How to Find Old Friends and Research Ancestry Using the Internet

We look into some of the best ways to find old friends online and delve into your family tree.

The internet has made finding old friends - whether from school, a social club or a workplace - easier than ever. From online tools to social media, there are so many ways to use the internet for reconnecting with old friends.

The internet has also made researching your ancestry far easier. You can now do some much from the comfort of your own home in front of your computer.

How to find old friends with online tools

A variety of online tools exist to help you find more details about your long-lost friend, even if you have very little to go on. If you know only part of your friend's address, such as the road name or postcode, the Post Office website will give you their full address.

If it's their phone number you're looking for, you can search BT's online phone book using just a surname and location. (Bear in mind, this will not produce results if your friend is ex-directory.)

And, using the People Finder on, you can search the Electoral Rolls from 2002 onwards. You can do both basic searches (with only a surname and location) or more advanced searches (using your friend's age range or the name of a person who they live with, for example).

How to find old friends on Facebook

Social media is by far the best way to find old friends online. And Facebook, which was originally created as a sort of online yearbook, has a variety of easy-to-use tools for reconnecting with old friends.

Search bar

The best place to start is the search bar at the top of the homepage. Here, type in any details you have of the person you're looking for: their name, workplace, school, email address, etc. The more details you include, the narrower your search results will be.

As you start typing, you'll be given suggestions in a drop-down menu. These are created based on your profile information; for example, it's more likely to suggest people from your own city or school. So, the search will be more fine-tuned the more details Facebook has about you. By choosing 'See all results', you can also filter the results to show only 'People'.

Once you find the person you're looking for, simply click 'Add Friend' to send them a friend request. You also have the option of sending them a message with your friend request (use the down arrow next to 'Add Friend'). As well as being considered polite, this could help them remember you if it's been a long time.

Friend recommendations

Facebook will offer you suggestions of people you may know, based on factors such as how many mutual friends you have.

To view your recommendations, select the 'Friend Requests' button (resembles two people). For each suggestion, you can either 'Add Friend' or 'Remove'. By choosing the latter, it will be replaced by a new suggestion.

Importing email contacts

Facebook's tool for importing your email address book could also be very helpful -- it gives you a list of all of the people that you've emailed who are registered on Facebook.

To use this tool, select the 'Friend Requests' button (as above) and click 'Find Friends'. This brings you to a page where, as well as your friend recommendations and requests, you'll find an 'Add Personal Contacts' box. If not already shown, type in your email address and click 'Find Friends', following the directions provided.

As well as being able to import your email contacts, this page also provides options for searching for friends by hometown, location, school, employer or even mutual friend.

Invite friends to Facebook

There are so many ways Facebook can help you to find friends you've lost touch with. That is, of course, if they're on Facebook. But, if it turns out they're not, you could always send them an invite.

After you've imported your email contacts, the 'Find Friends' page will offer you the option to invite friends. Simply type in their email address and click 'Invite Friend'.

For more information on using Facebook, as well as other social media such as Twitter, Skype, YouTube and many more, see our how-to guide to using social media. 

Still struggling to find your friend?

If you don't have enough information to use the online tools, or you can't seem to find any trace of your friend on Facebook or other social media, you could look into using a professional 'tracer'.

Websites such as Finder Monkey offer a people tracing service. And, with Finder Monkey, you'll only pay a fee if the exact person you're looking for is located.

At the end of the day, we can't guarantee that you'll find your long-lost friend. But here at McCarthy Stone, we offer you the opportunity to change your life during retirement. Find out how other retirees have made new friends, expanded their social lives and even experienced unexpected health benefits from retirement lifestyle changes.

How to research your ancestry

Do you want to learn more about your family history? Are you looking to trace your family tree? No problem. There are a whole host of websites dedicated to just this.

Free resources

If you're just starting out on your ancestry research journey, the following websites are free to use:

- FreeBMD allows you to search some birth, marriage and death indexes for England and Wales.
- FamilySearch offers the ability to search records from all over the world and receive expert support over the phone.
- Roots Web provides genealogy chat and lots of helpful information for your search.

But, of course, none of these resources is likely to provide you with all the records and information you are looking for.

Paid services

Once you've decided you want to look more seriously into your ancestry, you are going to have to pay for it. Getting copies of certificates and census records costs money, as does paying for professional research. But these really are the best ways to get accurate and reliable information on your family tree.

Start by using The National Archives online. Searching for and viewing records -- from both The National Archives and over 2500 archives across the UK -- is free, but you must pay if you want to order copies of records. And a paid search service is also available (or you can search for an independent researcher). The website also offers research guides to help you in your search.

For a more detailed look into your family tree, various genealogical websites offer family tree creation services, for a fee. The following websites are just a few of those that search birth, marriage and death indexes and census returns, among many other things, for England and Wales:

- Ancestry
- Genes Reunited
- Family Relatives
- Find My Past

And Scotland's People specialises in Scottish records.

But don't feel like you have to commit and pay out straight away. You can often sign up for a free trial period on these subscription sites. So why not try a few out before you decide which you like and where you want to spend your money?

So all that's left is to wish you good luck in your online search, whether for long-lost friends or for a peek into your family's long-forgotten past.