initially filed with the county clerk, and are a matter of public record; warrants are later filed with NYS Department of State.  Searchers are encouraged to search in the offices of the appropriate county clerk(s) to determine the most recent status of filing(s) against a given taxpayer.

SearchSystems  Conduct free public records and background searches and, for a fee, retrieve reports aggregated by Intelius.


LexisNexis – Public records lookup (access via the J-School Research Center; Barbara or Tinamarie will log you in). 


Additional Backgrounding Tools

New York Civil Servants

SeeThruNY  gives New York’s taxpayers insight into how their tax dollars are being spent. If your subject is a civil servant, this site will be your ‘go-to’ source for verifying names, titles, salaries and pension benefits of NYC and NYS employees

Verifying Professional Licensing and Misconduct/Discipline 

The New York State Education Department exercises oversight of the licensing of professionals, and its staff investigate and prosecute professional misconduct and unlicensed practice.  Data is reported in the New York State Professional Licensing Database.   Records of Professional Misconduct are reported here. Updated daily, and considered to be a primary source.

In Class Sample Search:

Since early 2015, it has gotten easier to find out if an attorney practicing in New York has been disbarred, or suspended. In addition to finding out if an attorney is registered and from which law school he or she graduated, New York State’s online attorney database now contains attorneys’ disciplinary history.

In Class Sample Search: 


Open Secrets

NYC Campaign Finance Board


Back-Grounding the Well-Known

The J-School’s Research Center Database List provides several resources for gathering background on well-known persons; here are a few sources you should remember:


Use Lexis Nexis Academic when searching for profiles or features of prominent persons; consider the following search strategy: hlead(firstname w/3 lastname) AND atleast4 (lastname) AND length(>900) (Word count and ‘atleast’ command added when looking for extended profile pieces.)

Here’s a sample search:  hlead (Rachel w/2 Noerdlinger) AND atleast4 (noerdlinger) and length>800.  For less prominent folks, drop the hlead, firstname w/2 lastname is enough.

Access World News is another good source to have in your virtual library when searching for news appearing in small, regional and community papers, some of which are not part of the LexisNexis database (avail at J-School Database list). Use Shortcuts-USA-New York (in left navigation bar)

Biography Reference Bank.  Biographical information on over half a million well-known individuals.

Biography Reference Center.  Full-text biographies from figures in U.S. and world history, and narrative biographies unavailable elsewhere;

Don’t forget Google News; search for a person by ‘firstname ** lastname’ in case of a middle name or initials.