How to Find Public Records Online

The top free sources for searching public records

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There are lots of free sites for finding public records online. When you run a public records search, you can find everything from marriage and divorce records to public birth and death information, criminal records, and more.

Some public records finders will locate all of that information at once, but others are built specifically for one type of record. For example, you might use one website for locating death records and another for birth records, but some public records include both.

Someone using their computer to create a family tree
Lifewire / Miguel Co

Below are the top free ways to find public records depending on the type of information you're after.

These resources only cover publicly available records, meaning that they're only what's been made available online. Some public records aren't released online and must be accessed through your local records office. Sometimes, information you find through these public records resources aren't true or even remotely accurate, so you can't always rely on what you see.

Public Records Search for People

Crowd of people illustration

If your public records search is aimed toward finding what's publicly available on a specific person, use a people search engine. You can type a name and location to see more information about the person, like their phone numbers, email addresses, usernames, physical addresses, relatives, education history, and more.

TruePeopleSearch is an example of a free website for finding people online, but others that cost, like BeenVerified, are sometimes more exhaustive.

Free Public Criminal Records

Thief illustration with criminal reports in newspapers

You might have luck using a people search engine to find criminal records (BeenVerified does a good job at listed those records), but you can also search for criminals with a prison inmate locator such as the one available at Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Family Watchdog is a good public records finder if you're looking for sex offenders in your area. You can search by location or school to find nearby sex offenders, or find a specific criminal via name. You can also use the National Sex Offender Public Website for the most recent information available from all 50 states, The District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories.

Online newspapers are considered public records, too, and they're updated frequently to include recent criminal reports.

Search Obituaries for Public Death Records

gravestone detail that reads RIP
amriphoto / Getty Images

Obituaries that are listed online is another way to search public records on the web. It's one of the best ways to learn if someone has passed away.

A similar public records search is for gravesite records. Websites like Find A Grave provide millions of memorials you can search through to confirm a death record, and many even have photos of the gravesite for extra proof.

Find Birth Records Online for Free

Birth records written on a cloud above colored pencils

Most if not all birth certificates aren't public information, but there are ways to search for birth record information online for free through other public records.

For example, a genealogy website often includes birth details such as when and where people were born, who their parents are, whether they were adopted, etc.

Local newspaper sites are another solid way to search public birth records. Not everyone releases a birth announcement, but some people do.

To order your official birth certificate, you can use a service like VitalCheck.

Use a Family Tree as a Public Records Search Tool

Family tree illustration

Family trees are online listings of how people are related within a family, so they're a great public record of who's married to whom, whether someone has passed away, how many children someone has, and maybe even where people are currently living.

FamilyTreeNow.com is one example of a free family tree service where you can browse public family trees and search for people by name, birth and death date, and other criteria.

Where to Search Other Public Records

If you still can't find the public records you're searching for, consider using a regular web search engine like Google or Bing. They serve as excellent general search tools that can look across lots of websites at once instead of the specific ones listed above.

However, here are some other resources for finding public records:

  • Census.gov lets you search publicly available information about the United States that's been gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau. Records include details on population, housing, economics, and geography.
  • Realtor.com is one example of an easy way of finding public records regarding properties for sale and rent, and the results often include other details, too, like home value estimates, pictures, tax details, and square footage.
  • USA.gov has all sorts of public records from the United States government, state governments, and local governments. Every agency that handles public information in the U.S. can be found somewhere in this huge database.
  • Veterans History Project is an example of a website that helps you find military records online.