How to Trace Old Stocks

Tracing an old stock requires patience to search through volumes of government records and business documents.

Tracing an old stock requires patience to search through volumes of government records and business documents.

Most companies have stopped issuing those colorful paper stock certificates with gold- and silver-embossed designs in favor of digital shares, but that doesn't mean your paper stock certificate loses its value. Tracing an old stock certificate is the only way to discover if the shares have value, but the process takes time to thoroughly research the company and the details of the shares. Even if your certificate ends up having no value as a stock, elaborate shareholder certificates sometimes have historic and collector's worth.

Stock Registration

Companies sell stock to raise capital to expand or to fund regular operations, and firms allow some types of shareholders to weigh in on company policy at meetings or cast ballots for board representatives. Companies register shareholders to notify them of meetings and important elections, so make a note of the name listed on your stock to help you trace it. Stocks sometimes split, which increases the number of shares. This means the exact number of shares tied to a specific shareholder might have increased over time.

State Departments of Revenue

One way to locate the value of a stock is to check the shareholder's name using unclaimed property searches on state department of revenue websites. Companies sometimes turn paper assets over to the state when the owner dies or the firm loses track of the person. If you know the residence of the person listed on the stock, you can search the unclaimed property database for the appropriate state using the shareholder's name and address. If you don't know the state connected to the person listed on the shares, use the search engine for each state to locate a potential match.

Company Assistance

Another way to trace an old stock is to contact the issuing corporation, if it is still in business. Large companies sometimes have an online search feature that allows you to check the value of your stock by listing the registration number. Firms with large amounts of outstanding stock also typically have an investor relations officer on staff to answer your questions about the certificate. Cashing out your stock, however, requires you to prove ownership and give up the certificate for the cash value. Smaller firms typically ask you to send a written inquiry for information and enclose a copy of the stock certificate. Never send your original certificate during the research stage.

Mystery Firms

If you can't find a match for the company listed on the stock certificate, conduct more research. Companies often merge with and purchase other businesses and reissue stock under the new company name. Even though the name or even address might have changed, the original stock still has value, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. A simple Internet search for the issuing company can usually let you follow the trail of corporation ownership to its modern incarnation. If you find your corporation went bankrupt or folded, that doesn't mean you have worthless stock. The SEC also notes that stocks of some defunct companies may still see active trading, so look for your company listing on stock trading websites.

Collectible Certificates

Even if you can't redeem your stock certificate, it still might appeal to collectors. The Walt Disney Co., for example, stopped issuing popular cartoon-decorated stock certificates in October 2013, which drove collector demand for the colorful paper certificates. Disney investors now receive ordinary digital stock records. People collect stock certificates from former employers, favorite brands or businesses with some kind of historical significance.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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