1)Check your birth certificate which should have listed your parents names.
2)Your grandparents should be listed on your parents marriage certificate/birth certificate. Also witnesses may be listed who are usually your relatives.
3)If your grandparents are deceased, check their obituaries/death certificates, which probably listed their parents---who would have been your great grandparents. (Check to see if your grandparents have a marriage or/and birth certificates.)
NOTE:You could also interview your grandparents' siblings and other elderly relatives, if they are living.
4)If your grandparents are living---make an appointment to interview them. Be organized when you speak with your grandparents, because of their age. Use a tape player/video camera to record the information they share with you, even if, you write it down.
Have most of the questions prepared ahead of time. Ask them about dates, birth, deaths, marriages, divorces, adoptions, counties/countries/states, cemeteries (especially family cemeteries) famous and infamous relatives, nicknames, family bibles, etc...
After you obtain the necessary information just let them talk about their history and family members. This might help you when you come to a brick-wall.
See if you can get copies of old photographs, copies of letters, newspaper clippings/articles, and any documents in their possession.
Once you have enough information, use the census records to locate family members, especially great grandparents. The census records can be researched from 1790 to 1930. (The 1890 censuses records were practically destroyed.Less than one percent was saved.)
NOTE:Keep in mind there will be inaccuracies, half-truths, and mistakes on any documents, especially the censuses. If possible, get a second/third documentation to verify what is more accurate/true. (Hang on to the inaccurate documents.) Sometimes the documents/additional documents are just not there, but make an honest effort to locate them. Some people do not try hard enough to locate the needed documents. Anyone can say they are related to someone, that is why documentation is so critical.
5)Check the tombstones where your known relatives are buried. You will need someone to go with you, if the burial place is deep in the woods.
6)Cehck WILLS of your deceased relatives. NOTE:alot of these documents can be attained from your courthouse(s).
7)Try to remember family stories told to you as a child and to others. Try to remember names and places spoken about.
8)Organize your information you recieive and where you got it from so, if you need it for future reference, you will know where the information come from. Of course, some of the information you can get over the internet or have it mailed to you.
But when possible, it is best to visit the counties/birthplaces of your descendants. Checkout the genealogy library/state archives in the area; do not forget the courthouses.
(I make an effort to travel, at least twice a year just for genealogy research and obtaining family documents.)
9)DRAFT UP a family chart/family tree, THAT YOU CAN READ, so you will know which direction to go.
10)Some research one branch of their family before moving on to another branch. I tend to research all my branches at the same time, depending on the information I have at the time.
NOTE:Do not judge what you might find out about your relatives. Accept this as part of history--the truth, learn from it, and move on. It is what it is.
NOTE:One last thing, check the bookstore, periodically, to see if anything has been written about your family names. "THE HAIRSTON" was written by author---Henry WIENCEK. He supposedly appeared on "60 Minutes" a few years ago, and I missed it. He interviewed the white and black HAIRSTONS, as well as documenting this research. (I know he did the research, because I have read some of the same documents, such as the Manuscripts of Peter HAIRSTON.) The book reads like a novel. I have spoken with a HAIRSTON relative, but she does not care to speak about the past so, if I am related to anyone in the book, I do not know it at this time.
Hope this will help some, this is only the basics of researching to get you started in the right direction. No thanks is necessary whether or not you can use this information. Genealogy is like detective work or searching for lost treasure, and I love it.
You should be able to find the documents back to your great-grandparents, just getting beyond your 3rd great grandparents is where some blacks find difficulty of obtaining documents.