You Can Never Go Back

by admin on June 30, 2015

I’m happy to report that the training in Denver went well. Thanks to the good people at the University of Colorado. They continue to be great collaborators.

When thinking about the city of Denver, my head spins. Things change. I know it and you know it. It’s been three years since I visited so I expected to see plenty of change when I returned.  Man, I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t get my bearings because all the main landmarks were hidden by new condos. The old familiar areas with affordable housing were completely bulldozed. Local nonprofits were vacant (and likely bulldozed by now).

When you do follow-up after several years, whole neighborhoods can disappear. With the massive migration of money into urban areas across the country, the working class are being pushed into the suburbs. (In Denver’s case, the people are being pushed out of the metropolitan area entirely). This means more travel time when going by new addresses. You may even consider relocating your project’s headquarters to be closer to the people in your project.

As the city changes, so does your project.


Right in Front of You

by admin on May 14, 2015

Several years back I decide to reach out to a well-known organization trying to find missing children. I spend an hour writing a detailed email describing my background, experience, skills, and results in regards to finding the “unfindable.”  I start and end the email with one statement:

“I’d like to help with your effort, free of charge.”

After a few edits, I’m satisfied. Detailed and concise. Empathetic and serious.

I push “Send.”

This is a national organization so I’m not sure I’ll hear back from them. i move on with my day.

A few days later, I see an email from the national organization. This is it. I see visions of the coolest and most meaningful collaboration in my future. I click on the email.

I immediately see the message is brief. This is the basic gist of it:

“Thank you for your email. If you want to help our mission, please donate money to our organization.”

Damn. I sit shaking my head.

I know how difficult it is to find people. I also know these skills are generously rewarded because of the difficulty of the task and the rarity of the skill set.

And my free offer just ran into a brick wall.

The lesson here is to maximize the skill set in front of you. If you have a team of trackers, maximize the skills of each person. Some people love searching the internet. Some love going by addresses. Some love reaching out to people on the phone. Some love managing the project’s activities.

All are important to the follow-up effort. Don’t try to slam a square peg in a round hole. Roll with their skills and you’ll do wonders.






Seriously. Ok, maybe not everything. But my first tracking experience occurred at Disneyland when I was eight years old.

It’s the mid-80s. Our family loads up the wood panel station wagon and hits the road. North Dakota to California. It seems like forever. After three days of endless roads, we roll into L.A. We are exhausted. We collapse into the hotel room and get some rest before the big dance – Disneyland.

The next day we wake up bright and early. I’m excited for the rollercoasters and the funhouse. As we drive into the massive parking lot it hits me – this place is massive! We join a large mass of people and walk a mile towards the entrance. The mass grows the closer we get to the front door. By the time we do it’s chaos. We stay close to each other to avoid separation.

As we step through the front gate we’re met by an even bigger mass of people. This is nuts! We grab a map, huddle up, figure out a plan and head to the first gig. We spend a couple hours meandering through some rides and creepy shows. Then we finally get to a ride that me and brother (12 years old) were drooling over. My parents and little sister aren’t interested so we figure out a meeting spot after we’re done.

“Meet at the gate,” my dad says.

We nod and head in. The ride is average so my brother and I proceed to disrupt each other in an attempt to entertain ourselves. The ride ends and we head to the gate near the end of the ride. The rest of the family isn’t there. I look to my older (….wiser?) brother for an explanation.

“He said the gate.”

We stand there and observe the huge masses all around us. With every passing minute, our eyes nervously shift back and forth. 10 minutes…20 minutes…30 minutes. Nothing. We’re freaking out now. We can’t decide whether to leave the post and look for them or stay put. Splitting up is out of the question. An hour goes by and the masses only grow.

Fear fully sets in. We decide to go look around but not stray too far from the gate. No luck. All we see are tons of strangers. Another 30 minutes go by. We can’t even see where to report yourself as a lost kid. There is a ride nearby that has stairs going up several stories. We can look for them from a birds eye view. We abandon our post at the gate and head up the stairs.

Bad idea. Our eyes fully absorb a solid mass of thousands of people. We’re looking for a needle in 20 haystacks. Now we hit panic mode. We’re two North Dakota kids in L.A. – fish out of water and the water is 2000 miles away.

We climb back down and try to calm down. It takes several minutes. The fear is still thick but at least we can try to think of a plan.

With the amount of people, wandering around in the masses will only take you out of view. We need to figure out the place where we have the best chance to cross paths with them. We think of a couple options:

  1. We’ll stay near the place where we lost them. If a security guard walks by, we’ll get their help.
  2. The family plan was to attend the parade at 7pm (8 hours from now). We’ll try to intercept them there.
  3. If we don’t run into them at the parade, we’ll stand by the exits at closing time.

The plan is less than ideal but it’s our only shot. We hang our heads and head back to the ride. Another hour goes by. I need to use the restroom. As we close in on the men’s room I hear someone scream my brother’s name. We turn to see all three of them running towards us.

So here’s the Scooby Doo ending: There are two gates at the infamous ride. One at the entrance and one at the exit. Dad was talking about the gate at the entrance. They didn’t know there was a second gate. Both groups stood waiting for the other at opposite ends with a wall of people in between. By the time my brother and I dared to leave our post, they already left to report us as missing.

Here’s the cool thing. Our strategy was solid because my parents were planning the same thing. The parade and the exit gates at the end of the day.


Bottom Line: You need to maximize your ability to cross paths with the people you’re tracking. Figure out their routine and try to intersect with them along the way. It’s a strategy that produces for me all the time.

And try to avoid Disneyland.







April 27, 2015

I’m going back to where it all started. Recently I confirmed a trip to Denver to conduct a training with the very organization that gave me my first opportunity in the longitudinal research world – the University of Colorado. My first assignment was to find almost 1000 drugs addicts from a study several years prior. This […]

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The Big Easy

February 11, 2015

New Orleans. One of the best cities on the planet. I’m gushing because I just got back. First, go there. Second, I had a nostalgic moment I need to write about. Technology is now an intregal part of travel. We can’t go anywhere without staring at our phones wondering where to walk, eat, drink, or […]

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Tip of the Iceberg

November 17, 2014

Searching in public records seems pretty straight forward. The site will give you several criteria to choose from including name, social security number, address and phone.  Just throw in the info you have and let it roll. What if your results are subpar, minimal or nil?  Search is over, right? Wrong. You only glimpsed the […]

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Quick Tip #24

November 6, 2014

Social media is a form of publishing personal information. Not just sharing, publishing. If your participants choose to publish information for the world to see, it can be used to locate them. I once read about a bondsman looking for a client who violated parole. He had a warrant for her arrest. He found her […]

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Face Value

September 24, 2014

Storage auction shows are all over television nowadays. If you sift through the fluff, scripts and heavy production, you can find a few pointers. Bidders are investigators. Because they can’t touch the items in the storage unit, they have to take everything at face value. Even though they only see the face, there’s much more […]

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Shifting Foundations

August 18, 2014

The world of finding people continues to change. Just when you think things are stable, the ground underneath you shifts. The routine is gone. You need to start over again. One ingredient under constant change is the world of public records databases. They never sit still. They are businesses, and businesses fail, g0 bankrupt or […]

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It Takes All Kinds

July 9, 2014

A guy in St. Paul recently broke into a family home and helped himself to some of their possessions. Before he left the scene of the crime, he felt compelled to check his Facebook page. He did so and then hit the road. His plan went awry when he forgot to log off of Facebook. […]

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