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as in:  trace the origin or development

Early cat domestication is traced back to China over 5,000 years ago.
  to find, search, research, or keep track of

(see word notes for a more detailed definition based upon context)
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trace untraceable traces traced tracing traceable traceability traceless
This sense of trace usually has to do with information. It’s specific meaning depends on its context. Here are some representative samples by category:

  • to find or search for something through investigation — often the origin of something

    • "The police traced the call." — found out where it originated
    • "We are tracing the lost luggage" — searching for
    • "Can you trace the problem to its source?" — find through investigation
    • "She traced her family history to discover that her great-grandmother came to the United States from Lithuania when the Nazis occupied it." — discovered something through investigation

  • to research or report on the development of something

    • "She traced the history of the automobile in her paper." — researched the development of something
    • "Her presentation traced recent progress in alternative energy solutions." — reported on

  • to monitor or keep track of the progress or development of something

    • She traces the progress of at-risk students — monitors information
    • "I used binoculars to trace her progress up the mountain." — monitor, follow, or track

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  • Early cat domestication is traced back to China over 5,000 years ago.
  • They traced the illnesses back to a single restaurant.
  • Were they able to trace the phone call?
  • The book traces the development of the smartphones.

  • Show more
  • She traced the student’s progress.
  • She used a pre-paid phone that is untraceable.
  • It was pure imagination, probably traceable in the beginning to lies circulated by Snowball.
    George Orwell  --  Animal Farm
  • He found the audio-capsule, he heard your voice, he was going to trace it.
    Ray Bradbury  --  Fahrenheit 451
  • None of the boys could have found good reason for this; what intelligence had been shown was traceable to Piggy while the most obvious leader was Jack.
    William Golding  --  Lord of the Flies
  • "I might tell you that you can trace my family back through nine generations of witches and warlocks and my blood’s as pure as anyone’s, so —"
    J.K. Rowling  --  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Show more again
  • "Yes, but we’re still going to have to try and trace the real locket, aren’t we?" said Hermione, "to find out whether or not it’s destroyed."
    J.K. Rowling  --  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • By and by the rangers traced the car’s serial number to the Hertz Corporation, the vehicle’s original owner; Hertz said they had sold it as a used rental car many years earlier and had no interest in reclaiming it.
    Jon Krakauer  --  Into the Wild
  • But that doesn’t prevent me from feeling the sharp stab of pain as the needle inserts the metal tracking device deep under the skin on the inside of my forearm. Now the Gamemakers will always be able to trace my whereabouts in the arena.
    Suzanne Collins  --  The Hunger Games
  • If there be anything behind this instinct it will be valuable to trace it afterwards accurately, so I had better commence to do so, therefore .
    Bram Stoker  --  Dracula
  • Even so zealous a hunter as General Zaroff could not trace him there, he told himself; only the devil himself could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark.
    Richard Connell  --  The Most Dangerous Game
  • The Professor has a strongly humorous side, and I could from old knowledge detect a trace of its origin in his answer.
    Bram Stoker  --  Dracula
  • Then I caught the patient’s eye and followed it, but could trace nothing as it looked into the moonlight sky, except a big bat, which was flapping its silent and ghostly way to the west.
    Bram Stoker  --  Dracula
  • The increasing simplification traceable from the Egyptian epigraphic hieroglyphs to the Greek and Roman alphabets and the anticipation of modern stenography and telegraphic code in the cuneiform inscriptions (Semitic) and the virgular quinquecostate ogham writing (Celtic).
    James Joyce  --  Ulysses
  • I opine, that it is plainly traceable to the first arrival of the Greenland whaling ships in London, more than two centuries ago.
    Herman Melville  --  Moby Dick
  • Most of us who turn to any subject with love remember some morning or evening hour when we got on a high stool to reach down an untried volume, or sat with parted lips listening to a new talker, or for very lack of books began to listen to the voices within, as the first traceable beginning of our love.
    George Eliot  --  Middlemarch
  • How all superbest deeds since Time began are traceable to it—and shall be to the end!
    Walt Whitman  --  Leaves of Grass
  • The story being told, he renews his stately protest, saying that as it is quite clear that no association in my Lady’s mind can possibly be traceable to this poor wretch (unless he was a begging-letter writer), he trusts to hear no more about a subject so far removed from my Lady’s station.
    Charles Dickens  --  Bleak House
  • As for uncle Pullet, he could hardly have been more thoroughly obfuscated if Mr. Tulliver had said that he was going to send Tom to the Lord Chancellor; for uncle Pullet belonged to that extinct class of British yeoman who, dressed in good broadcloth, paid high rates and taxes, went to church, and ate a particularly good dinner on Sunday, without dreaming that the British constitution in Church and State had a traceable origin any more than the solar system and the fixed stars.
