How to find old friends? Exposing the limitations of social media


How to find old friends

We here at Friends Reconnected were somewhat taken aback when reading an article boasting of how easy it is and how to find old friends online.

It is related to a young person helping his Grandad do an online search to find old friends from 50 years ago. He asserted by using modern technology it is “a piece of cake” how to find old friends-right!

Really, well ……sorry to spoil the party

But.. that’s simply not true! Indeed ironically it was not reported, whether or not he actually succeeded.

But they know best right? “Actually their sometimes slightly contemptuous new and smart arse “know it all” attitude generation, is their Achilles heel.

They claim to know better than their peers the right approach in how to find a lost friend. Often dismissing us “oldies” as short on understanding in the digital age. The expression “out of touch” springs to mind!- Digital solves everything. 

We oldies often hear comments such as we are archaic and left behind

As mentioned above to find an old friend people search can be conducted in the old-fashioned conventional way such as how we do it.

Or, a style of approach more befitting the 21st century. Indeed the old-fashioned slow, painstaking methods of finding an old friend, are deemed archaic and best banished to the 20th-century history books.

Remember “Filofaxes” and reams of data written on paper? Although Grandad is a very nice man, he is a bit of a dinosaur so to speak. Would he be able to find my long-lost friend?-unlikely, or it would take forever.

With today’s technology, finding a lost friend probably takes up no more than 20 minutes of our time… ……really! Well…. In that fantasy Mickey Mouse parallel universe of yours, maybe!

So without further ado let’s put it to the test using Facebook.


How to find an old friend online? Is it really easy?

Facebook: Male searches

You have only your lost friend’s basic data details, which you enter into Facebook. Peter Watson, 1973, Warrington Lancs.

You find quite easily a person with the same name as your old friend that’s the easy part. Great, but then we discover there are hundreds of people with that same name?

Furthermore, it does not show any city/town of residence, schools attended, or any age given either. The question is which one amongst that lot, is your lost friend? This will be the recurring theme-which one, is it?

Likely, Warrington isn’t going to take us very far either. Statistics show 90% of people probably moved at least once in 40 years. As usual, there is nothing else about the individual.

Ignoring these setbacks we repeat: which one is it? Basically, you would have to work your way through every single one of them. Frustratingly asking yourself how can I establish which one is your long-lost friend.

With a myriad of branches of ifs, buts, and maybes! All each one would need investigating.

In addition, many that you messaged could indeed be that lost friend of yours. But, often they will not answer you as their account is no longer active. Or it’s not them but you don’t know that. So, you are left with more unanswered questions than answers.

Why so many unanswered messages?

Searching for an old friend is proving a bit tougher than you thought, right? So, thus far, in fact, let’s be honest that elusive task of finding a lost friend has evaded you.

Another obstacle here is that: many of the older generation unbeknown to you although they have an account, have simply never been able to figure out how to use it.

Often set up by their grandkids and since then it’s never been used. They are embarrassed to admit being unable to navigate their way around it.

Working your way through so many dead-ends!

When you have finished these laborious and time-consuming tasks, did it not occur to you he/she might have moved abroad?

You vaguely recall him/her mentioning it on a few occasions. So take a look there in that section too. Once again we see hundreds of people with the name-from Nairobi to Tokyo. Which one is it?

We suggest that in two weeks (unless you got very lucky) you will have made little progress. Not to mention exhausted, and out of patience.

Searching for an old friend online is almost always painful

Moving on what about if it’s a less common surname name? Does it make it easier?

Let’s try searching for an old friend named: Richard Verrall. We found around 30 people in the UK who offers more promise than say 300 of them.

Nevertheless, even with only 30 names to choose from, we have the same problem- zilch information about them. But then again he/she may have moved abroad, and which one is it?

Facebook: Female searches

When searching for an old friend if you thought finding someone of the male gender was challenging, we are about to find searching for ladies is even more so.

Let take a search for old friend Lorna Johnson. From Luton, Bedfordshire, born in 1946.

Unless she remained single and still lives in Luton, Facebook and such like are unlikely to come up with anything.

There may be one or two which could fit the bill… but! How are you going to find out if you have the right one or not? Which one is it?

You know the road she lived in back in 1960, the names of any siblings, and even remember her Mum and Dad’s Christian names, etc. You enter it into the search and nothing comes up. Indeed, most likely Mum and dad are no longer with us.

Finding an address today

Assuming you overcame all those barriers/obstacles described thus far in ow find your old friend then you now need to find a current address. Of course the most crucial parts of the search.

