There are many free methods for performing simple online searches for people and businesses, including using Switchboard, Vitalrec.com and Google. Other services that provide general lookup information include phone directories and search engines.
These methods are more effective for obtaining information considered to be part of the public domain such as phone number, name and address. More comprehensive background information is offered through various third party services for a fee.
Basic directories such as Switchboard allow a user to perform a search on people and businesses using a name, address, zip code or business category as search criteria. It's also capable of performing a reverse phone lookup by using the phone number to locate the owner. If available, the results will return a map with the exact location.
Search engines such as Google can perform an Internet search using a phone number, address or name. Results will generate for any information found on the Internet that is linked to the search criteria, including details within a social site profile or job description. Google also offers images as part of its search results.
Public records, including birth certificates, census records and land use documents, can be located through the Internet using free services such as Vitalrec.com. While it doesn't provide the documents directly, Vitalrec.com links to state information and guidelines for obtaining vital records such as birth, marriage and death certificates.