    George Eliot  --  The Mill on the Floss
  • When she had firmly returned him to his group, he remembered, by a connection quite untraceable, that his mother’s mother had been Scotch, and with head thrown back, eyes closed, wide mouth indicating ecstasy, he sang, very slowly and richly, "Loch Lomond."
    Sinclair Lewis  --  Babbitt
  • A few lines are traceable.
    Sinclair Lewis  --  Main Street
  • But they surrendered when they found themselves on the edge of bankruptcy through a series of untraceable circumstances within a few years.
    Ayn Rand  --  The Fountainhead
  • The cardinals exchanged uneasy looks, and finally one said, "Yes, but these bonds are traceable directly to the Vatican Bank."
    Dan Brown  --  The Da Vinci Code
  • Harry felt a floating sensation as every thought and worry in his head was wiped gently away, leaving nothing but a vague, untraceable happiness.
    J.K. Rowling  --  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Momma, always self-conscious at public displays of emotions not traceable to a religious source, told me to come with her and we’d bring the bread and bowls.
    Maya Angelou  --  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • The major characteristics discoverable by the stranger in Mr F.’s Aunt, were extreme severity and grim taciturnity; sometimes interrupted by a propensity to offer remarks in a deep warning voice, which, being totally uncalled for by anything said by anybody, and traceable to no association of ideas, confounded and terrified the Mind.
    Charles Dickens  --  Little Dorrit
  • Thinner and less immediately traceable than the other two, it was far more impressive than either.
    Thomas Hardy  --  The Return of the Native
  • It was a fumbling and uneasy flight,— a mole’s track, whose branchings are untraceable.
    Victor Hugo  --  Les Miserables
  • Known in international espionage circles as ’the Viper’ for the deadly and untraceable venom he injected into the balls of the feet of his celebrity victims , the assassin died in a fiery Moscow helicopter crash just hours before little Patti Weaver was born in Popular Mechanics, Iowa.
    Don DeLillo  --  White Noise
  • No, because there are no curiously twisted daggers, no blackmail, no emerald that is the stolen eye of a god, no untraceable Eastern poisons.
    Agatha Christie  --  The ABC Murders
  • The man who committed these crimes would not make so foolish a mistake to leave a traceable weapon behind.
    J.D. Robb  --  Naked in Death
  • The unpleasantness of the matter was that, in addition to their effect upon Tess, her fine features were unquestionably traceable in these exaggerated forms.
    Thomas Hardy  --  Tess of the d’Urbervilles
  • He’ll know it anyway from the operator, but the call won’t be traceable to this hotel.
    Robert Ludlum  --  The Bourne Identity
  • Everything untraceable, the slate clean.
    Robert Ludlum  --  The Bourne Supremacy
  • For if it occurred to me that I might occasionally excite suspicion by the little outbreaks of my sharper passion for them, so too I remember wondering if I mightn’t see a queerness in the traceable increase of their own demonstrations.
    Henry James  --  The Turn of the Screw
  • Sims said the shootings came a few years after the home run but were directly traceable.
    Don DeLillo  --  Underworld
  • A pay phone, nothing traceable!
    Robert Ludlum  --  The Bourne Ultimatum
  • And because Itex is a world-class, top-secret, paranoid techfest, the linkup has constantly changing codes and passkeys-its signal is completely untraceable.
    James Patterson  --  Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
  • Fortier had first recruited Svensson fifteen years ago to conduct a much simpler operation: untraceable arms deals with several interested nations, which involved biological weapons research in exchange for lucrative con-tracts.
    Ted Dekker  --  Red: The Heroic Rescue
  • His home phone, he knew, would leave a traceable record, but he had to hear her voice tonight, even if it was only on the machine.
    Nicholas Sparks  --  The Guardian
  • Henrietta Stackpole was struck with the fact that ancient Rome had been paved a good deal like New York, and even found an analogy between the deep chariot-ruts traceable in the antique street and the overjangled iron grooves which express the intensity of American life.
    Henry James  --  The Portrait of a Lady - Volume 1
  • By a contrivance now common, and indeed traceable to a very remote period of antiquity, they were made changeable in aspect.
    Edgar Allan Poe  --  Ligeia
  • The mothers stayed back in the kitchen washing and drying, putting things away, recrossing their traceless footsteps like the lifetime journeys of bees, measuring out the dry cocoa for breakfast.
    James Agee  --  A Death in the Family
  • And it is this generous giving—the seemingly unlimited supply of cash that Wahhabi operatives smuggle into Pakistan, both in suitcases and through the untraceable hawala money-transfer system—that has shaped their image among Pakistan’s population.
    Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin  --  Three Cups of Tea
  • This phone had served Mal’akh well . but now it was time it became untraceable.
    Dan Brown  --  The Lost Symbol
  • This is an untraceable Hotmail address.
    Stieg Larsson  --  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
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