Location, location, location. Jumping the pond and researching records in your country of origin will most likely not be possible unless you figure out where exactly your ancestor lived. You will probably need to know the exact town, county, parish, etc. People who try to find an ancestor at the country level will hit a brick wall, and usually the first lesson is that what may seem like a unique name and surname in the U.S. is often very common in the country of origin. So how do we begin our search?
Start with what you know!
1) Fill out a pedigree chart. Begin with yourself and fill out your parents', your grandparents', and great-grandparents' information. Include information on siblings, if you know it.
Tip: Many beginners make the mistake of focusing only on direct family lines, but in fact, records for siblings of grandparents or great-grandparents may have the tidbit of information you cannot find in the records belonging to your direct ancestor.
2) Interview your family members, starting with the oldest members first. If I had a dime for every time I wished I had interviewed my grandparents or their siblings before they died, I'd be rich by now.
- Videotape or record them, if you can.
- Ask about marriages, deaths, births, traditions, immigration/emigration stories.
- If you google "family history interview questions" you will find several links to help identify the best questions to ask.
- Go through family albums and record your family members' memories.
- If friends or neighbors are available, ask them questions as well.
So get started, and stay tuned for Lesson #2.