Follow these steps to begin.
1. Write down as much as you know about your ancestors: Parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles. Include approximate dates for such items as birth, marriage and death of each person and where these events took place (or your best guess). A guess is written like this: Mary Jones, born about 1810 of Virginia. This means you know she lived once in Virginia but not where in Virginia.
2. Record things in a family history notebook. Write down the date when you made an entry. Write down where you found the information.
3. Phone your oldest living relatives. Can they supply more information?
4. Locate your nearest Family History Center by looking in the Yellow Pages under Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Phone them on a Sunday and ask for the location and hours of the Family History Center.
5. Take your notebook and go to the Family History Center nearest you. One of the volunteers will help you with the next step. If you don't live by a Family History Center go to #6.
6. Take your notebook to your local library. Ask the reference librarian
if there is a genealogy section. Look at books that cover the locale of
one of your ancestors. Learn about the history of that area. Check the
index to see if your surnames are there. Write down anything you learn
about the history that might have effected your ancestors such as Indian
raids, location of factories or iron furnaces or saw mills. Look for information
about trails or roads through the area. Where did these trails originate?
Maybe your family came down that trail. Write down information about your
surnames even though
these people aren't your relatives. Maybe they are distant relatives. It is hard to tell, at first. Be sure to include the name of book, author, and page in case you need to look at it again. Making a photocopy of complicated information is often very helpful. You can take it home and study it.
Important: Be sure to look up other possible spellings of your surname. Many times the record was not written down by your ancestor and the person guessed at the spelling. It was the custom in the early days to use creative spellings of words. My name, Rains, is also spelled Raines, Raynes, Reynes, Ranes and even Raens.
7. Plan a trip to a large library in your state. Perhaps they have more information. If there is a university or jr. college nearby, there may be information in their library.
8. Places to look for ancestors:
1900s: census, birth, marriage, and death records.
1800's, same as above, plus deeds and wills.
1700's, same as 1800s plus military records, tax lists, church records.
9. If you get back to the 1600s you have done very well! Search for other genealogists in your area. Be willing to try suggestions. Keep looking. Notice the people who sign documents with your ancestor. Notice the people living near your ancestor. People in the early days traveled in large groups for protection. They often traveled with neighbors. If you can't find your relative, try following some of the neighbors.
10. Don't give up. Break-throughs come when least expected.