Defects in online “official” public records

Have you had the experience of searching an online court or Recorder index and getting a false negative? You know the name is there but it isn’t returned in your search results. Worse yet, you don’t know whether the record is there and assume it’s not because the site returned “no result.”

I was searching multiple names at the Alameda County Recorder Real Property index and found that results were returned only when the first name listed in a document was searched, but not the second name, even when that name was listed in the index. This only applies to shared last names, I believe.

I queried the name “Bennett, Lyle”, which returned a record in which that name was listed first. The index record for the document shows a second name, “Bennett, Doris.”

I searched the index for “Bennett, Doris” and received a “no record” message.

I’m sure the Recorder would like to hear from you about this glitch. I contacted the provider of the software and received an email directing me to resolve the problem with the Recorder.

What’s your experience searching online records?

One Response to “Defects in online “official” public records”

  • Joel Voss - Ultra Investigations:

    Good tip!
    In the various court/jail databases I use there are 11 reasons why one can get a “no record found” in the criminal, civil and traffic databases. The subject actually having no record is only ONE of the 11. One has to know the database they are working.

    Here are the other 10 reasons one may get a false negative:
    1. All court databases are searched by name, some require that one inputs FULL first and last name. Partial first or last will not display records that may exist on the person.
    Examples – “Bonner, William” – Full name must be inputted. Beware, he may be in the database as “Will” or “Willie”. You should search with first name “William”, “Will” and “Willie” or even “Bill”.

    2. Some databases will allow searches using partial first and/or partial last name. This is very useful when the name you are searching is very long or a foreign name which could be misspelled in the database itself. Use it when you can but know how it works for that database.

    3. Some databases allow searches using last name only. This can be useful only when the first name is an unusual one and may be misspelled in the database itself. A search like this may display records even if you would have put the first name in incorrectly. I found a drug conviction on a Tampa psychiatrist this way because his first and middle name were reversed in the court database! I put in his last and first name into a database and found nothing then I just put in his last name and jackpot!

    4. Females – they can be tough to search for in a database. Their last names change. Here are some examples of a woman who was born “Alice Grace Wilson”, who marries a guy with the last name Holt:
    Alice G. Holt
    Alice G. Wilson-Holt (could be in the database as last name “Wilsonholt”)
    Alice Holt Wilson (look for a “middle name” that does not sound like one for a clue to her maiden name)
    Alice W. Holt

    All possible names must be searched for. Hispanic females are even tougher as they have compound last names (like Torres-Rodriguez) as their maiden names.

    5. The online court database will only go back so far. Some databases go back to the early 1970’s (rare) others go back only to the early 1990’s while others only go back to the mid 2000’s. Depending on the age of the subject this may not be a problem. Find out how far back the database goes. Sometimes the website will tell you how far back it goes and sometimes you have to test it by typing in a common name and seeing how old the cases are.

    6. Don’t neglect the traffic court databases. They all have the speeding tickets and other minor traffic violations you may not care about but they may also contain DUI’s (drugs or alcohol) and reckless driving cases. Some courts have the DUI’s in their misdemeanor databases and others have them only in the traffic database. In Tampa alone I have found almost 10 DUI convictions in the traffic court database – they do not show up in the criminal (misdemeanor or felony) databases even though DUI is a misdemeanor.

    7. When searching in the civil court database do a regular search for his name just like the criminal database. But be aware that the database may have him listed as a business name “William Holt MD” under the search of “last name”. Again, check the database you are using and know how it works.

    8. Some criminal cases get sealed or expunged (taken off the record as if they never occurred). If that is the case then you will not find the record in the court’s database. But there are ways to find them. Look in the civil case database and look for any civil cases brought against the subject by any government organizations and look for things like “vehicle impoundment” or any “forfeiture”. If there was a criminal case of drugs or theft then the government will often file a civil case to confiscate the property used to commit the crime. That civil case is not part of the expunged criminal case and may well still be on the record. Another way to find it is with the private internet companies that let you do searches for free or a small fee. These databases are NOT reliable as a main source of data because they are often missing months or years of data from all cases in a particular court or even a whole state. There are many entire states that they have NO data on. They can be good because they obtained the data on cases before they were expunged and for cases that may exist in areas you would not have searched for.

    9. Look in the county court’s Official Records. Those online records often go back much earlier than the criminal or civil databases. What you want to look for are judgments, court orders and injunctions. These can be a lawsuit they lost and a judge’s judgment was against him or a court order to complete probation after a criminal case conviction. The injunction (court order to not do or to do something) could be from a domestic violence case.

    10. Some courts or jails only show records if the person was convicted, some only on felony convictions. Others only show records of cases that are open now. If the subject had a drug bust and was convicted and finished his jail/probation a year ago then when you search for that subject you get a result of “no records found”. Again, you must know the database you are searching.

    Another thing, ever have a client or prospective client tell you they can do the search themselves? You can ask them if they know the 10 reasons a person with a record may not come up in a search. The blank look on their face will be your cue to sell them on your services.

    Hope this helps.

    Joel Voss, President
    ULTRA Investigations, Inc.
    Clearwater, FL
    Agency License # A1000174

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