Before doing that you would need to spend time perusing Birth/Marriages/Divorce and death records just to ensure if he/she made it to adulthood. Then married (Then a name change to contend with) then a further surname change if she divorced.

Or in some cases, they retain their former married name or revert to their birth name.

The question is crucial which name from those permutations does she use today? No good asking Facebook or similar! Oh, and what about if she emigrated? 

How to find an old friend by maiden name?

Whatever her surname is today and if she remained in Luton that narrows it down. If not, we have to do a nationwide search.

Not a picnic, but if we have her husband Christian’s name that narrows it down a lot. Let’s say it’s Craig Wilson, we need to match that with a Lorna Wilson. You are now on the home straight. Certain software has the facility for you to conduct a two-name combined search.

Let’s assume you have everything in place and all you now need is a current address which you will need to pay for (subscription) assuming they are listed in the “open version “of the electoral roll.

If they opted not to show in the open register version you are done for! The only other route would be to find siblings or old friends who are not shielded by the “closed version” of the electoral roll.

Even after all this, it can still go awry! Why?…there could be 2 or more couples married to each other with the same names as the couple we are looking for: Which one is it?

The Last phase: People tracing old friends

Assuming you have traced the right person, great-well- done. Learn how professional people tracers go about it. An amateur people searcher demonstrates is: they tend to begin their search at completely the wrong end.

A good professional knows to “begin” by tracking back as far as we can go. This is always where we begin. Town/city of birth and date/year of birth/parents’ names and siblings, and friends along the way. Also when and where the individuals first met and then work our way forward to the present.

In the beginning, there was probably lots of good information we could use today if we can remember it. Often age is guesswork, but if you shared the same class at school you are more or less the same age.

If we have DOB Watford 1958, we search the official births marriages and deaths register for: 1958 Watford, this would probably produce no more than two people. –Great.

This should also give us a middle name initial (very useful) so let’s assume it is “A” as in Anne. It also gives the name of Dad, and Mother’s maiden names showing. It also links to siblings on both sides. This often takes us back into the late ’20s and ’30s. Probably no longer alive today but footprints we can link up to.

We then move on to any siblings. We may need to contact them if all else fails. We then do a search for any children born to Joan xxxx and Frederick Davis. This search shows all children born to this couple. We store this useful info in case it’s needed down the line.

The curse of Data Protection

Schools attended-useful-NO.

They are unable to pass on anything they have on file due to data protection. Frustratingly they often have the information you need but cannot give it to you. It is very annoying and crushingly disappointing as they are just sitting on it and never release it to anyone. There are always several school alumni/alumnae sites but rarely deliver.

Former places of work

We often see for example we both worked for British Airway in 1975 out of Gatwick. Totally useless to us! How is this information going to bring us nearer to finding them?

Even if by a miracle they still worked there-Data Protection!! Worked at the Cooperative in Willesden in 1980…same story-Data Protection.

What about contacting the management of their pension scheme? Same story, Data Protection. Pre data protection we could write to the pension fund manager, and they would give us the address.

Some of the more cautious types would write first and ask the individuals’ permission before giving the info out.

A very sensible approach you might say but nowadays, they are scared to even answer such a question. Terrified of breaching data protection rules.

That’s how bad it’s become these days, so, basically, we can forget that approach.

“Oh for the days of common sense”.

Probably all of this nonsense came about due to someone obtaining such information and then stalking the individual.

Yes, not very nice, but how many genuine people have been denied the opportunity to catch up with an old friend due to this terrible overreaction.

Denying many elderly people living alone in their 80s and 90s. And keen to catch up with someone very dear to them. “Sorry mate-Data Protection”….Rubbish.


“Sorry mate, Data Protection!”

Sorry, I am digressing here. Bits and pieces of information along the way are generally pretty useless.

People who provide us such information have all good intentions, but: “she worked for British Airway in 1975” is to us, quite useless. We are not going to march up to British airways and demand the information.

This is inspector Columbo style of approach-no chance. Let us say we did it in that way, what about the travel time out in spending a day at Britsh Airways offices!

In conclusion, and doing our very best not to make it appear like a “selling pitch “do consider using a professional agency or an entity that specialises in this sphere.

All the obstacles described we handle routinely daily. What could take you 5 hours to solve could take us a mere 1 hour. We know precisely where to look and how to work the databases.

After reading all this might give you a better understanding of the process, and maybe consider our charges are in fact quite reasonable.

Call 07561 698 453 


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