The Way We Were

What was it before it was skip tracing? Raymond Gravis, born in 1938, wrote a book titled Skip Tracing Made Easy and I discovered it on eBay this year. If you find this book, get it. It was published in 1989 and tells a tale of what investigators once did to find someone before the internet was the primary source for detective work.

Mr. Gravis gives some notable instruction from the get-go. He says collect the old phone books from your neighbors and relatives, “they are worth their weight in gold.” (If I had only known!) The court house record books, professional licenses, Criss/Cross directory in churches or lease your own copy, state’s motor vehicle department and get a job at a collection agency so that you can learn what they do to locate people. These older phone books are at the Library of Congress. I don’t know if every single one is there but I would like to think that the bigger cities in the U.S. would be.

Thinking back to things that skip tracers used to do that they don’t really take the time to do now, or dismiss altogether, makes an interesting list of actions to consider. Wouldn’t you be surprised to get a hand written letter in the mail from someone who wants to talk to you and doesn’t really say why? A very personalized note card in a pretty pink envelope with a fancy stamp that would be so un-busienss-like. I would open that letter first! Mr. Gravis says, “Don’t wait for an answer to a letter before you make a phone call.” Leading me to remember my childhood and the stacks of mail and personal letters my parents received. Normal mail would include several cards and letters in a week and wouldn’t raise nary an eyebrow. Another marketing trick I read about long ago was to hand address mail in red ink. The red peaks interest and has a higher chance of getting opened first.

Mr. Gravis continues to say, “Don’t depend on only one thing to work for you.” and I agree. I have written before, if one thing doesn’t work, something else will. Just don’t give up. There are many things that Mr. Gravis refers the reader to in his book, Skip Tracing Made Easy, that he paid for back then and now are free. Property record information, voters information and UCC filings are just a few discussed and how much you will expect to pay. Now we just simply pay for an internet connection and the world is free at our fingertips.

A huge advancement in technology has eliminated  the big telephones that people could slam down in your ear Рthank God for the end call button! Investigators had inside connections and microfiche instead of real-time databases accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And, credit headers were called the top part of the credit report.

Have you thought the rise in gas prices could actually be reflecting the traffic on the information super highway? The use of email, faxing and attachments has driven the cost of the postage stamp to continually rise but what about gas? A one hour commute for some workers has turned into a telecommute with a company laptop in the home office.

Do you remember when families dressed up on Sunday and visited friends relatives. Now we have Facebook to keep up with extended family and connections. Mr. Gravis writes about using pretext gags to get inside of someone’s house to look around and rummaging through the garbage hoping to see discarded letters and notes hand written on paper. Those were last summers vacation pictures, and now we have instant GPS meta data directly linked with exact address information embedded directly into the picture.

Raymond Gravis passed away in 2009 and Skip Tracing Made Easy is out of print.
The publisher is British American 7 Crow Canyon Court, Suite 250 P.O. Box 5111 San Ramon, CA 95483


Written by Valerie McGilvrey
Author of Skip Trace Secrets – Dirty little tricks skip tracers use…