Brittany Murphy may be daring enough to snoop through her boyfriend's little black book, but most of us would never stoop that low. After all, we have Google.

Whether it's before a blind date or after years of living together, many of us have given in to temptation and searched online for traces of our significant other's past. Sure, it's a bit sleazy, but it can also be effective. One caveat: "Spoofing," or impersonating others' e-mail addresses and identities, is rampant online, and lots of people probably have the same name as your beloved. So take what you find with a grain of salt.

Search Smarter. Combing the Web for someone's full name might pull up a resume or newsletter touting a long-ago rugby championship, but you can do better. Search on an e-mail address, an instant-messaging nickname or even a phone number. You might turn up old chat-room posts, a Web log or a personal Web page you didn't know existed. Most major search engines also allow you to hunt just for images. And on their advanced search screens, you can isolate one domain to search a company or school's site specifically.

Search Farther. Search engines can't catch everything, so scan for old postings on pages from your date's alma mater, volunteer organization, fraternity or sorority, or even their favorite sports teams and news sites. Wondering about your beloved's level of commitment? Check dating sites such as Match.com and networking sites like Friendster and Orkut for people who match their descriptions. See anyone familiar?

Search Back in Time. Old Web pages may get taken down, but that doesn't mean they're gone. On Google, you can look at saved copies of the Web pages that come up in every search. Even if the link is broken, clicking the word "cached" next to a hit will pull up the page as it existed when Google visited it. Active Web sites have their secrets, too. If one has been up for a while, drop the URL into www.archive.org. It might be able to tell you what the site looked like one, three, even five years ago.

Search Public Records. You can't search most public records sitting in front of your laptop in fuzzy slippers. Though records of criminal cases, bankruptcies, marriages and voter registrations are available to the public, they are often kept only in courthouses and government offices. One exception: Las Vegas marriage licenses, which the Clark County (Nev.) government's Web site allows the public to search. Even if you can't find a trace of youthful indiscretions by your paramour, you can make your visit worthwhile by looking up Britney Spears's nuptials: www.co.clark.nv.us/recorder/mar_srch.htm.

The most commonly available documents online are property records. So if he's bragging about his swanky Georgetown spread or she's boasting that her parents live in a mansion, visit the tax and assessment page on the county or city government's Web site and look for the feature that allows you to search properties. You'll have to know the address, but once you pull up the record it will usually tell you the sale price and some details of the property -- such as whether Mom and Dad really do have an eight-bedroom estate in horse country.

Meg Smith

The way this one tunes out, I'm not sure if she's a dreamer or a silent schemer. Hmmm . . .