The use of paper stock certificates has been rapidly declining since the 1990s when electronic certificate storage become standard practice at most brokerage firms looking to save time and money with each stock transaction. Though not as common as electronic certificates, paper certificates are still valid and worth every penny that the named stock is trading at. You may be searching for an old stock certificate owned by a parent or just something you remember having that you can't locate. Finding the certificate is important to validating your asset.
Look in the most common areas stock certificates are held: bank safe deposit boxes, home safes, lock boxes or filing cabinets. Sometimes someone may have moved piles of certificates into attic boxes thinking the certificates were worthless.
Look through old tax records for stock reporting. Look for signs such as dividend income, capital gains or any other recording of basis in old records.
Phone the company investor relations department that the stocks were purchased for. A representative can look up the shares owned if you have an approximate date or contact the transfer agent who issued the shares to you. A replacement certificate can be issued to you once ownership has been proven and verified.
Call any brokerage firm dealt with by yourself--if the stock was yours--or your relative. Remember you bought 500 shares of IBM is more common that remembering that you deposited the paper certificates into an electronic safekeeping account at the brokerage firm. Ask the broker for a complete list of all holdings and ask whether the stock in question may have merged.
Company name changes and merges make locating current information difficult at times. Contact a stock broker or the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding any old stock names to verify whether the company still exists and whether the stock is worth anything.
If you find old stock certificates that have no trading value, you may be able to sell the certificates to collectors sites that seek rare paper certificates.