When you set out to research a person’s life and affairs you are faced with some formidable obstacles. The real work begins with identifying the subject of your research.
You will encounter problems with aliases, middle names, nick names, and generational designators. You will have to deal with maiden names, and name changes, legal or otherwise. You must also actively look for alternate names while conducting your research.
Different spelling variations of the name may all be pronounced the same. For example, at least 20 spelling variations of the Gaelic surname McEachin exist. You will have to do some research to find the variations using the Penguin Dictionary of Names and other sources that specialize in names originating in different countries.
Evaluate likely search results by looking at how common the name is. In the USA the census data is used to generate a list of surnames in order of popularity. For example McEachin is the 15,414th most common name in the USA. No such list could be found for Canada. This will be much easier than searching for John Smith.
You may also have to search for legal name changes in a variety of jurisdictions. It is not uncommon for a person to change his name legally in one jurisdiction while living in another.
The name is only half of a person’s identifying information. The date of birth represents a universal identifier everywhere in the world, but it is often wrong or misleading. Did you know that some cultures often use the date of conception as a birth date? In America before the sixties “sexual revolution” dates of birth were often changed to conceal a premarital pregnancy.
Some people start using a latter date of birth to join the military and keep that date of birth throughout their lives. Some use an earlier or latter date of birth to appear more attractive in the job market. Others get younger every few years.
In the USA the SSN is a widely used identifier but you have to find out how many the subject has. There are moves afoot to limit the use of the SSN as an identifier in public records in the USA.
In Canada the SIN is not as widely used as an identifier and a person will rarely ever be issued a new one.