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.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Robert –

    Thanks for your kind words about Pretrieve. We are still a small company, but we’re trying to expand our library as quickly as possible. We had initially planned to have nationwide coverage of professional licenses for legal and medical completed by the end of March, but due to the overwhelming user requests for access to county level court records we had to place professional licenses on the back burner for the time being.

    We will begin beta testing our new court records user interface by the end of the week, and expect to have court record access to several of the larger states implemented on the public site by the end of March. It will take us several weeks after that to complete the coverage nationwide.

    We want to be responsive to our users, and we appreciate their guidance and advice in prioritizing our development efforts.

    Thanks for the support, and keep the suggestions coming!


    Paul Bunting
    Pretrieve LLC

  • Bob,
    I looked YOU up in Pretrieve and it’s pretty frightening how much info I found out about you.

    Houses in your neighborhood sold from $1,095,000 (1 QUARRY RUN
    ROCKPORT, MA 01966 (0.21 Miles)
    to $145,000 (18A GRANITE ST
    ROCKPORT, MA 01966 (0.11 Miles).

    You live in a “Traditional Times” neighborhood: Traditional Times is the kind of lifestyle where small-town couples nearing retirement are beginning to enjoy their first empty-nest years. Typically in their fifties and sixties, these middle-class Americans pursue a kind of granola-and-grits lifestyle. On their coffee tables are magazines with titles ranging from Country Living and Country Home to Gourmet and Forbes. But they’re big travelers, especially in recreational vehicles and campers.”

    You live in a primarily Democratic neighborhood, with a few GOPers thrown in, but you didn’t contribute to any presendial campaigns, big spender!

    Looking at an aerial view of your home taken in 6/1/2003 I see you’re only 3/10 of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean. Looks nice.

    There’s no record that you’re in federal prison, you’ve made no UCC filings and you apparently haven’t defaulted on any loans. Good for you!

    Since graduating from Boston College Law School, you’ve worked at the National Law Journal, American Lawyer Media, Inc., Law.com, WritersForLawyers.com and ALM News Service, Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, wrote “Best Legal Sites on the Web” and maintain your law practice web site at http://www.legaline.com/. You’re an active member of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

    Kinda scary, eh?
    Larry Bodine

  • In response to Larry I would say that the availability of information on Robert is not scary but probably reassuring to his clients: he’s a successful professional who has high visibility among his peers.

    Onto the use of Pretrieve for information gathering. I wrote about Paul’s effort on my blog about a month ago. The caveat I would stress is this. All public record information on the Internet is partial, including the indexes at the government sites. When another filter is added, such as Pretrieve, the researcher is even further removed from accurate, verifiable 1st source material.

    As I’ve told my attorney clients, investigators don’t just retrieve information. We analyze it to determine the source from which it’s drawn, its validity and inclusiveness.

    We must make attempts to cross check with other informers. It seems I saw a reference to a recent court case involving an attorney who relied on an Internet generated document which, as it turns out, was fradulent. Some words of caution in our excitement over the burgeoning Internet.

    Tamara Thompson Investigations

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