It can be very interesting to trace your family history. But, be forewarned, that it can take a lot of time and effort on your part to track everyone down. Records haven’t always been well maintained, names change, etc.
Probably the best place to start at is by talking to some of the older members of your family. Gather as much information about them as you can, such as when they were born and where, and any information they may have about their parents, such as names and date of birth. The information gained from talking to family members is often the most valuable research when you’re trying to trace family lines. Remember to take a tape recorder along with you, so that you don’t miss any vital information you may need later on. You want to get them to talk about the town they grew up in, what year they got married and who they married. Ask the people you interview what year their mom and dad were married, and where it took place, and any information they can pass along about other family members. Ask any questions that you think may give you another research lead, or help you on your search. Don’t forget to collect as many maiden names as possible too.
Ask to look through old photo albums, and using your own digital camera, photograph any snapshots of family members you find useful. You can ask, but you probably won’t have much luck in asking to borrow the pictures themselves for copying, but a good digital camera will do the trick.
After your interview is over, catalog all of your notes. Date your tapes, and put the person’s name on the outside, so you have them at your fingertips should you need to listen again.
As you start gaining more and more information from your interviews, start a family tree chart. You can purchase software that will help you tremendously in this process, or it can be done by hand if you prefer.
If other family members have done some research in the past, ask them to allow you to take a look at what they found. You may find some information that you didn’t have, saving yourself a lot of time and effort.
Once you have interviewed all of the relatives you can find, then you will want to start looking through archived records. You can usually find them at the courthouse in the city that the family member lived in. Look for birth and marriage certificates, tax records, deeds, and wills. Ask to see anything that can give you new names and dates to further your research. Add any new information you get to your notes and your family tree chart.
Census records now can be researched for the previously missing time period from 1790 to 1920. This should give you quite a bit of help in locating information on deceased family members.
As you find information on deceased family members, consider visiting their graves. Oftentimes, you can find useful information on their headstones, such as date of birth, date of death, and possibly locate other family members that may be buried close by.
Your local library can also be a valuable research aid, especially in looking for old newspaper articles and gaining information about division changes, surnames, etc. Most modern libraries have a genealogy section, which can further assist you in finding the information you desire.
Don’t forget to search through military records, especially during times of war, as you will often be able to locate family members that way.
Much of your genealogy research can also be accomplished over the internet. This saves a lot of wasted time searching through old records in various towns and cities. Its possible to find some obituary listings online, you can search through listings of war casualties for lost or missing family members. Some sites allow you to access immigration records, and get ships passenger lists.