With the development of the Internet for general consumer use, online communities in the early 1990’s grew based on the desires, needs and interests of the participants. Three online services were prevalent at that time, Genie Information Systems, Prodigy and America Online. Genie was a text based service (back before graphics). Prodigy and America Online quickly developed into the two largest services available to the public.

Adoption search has always been a difficult and emotional quest, however both Prodigy and America Online had thriving and rapidly growing ‘needs based’ communities that developed quite a following.

The ADOPTION & FAMILY FORUM at America Online had thousands of requests for guidance and assistance on search and reunion related topics. Forum Hosts, as well as peer and subject matter experts who subscribed quickly stepped in to fill a need and soon gained a title. They were then, and are still called, Search Angels.

Search Angels come in all sizes, ages and can be either male or female, but the one thing that most all have in common is a desire to help others and a connection to the adoption triad, be they adoptees, birth parents or birth family members. Most have completed their own search and have discovered a knack for research AND a desire to ‘give back’ by helping others. These traits are all very commendable attributes.

Search Angels spend a considerable amount of time taking search requests from people asking for help, and many successfully help ‘solve’ a family mystery and aid a family in reunion efforts. However, most ‘all’ search angels also spend a considerable amount of ‘money’ gaining resources or subscribing to database services to aid other people, at no charge. I know that back in the day, when I was an Adoption Forum Host on AOL, in one year alone my expenses were several thousand dollars, much to the detriment of my family budget. Yet there is a prevalent theme in the Search Angel movement that belittles anyone or any agency who asks for a fee. This has, since the movement started, always been an issue, however:

There comes a point in every Search Angel’s career that the thought crosses their mind, “Could I be a Private Investigator?”

The answer to that question is of course you can, but it takes work. We receive ‘many’ applications to join our team from people who are currently helping internet others online as Search Angels, but it takes a very special individual to successfully make the transition.

If you are currently a search angel, you can choose your own searches. If you want to ask others for advice while doing so, you can. If you decide you cannot help, you tell your requester so and go on to the next request, but at your own pace and in your own time. Investigators, especially 'staff' investigators, do not have the option of picking and choosing their cases since they are 'assigned' by management.

Most ‘all’ states currently REQUIRE training and licensing for investigators, which can include hours of formal training and years (depending on the state) as an apprentice investigator. Investigators are also required to carry errors and omission insurance, or are required to become ‘bonded’. Legal requirements for licensing can not only take time, but also a considerable amount of money while you are gaining licensing and accreditation.

There is a ‘fine line’ between what search angels do to help, and what investigators are licensed to do for their clients under contract. In many states it is ‘against the law’ to initiate a contact call to a potential target in a search ‘without’ licensing. In Florida it is against the law to initial contact with a client without being licensed. It is also against the law for BOTH to use pretext calls to gain ‘confidential’ information.

Trained investigators know the law, but many Search Angels, in their honest desire to help, violate state laws and regulations because they just ‘do not know’ what those laws and regulations are. In the past decade there have been two VERY prominent ‘Angels’ who have been prosecuted either by the state they were living in or by the state in which they specialized. Our advice? Research your laws, and find out up front what you can and cannot legally do.

As a Search Angel, I was fortunate enough to be contacted and recruited to ‘come to work’ for a nationally known Investigative service that specialized in family search. This decision was not without some emotional anguish at ‘losing’ my Search Angel status, however I did realize that my own family ‘deserved’ a secure future which included such things as a living wage, health insurance and security.

What most Search Angels don’t realize is that as investigators, many P.I.’s DO take cases pro-bono for many very good reasons, including terminal illnesses, medical emergencies, and just ‘because’ a situation warrants professional intervention or assistance because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do in the situation.

So, if you are considering making the transition in your own life in the near future, good luck to you and when you are ready, please do contact us here at Search Quest America. We are always willing to talk to people who want to join our team of professionals.