Interview all of your living relatives. Listen carefully to the stories and take copious notes. You may be amazed how the smallest detail can open up many research avenues. Use the family data tracking sheet on my website to record the generations. Visit my website at http://www.tracemyorigin.com/ for FREE research sheets. Look through family photo albums and that old box of pictures. Their may be clues on the photographs such as dates, location, and names.
Research the United States Federal Census reports. Census reports are filled with facts that can help you trace the geographic location, age, nationality, occupation, parents, siblings and other family members. Census reports become available to the public after 72 years. Census reports are available from 1790 to 1930 are available on several on line websites at the United States National Archives in Washington, DC. Visit their website for more information at: http://www.nara.gov/. The records are also available on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) visit their website at http://www.familysearch.org The LDS also have local family History Centers where you can access the records. Please note that many states also had their own census records.
Use the Internet. Simply type the name of the ancestors that you are researching into a search portal and see what results appear. You may just be surprised to find that a long lost relative is researching your family tree.
There are many wonderful companies that also have records and family trees available on line. http://www.ancestry.com/ and http://www.rootsweb.com/ happen to be two of my favorites.
Search the State Archives and local courthouses in the area where your ancestors resided. Many states have or are in the process of digitizing their records and making them available on line. However I would strongly recommend making a trip in person so you can have an orientation of all of the resources that are available to you. I visited the Maryland State Archives and found an absolute treasure. The treasure that I found was a series of handwritten letters by my gggg-grandmother to the Governor of Maryland in the year 1865. What a find! Be sure to search all avenues; land deed, wills, birth, marriage, immigration and death records.
Each state has a Vital Records division. The National Center for Health Statistics has a wonderful reference guide on their website with state-by-state instructions. the link is HTTP://www.cdc.gov/nchs/howto/w2w/w2welcom.htm.
Please note that most states started recording vital statistics in the 1900’s.
Immigration and Naturalization records are also a great way to trace your origin. The Immigration and Naturalization Service records start in 1906. If you are looking for records prior to that time frame you may want to check the municipal court’s records. Other on line sources that are free include http://www.ellisisland.org/ and http://www.castlegarden.org/.
Research newspapers and periodicals where your ancestors lived. There are several on line companies that have a large collection of publications that are searchable on line. My favorite site is http://newspaperarchive.com.