How to find old businesses

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You might need to research an old business, and learn about its history, owners or merchandise, as part of due diligence for building your own business. Or maybe you're a history buff who's curious about what happened to a closed business or the people who ran it. There are various free public records to help you in your search, or if you're having difficulty finding information, you can hire a private investigator.

Check the Secretary of State. Each state has a Secretary of State office that registers business entities (including corporations, partnerships and articles of dissolution), as well as UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) filings that record business financing. Most offices also maintain old business information (business names, addresses, officers). To locate your Secretary of State's contact information and website link, go to the National Association of Secretaries of State website (, and under "NASS Main Menu" in the left column, click the "Secretaries of State" link and follow the instructions. Most Secretary of State websites offer a "Business" link. Click on that and follow the search instructions for the old business you're researching. If you have questions, call the Secretary of State office phone number (listed on the contact page).

Research records at the clerk and recorder. Many businesses register information (such as real estate purchases, financing information and court judgments) at the county clerk and recorder's office. If you know the county where the business was located, go to that county clerk and recorder's office, and look up the business by name. If you need help with your research, ask a clerk. To find locations and contact information for county clerk and recorder's offices, go to the National Association of Counties website (, and under "About Counties" in the top blue bar, click the "Find a County" link, and follow the instructions.

Research a reverse directory. Reverse directories, also called criss-cross directories, list information by a variety of subjects (phone numbers, people's names and business names). Go to your local library, which often keeps regional reverse directories going back a decade or longer, and look up the old business name in those books. Ask the reference librarian where they keep reverse directories.

Interview people. Contact people in similar and competing businesses, ask if they have knowledge of the old business you're researching. People's names also might have shown up in your research at the Secretary of State, clerk and recorder's office or in a reverse directory. Even if people don't recall the old business, they might know other people who do.

Hire a private investigator. If you're having difficulty locating information about an old business, consider retaining a private investigator. Investigators have the expertise, skills and resources to help you in your search. To find an experienced investigator, contact your state professional private investigator association (PI Magazine maintains a list of state associations--go to, click "PI Links" in the top blue bar, and select "State Associations-USA").

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