Vital records are an excellent way to search for first names. Birth certificates, death certificates, naturalization documentation and marriage licences are usually accessible online or, in some cases, websites provide ways to gather the information.
Beginning a search without a first name it difficult but not impossible. The ability to provide a last name or a specific location, such as a city or a state, helps narrow the search results. Government and independently operated websites and their various search tools expedite the search.
The National Archives and Record Administration and the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics websites contain a vast amount of records available to the public. The CIA has a search tool, CREST; Fold3 has millions of digitized documents on file, including newspaper records and photographs. The Search Systems website provides a free search engine that combs through several databases with no first name required. Gathering as much information as possible on the person being sought is advisable when no first name is known.
The more information gathered, the better the search results are likely to be. For example, a birth year or a year of death opens new avenues for searching. If the person being sought was adopted or in the military, searching through adoption records and military records can increase the chances of finding them.