Government records can contain various bits of information about our everyday lives. As part of federal law and the Freedom of Information Act, all government agencies and courts are required to file and keep any document, photo, transcription, or other information they come in contact with.
If you've been involved in a court case at any level -- federal, state, city, county, local -- then that information is being kept in government records databases all over. Some exceptions call for this information to be sealed, but that will include a small portion of what's available out there for public view.
The scary thing is you won't receive a notification or a request for consent in order for your friends, family, and even people you don't know to view your public government records. They can be accessed in the comfort of their own home without your knowledge.
Many people like to be informed about what's protected and what's not. Since these government records can contain sensitive and shameful information about our lives, you'll want to know what people can read about you -- especially the things you are trying to keep hidden.
In order to fully understand what's available to the public, you need to first understand what the Freedom of Information Act is and what it means for your public government records. It’s been a vital part of the United States’ democracy since 1967 and allows for transparency across all federal agencies.
By law, the Freedom of Information Act ensures that the public has access to federal agency records when requested. It effectively turned the public’s “need to know” into a “right to know,” in regards to the information making its way through the federal court systems.
As a result, many states have implemented their own laws and regulations for documenting, filing, and maintaining records that go through any state, city, county, or local court systems. The way the states have adopted their own laws is one of the big reasons why the Freedom of Information Act is so revered by former Presidents, the Supreme Court, and government officials all over the nation.
With the Freedom of Information Act, we have access to federal government records that can contain information on cases and trials appearing in federal court. It’s important to note that the federal courts have limited jurisdiction and are therefore limited in the types of cases they can hear.
One of the main federal government records that you’ll find online is a person’s bankruptcy history. Government records will show the full name of the person, the court it was heard in, the judge’s name, the court case number, the chapter they’re filing under, the debtor’s information, the attorney’s information, and the trustee’s information.
The federal courts do take civil and criminal cases, but they must question the constitutionality of the federal law being attacked. Government records can give you information on some of the more serious crimes committed like drug trafficking, sex trafficking, mail fraud, identity theft, and even cases that involve treaties signed by the United States.
Almost all civil and criminal cases that occur in the United States are heard by the state or county courts where the crime was committed. This means a majority of the government records you’re looking for will be found at these levels.
In terms of criminal cases, the states and counties are responsible for both felony charges, misdemeanors, and minor violations. This can include everything from murder to traffic violations, theft, and even a jaywalking ticket. Government records will contain your arrest history, conviction records, incarceration records, and indictment history.
These local government records can also include more personal matters like evictions, felonies, judgments, lien records, property history, as well as vital records related to your birth, death, marriages, and divorces.
Government records are available to the public, but the information can be limited in certain cases. Some states have their own rules and regulations as far as filing or releasing government records, but chances are you’ll be given access to more information than you need.
Since the courts have to do their own filing and maintaining of the records, they all have their own database where these records can be found. By visiting the court’s clerk’s office in person, you can request the files you want directly. You can also visit their online database and do the same.
Many people dread this process, knowing that they’ll have to know the right court that handled the case in order to request the files. Even then, you won’t necessarily be guaranteed the files immediately -- and in some cases not at all. For example, some states won’t release death records unless you’re an immediate family member.
Luckily, there are ways to get this information much quicker and simpler than going from database to database -- and we have the solution right in front of your eyes!
If you’re looking to perform a public government records search, you can do so right here on our website. You should be aware that you could uncover some information you weren’t expecting to see about the person you enter. More than just government records, you can reveal some personal information they’ve been hiding from you.
If you’re still ready to do a search, or simply want to search yourself to confirm the information out there about you, locate the search engine below. Type in the first and last name of the person in question, or at least the first initial of the last name. Entering the last known location -- either city or state -- of the person can help your search, but won’t be needed to move forward.
After hitting the ‘Search’ button, you’ll want to sift through the possible matches to get to the correct person. You can then open their report and see what government records are linked to their name.
Below you fill find the Top Public Records sites according to our rankings. Read the reviews before you search.
TruthFinder offers comprehensive public records, easy-to-understand reports, and tools to help you protect your personal information from identity thieves.
Intelius was our second pick as it provides the widest array of public records.
Instant Checkmate is one of the longest-running online background check services and still one of the most popular. They offer comprehensive records on millions of Americans.
Affiliate Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Truthfinder.com, Instant Checkmate, and Intelius. This means that I receive a commission if you click on a link on my website and make a purchase from one of these companies. However, this does not influence my reviews or opinions of these companies. I only recommend products and services that I believe are of high quality and value.