How to Find Government Records Online?
When someone first hears the term government records, their first thoughts may run to secret documents or inter-agency correspondence. However, most people would be surprised to hear that all government employees in the public sector are responsible for keeping records of their official activities. In fact, the government is the largest producer, collector, consumer and disseminator of information in the United States.
There are many government records that are not supposed to be disclosed or released to the public, sometimes they are, the classic example of this being Wikileaks which published government documents from secret sources. There are also, however, government documents that are available to the public and in fact legally required to be available to the public. This article will go into how to run a 2020 Government Records Search.
Which Government Records Are Public?
The law that allows for public access to government records is The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which was passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. In layman’s terms, the FOIA gives the public the right to request any document collected or created by the Executive Branch. There are restrictions, of course, any documents that are classified cannot be shared. There are also limits to what you can request from a government agency.
There are also government records which are referred to as public records, these include vital records such as birth, death and marriage certificates. This guide will go through how to find these records as well.
How to Find Government Records Online
There are various ways to find government records online. If you are looking for documents that relate to the public, for example, historical documents, war documents, documents about US expansion or foreign policy documents, then your best bet would be to visit the government sites that enable you to find them. The two main sites to use are:
The first place to look for a government record would be through NARA. This is the government body that is responsible for preserving U.S. government records, managing the Presidential Library, and publishes laws, regulations and other public documents. Their website has an immense amount of information, over 50% of the archives of the NARA can be accessed there, but due to the immense amount of data, it can be tricky to navigate if you don’t know where to look.
The website has a number of different research tools, one section goes through historical government documents about the founding of the United States. There is also a military records research tool that is separated by war. A veterans' military service records and medical records are not public online, but if the veteran or a next of kin can order a copy. There is a genealogy tool that helps gives access to census records, immigration records, land records, and naturalization records. You can also find records about places in the US including western expansion, cities and states, maps and architectural records as well as law enforcement documents.
If your search on the NARA was unfruitful, you can run a search through all the public government records that are available online on the FOIA website. You begin by going to the bottom of the home page and selecting from a drop-down menu which government agency’s documents you want to search through, you can also search for an agency. Some of the agencies are connected to the FOIA, others such as the CIA, you will have to submit a separate request form.
If the document is not listed you can start the process on the website to request a document. A request that is very general, such as I want “everything you have on Vietnam”, or “all information on my cousin” will not get any results, you need to specify which document you want.
The other sort of government records that you can search for are documents relating to an individual, these will not be listed on governments as they relate specifically to one person and would not interest most. These kinds of records include criminal records, vital records, court records and more.
These kinds of records are not usually kept online by the government authorities, but need to be requested as well. However, there are many third-party background search services that have access to these documents under the FOIA and provide access to their users that allows them to search public records relating to individuals. Here are the best websites to use:
GoLookUp is one of trusted background search companies on the internet that works by collecting public records available under the FOIA and aggregating them into a searchable database. The site allows its users to conduct unlimited searches for any public records. The search works by inputting the full name and state in which you wish to search. You will then be led to another page that will prompt you to select the correct person you are trying to access records about. GoLookUp does not have a free trial, but they do offer a 2 day trial for 1 dollar.
TruthFinder is another background check service. The online site provides people with an easy way to look up public records online. TruthFinder scans hundreds of millions of available public records, social network data, and more to provide its users with a complete report about the person you want to find. The site specializes in finding criminal, police and arrest records but also has many other public records in their database. Subscriptions to TruthFinder start at 30 dollars a month for unlimited searches.
CheckPeople is a background search company founded with the aim to help people make informed decisions and easily locate public records. The interface is a fairly easy-to-use platform and works on a subscription basis, allowing unlimited searches for $27.65 per month. A Public Record Search with CheckPeople can reveal any public documents regarding a specific person ranging from court dockets and birth certificates to property information and criminal records.