A new search engine makes it easier to search for free public records information available through government and commercial Web sites. Called Pretrieve, it serves as a single interface for searching a range of public-records databases.

Using Pretrieve, you can search for public records that relate to an individual, a business, an address or a phone number. The results page contains a set of tabs, each listing types of available records. Search for a person, for example, and the resulting page shows tabs for Property Info, Criminal, Court, Financial, Professional, Local Info and Miscellaneous. Click the Property Info tab, and it shows links related to your search for real estate sales, satellite images, map information, census data and campaign contributions. Click one of these links, and Pretrieve sends your query to the database that has this information.

Pretrieve does not house the public-records data. Rather, it is a database of databases. When you conduct a search, it shows you available sources of data relevant to your search.

I found it useful as a starting point for public-records research, but I also found it incomplete. For example, search for a person in Colorado, and the Professional tab on the results page includes a link to search the Colorado attorney registration database. But search for a person in Mass. and it does not offer that link, even though Mass. has a free attorney look-up database. I noticed several other free public-records databases for Mass. that Pretrieve did not appear to include. Of course, it was launched only last month and it continues to add additional databases. And, to be fair, it includes some databases I had not seen before.

The bottom line is that Pretrieve points you to free databases you may or may not know about and submits your searches to them without you having to visit each site and separately key in your search. That alone makes it worth the price of admission — which happens to be free.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.