Reunions have so much emotional power because they brilliantly bring the past and present together. The event itself – the band, the luscious food and glittering decorations – is great, but it’s the people that give it meaning. The old boyfriend, the quirky science teacher, the cheerleading squad, the cutie who sat three rows back in home room. To bring all of those people together takes elbow grease and organization – and a terrific search method.
Reunions take two years to plan, on average, and searching for classmates will run the entire time. There are two very good reasons the search is so difficult.
o People move. A lot. Almost 43 million Americans move every year. The odds are that every class member has moved at least once, with many moving three or four times.
o People routinely change their names. Women can change their names for marriages, divorces, and remarriages; many people go by middle names or nicknames.
These two facts together make it a nightmare to track people down effectively. In the US, an estimated 33,000 people are named Michael Johnson; with 10,200 Jason Smiths; 1,800 Heather Wilsons; and 1,400 Sarah Adamses. Getting the class together for a reunion means sifting through an entire list of Michaels, Jennifers, Johns, and Susans, who could be living in any state and could be going by Mike or Jenny or Jack or Susie.
In the past, reunion organizers have used an incremental, “human intelligence” approach to people searches, depending on someone knowing a missing person’s latest address or email address. A people search company offers a much more reliable and flexible way of looking for people, with a limited amount of information:
o First and last names
o Approximate age
o Any previous city or state of residence as far back as 15 years
For many people, the most effective search is an address history. Address histories span multiple states (so you don’t have to know where someone is currently, only where they’ve ever lived) and return comprehensive address and phone numbers, which is vital for turnout. Mailing and websites are great, but the most effective way to increase attendance is to call classmates directly. Since professional search databases are updated monthly, these addresses are more accurate than those in online whitepage directories, which are updated every six months, or print directories, which are updated yearly.
Professional search companies also offer maiden name searches, which check national marriage and divorce records to track name changes. Most people searches include alias searches for nicknames or middle names and include “known associates,” such as spouses, roommates, and family, to open other avenues of searches. And high-quality search companies offer free, professional help with searches to help you narrow down and find the people you need.
Another huge benefit from search companies is unlimited search passes for one, three, or thirty. In a long weekend you and the alumni committee can whittle down the class list, verifying and locating all the information you need – at cost-effective rates!
With a professional search company backing you up, take the reunion planning in incremental stages and make it enjoyable (or at least easy). The steps are press basic.
1. Get a master list of class names.
2. Check out potential committee member addresses and contact them.
3. As a committee, begin verifying addresses.
4. Send out the first batch of notices.
5. Circle back to the list. Mark who is missing contact information, and add in people not on the class list like teachers or coaches.
6. Begin searching for the blanks on the list.
7. Send out another round of mailing notices.
8. A couple of months before the event, call people in person.
Search companies return results often in less than an hour, so it’s an ideal option for eleventh-hour contacts, as well as making searches easier early on. As the reunion planning begins, remember: people search companies and unlimited search passes help get you in touch with the people from the past with less hassle and better accuracy.
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