Tracking down "lost" members

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Tracking down "lost" members


Post by regoarrarr »

As is the case with I'm sure almost every ward clerk in the Church, there are many members of our ward that we just don't know much if anything about. I was interested in hearing from other clerks and members of different strategies that you have used to help limit this number.

To give an example, in our ward, there are 171 total households (our ward was just split). There are 54 households that we have marked as "Lost Sheep", meaning that we don't know anything about who they are (or even necessarily if they live there). There are an additional 21 households that we have marked as "Address Unknown", meaning that we have either sent them mail that was returned with no forwarding address (the mail we sent was marked with Return Service Requested) or somebody has stopped by their house and they no longer live there. As a comparison, in our ward we have 47 households that we have marked as "Shepherd" i.e. more or less "active".

We have used various free sources (sending mail Return Service Requested, having the missionaries try and find these members,, , etc). With the end of the year approaching and having some money left over in the budget, I thought I'd investigate some pay services as well.

I saw in the recent thread about using a commercial mailing company for their ward that they used a firm that used the NCOALink post office database that supposedly has forwarding addresses for 48 months, with an approximate cost of $75.

I also was browsing around on - I was able to definitively find some members who have moved out (ones with less common names). I don't know if you're familiar with the service but for free it just tells you it found them, with their age, full names / aliases and relatives. If you want to actually get their address it's $1.99 per person. Or you can purchase a more detailed report that has all their past addresses (I guess I'd use that if I was not sure this was the same person?) - this one is $19.95. I am sure there are many similar programs out there.

I guess I wonder what is done at Salt Lake when you send a member record with no forwarding address? So far in my clerky tenure :) I haven't done that much. (Almost) all of my move outs have had forwarding addresses (mostly from returned mail with forwarding addresses). I don't know what kind of resources they have there (besides contacting the wards of relatives of the lost member, which we get from time to time). I guess it doesn't make sense for me to pay for any of this stuff if SLC has the same or similar resources that they've already paid for (and could conceivably get better rates on anyways)

So let's hear it - what have your experiences been and what has worked for you.
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Post by russellhltn »

regoarrarr wrote:I guess I wonder what is done at Salt Lake when you send a member record with no forwarding address?
I'm not sure what all the steps are, but one of them is to contact relatives of the family (easier to do if they come from a member family.)

I'm generally the hold out on sending out records to "Address Unknown". I feel it's the last responsibility of the ward holding the records to make a reasonable effort. However, from your post I think even I would have sent out some of those records.

It's very easy now to send to Address Unknown. I remember when one had to fill out a form and check off the steps taken. Things like:

- Check Directory Assistance
- Talk to the neighbors
- Send a letter to the last known address
- Check with any friends in the ward

I'd also check with the various auxiliaries (especially Relief Society ;)) to see what they knew.

Once that's been exhausted, I'd have few qualms on sending it to Address Unknown. I think it's great that some want to take it a step further, but I also think it's more then is required of us.
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Post by mkmurray »

regoarrarr wrote:I guess I wonder what is done at Salt Lake when you send a member record with no forwarding address?
From what I seen, there are either Church employees or service missionaries that look at these records and attempt to contact these "lost" members. They attempt to call family and relatives to see if they know the whereabouts of these members. Church Headquarters will often send out a letter in the mail (a form to be filled out and returned back to Salt Lake) to a ward containing one of these family members of a "lost" member.

This is all stuff that happens after a family or individual's records are sent to "Address Unknown," however. I think it would ease the burden on Salt Lake to do a little due diligence before blindly sending records to "Address Unknown." However, if you just can't find these members after a while (maybe 3-6 months), then no one should feel ashamed handing it over to Salt Lake where they have a larger army and better tools to get the job done. :)
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Post by RossEvans »

I'm the one who postedthe other thread that ended up focusing on the enhanced NCOAlink postal database search, and our Bishop has inaugurated a multifaceted lost sheep project in our large ward (more than three times as large as yours).

I seriously think the database search was the best $85 our ward spent all year. (It does have to accompany an actual mailing, which can be expensive. Ours was associated with the annual Christmas card mailing.) We ended up with addresses classified in various categories:
  1. Confirmed move-outs with forwarding addresses.
  2. Confirmed moves to new addresses within the ward with forwarding addresses. (Distinguishing between 1) and 2) also requires geocoding somehow.)
  3. Confirmed moves with no forwarding address.
  4. Possible family splits (forwarding address for one adult in the household but not the other.)
  5. Addresses that are invalid for postal delivery, subclassified by invalid street-address number or invalid/missiing apartment number.
  6. Addresses that are not residences at all, but storefront mail drops.
  7. A few apartment numbers that had been missing but were discovered by the vendor's proprietary database search.
As a byproduct we also received standardized and validated addressesfor all the other addresses in the ward, which now can be used to clean up MLS for other reasons, not the least of which is that sloppy address records in MLS are one of the problems that got us into this jam in the first place. Standardized addresses are also needed for geocoding..

