How to Find Free Public Records Web Sites

By Melissa Lewis

A public record is the information that has been recorded or filed by a government agency. The Freedom of Information Act declares that some types of information must be available to the public (such as sex offender registries, criminal records, census data and real estate appraisals). Not all records are available for free no matter how hard your search, but in the age of the Internet, finding such information is easier for the average person than it ever was before.

Step 1

Know that most "free" public search web sites are not really free. If you put in "Free Public Records" into a search engine, your results will most likely be web sites where the search is free, but not the ability to view the results. In these kinds of web sites, after you type in the information you want, they will tell you if any results were found and then ask you to pay a fee. You may not even know if the results are actually what you're looking for--but without paying, you will never know.

Step 2

Visit government web sites. Visit BRB's Free Resource Center, which has a list of government agency web sites where public information is available. This is a for-profit web site where you may mistakenly search in an advertiser's ad bar rather than clicking on the actual links on the page. Another good web site is Public Records Wired, where you can find links for both government web sites and other public records web sites such as missing persons, inmate databases and census data (see Resources below).

Step 3

Visit non-profit organization web sites. Many non-profit organizations make public information available for free, especially information on sex offenders and public service information like unclaimed property (see Resources below).

Step 4

Know the right keywords. Typing in the word "free" usually will not result in web sites with free results. Instead, type in specific words like "court case search Maryland" or "real property Maine." You are more likely to get a hit for the actual primary source rather than a third party trying to sell you the results.