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How Do I Find Someone’s Email Address?

It’s rarely easy.

It can be extremely difficult to find the email address of someone you want to contact. To begin with, they must want to be found.

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Question:

How do I find out my friend’s email address?

I’d like to get in touch with my old college roommate. How do I find out her email address?

I’m trying to get in touch with a business contact, but I’ve lost his email address. How can I find it again?

As you can tell, I get variations of this question often. Most people encounter this difficulty at some point.

I’ll be blunt. Nine times out of ten, you can’t. You’re out of luck.

But sometimes, you get lucky.

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TL;DR:

Finding someone's email address

There’s no central database of email addresses. The best options are generic internet searches with as much information as you have or searching social network sites. In most cases, people must want to be found for those to be successful. There are services that offer to find people, but you should use them with great caution.

It won’t be easy

Finding someone’s email address is hard for several reasons.

  • There’s no central database or phone book for the internet. An exhaustive search could entail looking at tens or hundreds of resources.
  • The planet is bigger than you think. If all you have is a name, that’s not enough. There could be thousands of people with the same name. In most cases, you’ll need more.
  • Not everyone wants to be found. It’s easy to set up a free email account with information that has nothing to do with who you are. So even if you know a lot about the person you’re trying to find, they still may not be findable.
  • Not everyone has or uses email.1

What’s worth trying?

My first reaction is almost always to try Google. Google can take you straight to many people. For example, at this writing, searching Google for me, Leo Notenboom, will get you several pages of results that are all right on target2. If you’re looking for a different Leo Notenboom, you’ll need to do more work to narrow down your results. I still dominate “Leo Notenboom Netherlands”, at least when searching within the U.S., but others are listed.

Now, I have a relatively unique name and a big footprint on the internet. If you’re looking for a more common name (say John Smith), you have a lot of work ahead of you. You’ll need much more information to narrow your search to the John Smith you’re trying to locate. You could include anything from the city he lives in, the place he works, the school he went to — anything that might help narrow down the search. Even then, you’re unlikely to get the right person unless they already have an internet presence and your information matches well.

Occasionally, I look for the best man at my wedding, whom I’ve lost contact with over the years. His name is somewhere in the middle — not as unique as mine, but certainly not as generic as John Smith. I have yet to find him. I keep finding people with the same names in other places, but they are obviously not him.

Searching the services

If they want to be found and you suspect they have accounts with major online services or social media, it might be worth searching those services. If their place of business has a directory, that might be worth a look.

What’s important to note is that for member directories to work, the person must want to be found. Even if they have an account, they may elect to keep their information obfuscated or private, and searching the directory will do you no good.

Finally, there are services that claim to be able to find out all sorts of information about people. These are mostly culled from public records also accessible elsewhere. I’ve never used one and cannot recommend any specifically. What I can recommend is that you be cautious! Some — though certainly not all — are scams; others promise much and deliver little; and others claim to be free, but when it comes time to deliver the information, payment is required.

Do this

In a nutshell, I’ll reiterate: it’s often practically impossible to locate someone’s email address. You can get lucky, but it’s rare and can require a fair amount of effort and legwork.

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Footnotes & References

1: Originally, I was referring to folks who haven’t gotten online yet or who don’t care to. The more common thought these days is that younger people are moving away from email as their primary communication method. While that might be true for children and adolescents, by the time they get to the workplace, or if they need to set up any of a number of online services, they’ll have an email address of some sort. How closely they pay attention to it is another matter.

2: The first result that isn’t me is still pretty close: it’s the obituary for my father — also Leo.

6 comments on “How Do I Find Someone’s Email Address?”

  1. A few years ago, after much research, and some family facts at my disposal, I was finally able to locate accurate information about a long-lost sibling of my father, learning that she was now deceased. Her last living location having been established, I found the employment email of my cousin with whom I’ve never spoken but wanted to get to know. The email was at a government agency workplace. Unfortunately after all that research, and sending a detailed email with identifying family information, I never received the courtesy of a reply. Hit a brick wall after a lot of time spent. Indeed, some people just “don’t want to be found” as you say.

    Reply
    • That, and they may simply not trust the incoming message to be legitimate. We all get SO MUCH SPAM that it’s easy — and in fact quite right — to be skeptical.

      Heck, it’s even possible your message landed in the recipient’s spam folder without their ever seeing it.

      Or they might just not have wanted to be found. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Reply
    • Maybe if you write with more detail mentioning some information that only a relative of hers would know, she might be more willing to respond. Also, be careful to avoid language which might sound spammy. For example, long lost relative type language might provoke a spam filter as it might sound like a Nigerian Prince type of scam.

      Reply
  2. I’ve found literally (in the literal sense) of old friends on Facebook. I also found a few more on my college alumni website. Of course, those are people who want to be found but Facebook is the first place I’d look. You won’t get their email address anymore but you can reach them on Facebool of FB Messenger.

    Reply

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