In addition to spending the money, someone must do some work to prepare the list for the search and collate the output. For example, the list to be submitted for the search needs to be a list of individual adults, but the results need to be related back to households. And analyzing the 180 fields of output has a learning curve all by itself.

Valuable as that was, it basically finds most of the low-hanging fruit. There still are mystery name/address records to be investigated further, and our ward has called someone specifically to focus on this sleuthing to find new addresses. I believe he will be using commercial search services such as you mention, which use public records searches, etc..

There is much more to this than addresses. We can't minister to someone if we don't know where they are, but the ministering still has to occur when we do know. One additional thing that our Bishop did was convene a apecial meeting of an expanded ward council, inviting not only currently serviing leaders but previously released bishops, quorum and auxiliary leaders to mine the recollections of everyone. We pored over a ward list that had been prioritized by two key indicators: "Inactive" households (those with no one serving as a home or visiting teacher, or in any calling); and households who had not been home-taught in 12 months.

To collate all those comments and track new information, a second membership clerk was called to focus on this task specifically, and the Bishop has asked me to work on a database to assist him in that mission going forward, linking his list with ongoing changes in MLS.

Lastly, there is no substitute for knocking on doors. One Elder and his wife were inspired to take an arbitrary subset of the alphabetized ward roster and just visit everyone within that set, delivering a plate of cookies and a Christmas card in person. Sooner or later, in my opinion, the priesthood needs to be mobilized to take a census somehow. (I think there is something in the handbook called "home teaching.")
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Post by ffrsqpilot »

One of the ongoing priorities in our stake is the Prospective Elders (PE's). I remember one Bishopric meeting where the Bishop had me print out a list of PE's in the ward. The list was almost 200 names. We determined that some or actually quite a few of those on the list really didn't reside in the ward anymore - had moved away, married, died, etc etc. We determined that we would do all the things necessary to find these folks and do what we could to get them moving towards advancement.

However we too came to the conclusion that some of these folks were next to impossible to find. We tried all the suggestions mentioned above to locate these "lost souls" but a good number were just unlocatable. We were about to send the records to the "Address Unknown" file when our Ward Executive Secretary (who had been away for an extended vacation) asked if he could see the list we were talking about. He looked at it and said, I know most of these folks and I bet I can find some of them. Our Exec was a long time resident of the area, a top knotch real estate agent, (prior Bishop also), and a good friend to many of the members who had lived in the area. He knew not only the PE's, but family members and extended family members as well as good friends of these PE's. Through his efforts we were able to locate over 50 of the names that we would have been sending off to the "Unknown" file.

I guess what I'm relating is that if you have a long time member don't overlook the possiblity that they too may have known some of these lost souls and have contacts through extended families and friends that are invaluable.
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Ward councils


Post by 1historian-p40 »

What PilotFly said is correct. That is why one of the steps to take before moving a member to address unknow is to mention their name in PEC and preferably in a ward council meeting. (it amazing what the Sisters know). it would be nice if the church would issue an updated version of the move out record process. the last one i could find had the old logo on it.
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Re: Tracking down "lost" members


Post by adoga »

I know this is an old thread, but anyone who cannot find a member might just need to dig a little deeper. I'm stake membership clerk and it has been a long time since anyone has sent a record to utah with address unkown. The internet is so powerful and an easy way to find people, especially if you use all the tools available to you. This is a great list of things you can do: ... rs_to_find. If you have done them all, then you will almost always or a relative listed in MLS).

If you still can't find someone, send me a PM and I"ll give it a try for you.
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Re: Tracking down "lost" members


Post by dgrantham1 »

I found that has been helpful, especially in finding out of inactive members have gotten married, divorced, or remarried. These are public records, which somehow, are difficult to obtain. However, many software services provide this information for a fee. As members of the church, we already have full access to one of these services, via FamilySearch.Org. The records do not provide address information, but they do let me know if there's a name change, where the event took place, and may provide an additional name by which I can conduct an Internet search. It takes time to sort through details and to confirm that I have the right individual. Trying to find my own ancestors in Family Search has prepared me well for this task.
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