Go to your computer, its your best tool. I suggest for fun and yes information as well go to Google and search for your grandfather. Type in his name and see what comes up. Sometimes there are others out there searching for the same ancestor. Sometimes you run into a dead end. No problem, move to the next step. If you know where your grandparent is buried try looking at Find-A-Grave and see who else might be buried there as well. Find-A-Grave is a fun site to look at. There are over 85 million burial records here. If your grandparent or parents are listed keep looking around. Look for Maiden names as well. Search by last names and if you know where your grandparents were from look in those states. You will probably find other people who share their last name. Now this doesn't mean you are related to all of them but this is where the notebook comes in. Say your last name is Strait (I'm using some of my own surnames here) and your grandparents were born, married and died in New Jersey. You search the last name and select the state of New Jersey. It will give you a list of all interments for Strait. Go ahead, try it. You will see that many of my New Jersey Strait's were from Rockaway, Morris County, New Jersey. A few migrated to Sussex County as well.
Once you have grown weary of Find-A-Grave (I don't see that happening) or if you find some really good leads another great resource is FamilySearch.org. This is run by the Mormon church but let me tell you, they have everything (or so it seems). Here you will be able to search for Census records (1880 is the only free one I believe), Birth, Marriage and Death certificates, links to other family histories and all sorts of fascinating information. If you find your ancestor's birth or death certificate you can often find out who there parents and spouse (if married) were and maiden names as well.
Now you are a detective. Don't forget your sleuth book because now it gets intense. Start digging deeper by searching Google for free genealogy sites. There are hundreds of wonderful volunteers who dedicate their lives to transcribing documents and posting it online. Here is a short list of some I have used.
- Genealogy Trails (I used to do three counties here, Vinton, Jackson and Gallia County, Ohio)
- RootsWeb World Connect which is Ancestry's free community based database. I lived here for awhile when I first started my research. Its wonderful but one word of caution, when you find information triple check it and source it on your own because there are some people who haven't researched their own facts and there is misinformation on there. Its great for finding starting points but never assume your done. Find your own proof.
- USGenWeb Project is another site similar to Genealogy Trails but often with information that may or may not be on the other one.
- Google Patent Search is fun. I searched various names there and found a lot of cool things my ancestors had a part in.
- The Bureau of Land Management allows you to search for Land Deeds and Patents purchased by our ancestors. I have found a lot of my ancestors here. It gives me the date they purchased the land, the location and I can also download an image of the patent or warrantee of the land. Very valuable site.
- Ancestry.com which is not free but will eventually be your best friend. Once you have exhausted everything you can find you will want to invest in this site. It took me eight years to succumb but I am glad I did. There are other pay sites like Footnote but I haven't had to buy into those yet. I'm sure at some point I may.
- Genealogy Bank is a great website that offers newspapers full of information. Some of these papers date back to 1690. First time users get a 30-day free trial. After that it's less than $20 a month or less than $70 a year. This is a great site. I don't have a subscription anymore because we had to cut corners but it is well worth the investment.
I suggest if you are really serious about researching your roots and your finances can swing it purchase a wonderful little program to help you stay organized. You may not need it for a month or so but no harm in getting it and playing around with it so you are familiar with how to enter data and edit fields. I personally use RootsMagic. It is easy to use, very powerful and has a great interface. There are lots out there. Download them and use up the trial time on them. Play around and find one that you like best. I will list some of these in a later post.