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 know someone and want to send them email, but don’t have their email address.
I’ll be blunt. Nine times out of ten, you’re out of luck.
But sometimes, you get lucky.
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 have you looking in 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 having nothing to do with who you really 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 Google. Google might 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 it does start to list some of the others.
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 down your search to which 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 really 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 might claim to be free, but when it comes time to deliver the information, payment is required.
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 often require a fair amount of effort and legwork.
Important: Do not post comments to this article with “I’m looking for some name‘s email address. Please help me.” Please read the article above. Posting people’s names and personal information here will not help, and it violates the privacy of the person you’re trying to locate. Such comments will be deleted.
Footnotes & References
1: Originally I was referring to folks who simply haven’t gotten online yet, or who simply don’t care to. The more common thought these days is that younger people are moving away from email as their primary communications 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.
Leo Notenboom has been programming computers since 1976, and answering questions about them online since 2003. For more, see askleo.com.