I wish I could find where I'd written up my old talks. Too many computers back, I believe.
Two parts, today and tomorrow, are about how I approach genealogy. There are many other means and specifics available, yet this is a general yet detailed 'how to' for the average American or possibly Canadian. I think it is very important that you learn how to do genealogy first, then applying it will reap greater rewards.
Begin with what you know and work toward what you don't know. Be disciplined about this. Don't make flying leaps to people you don't know and attempt to work the opposite way. It'll end in frustration.
Also, and guys are prone to this especially, remember that your genealogy is much greater than your surname. Don't just follow that single path. At just the great grandparent level, you have eight surnames to consider and research. Remember them and pay close attention to the women, the ghosts of genealogy.
Get the birth/marriage/death certificates that apply for you, your parents, grandparents, etc. I guarantee you will learn something. Perhaps you can also work grandparents' siblings or cousins, any relations really.
You can go to VitalRec.com to get addresses for ordering b/m/d documents, but you can also go to the state or county website to cross check. I recently did that with a California death certificate. Unwilling to pay $36 for an online order and the mail in info link didn't work, so I went to directly to the county where I learned they have a specific pdf form on their website that they require to be notarized. It's a good idea to check the county, as I learned in this case. Look also because sometimes a uncertified document costs less, but not always. These documents are typically $12 or so.
Different states began recording such records at different times. Perhaps you're lucky enough to come from an early state. I was not. Vitalrec.com is very clear when record keeping began if you look at a county's or state's entry.
As you order all your b/m/d certificates, keep a running database on what you ordered and when, then insert the results when they return. Honestly, it is very easy to reorder paperwork unnecessarily. Here are a couple form examples.
Check out the funeral homes listed on death certificates and contact them and the cemetery. They have great data. Sometimes headstones have Masonic or other symbols which can be researched. Most cemeteries are cataloged in books, online, or genealogy society bulletins and, remember, people are usually buried with family.
See if you can find obituaries and death notices. Many are online both with the newspapers as well as someplace like Rootsweb.
Order the Social Security application for any ancestor/relation you can through an SSDI. Back when I was ordering them a lot, they were only $7 each. Now, unfortunately, they are $27. They show the parents of the applicants, so are very helpful - I found it interesting to see how one grandfather abbreviated his mother's 17 letter surname down to six letters; it was good information to look for her in that direction. (It was also fun seeing his handwriting, signature, and where he lived.) Click on the form generators at the Rootsweb link to make the letter writing part easy for you.
Give yourself a little budget each month and buy some documents, join a society, or order a book - check out some of the genealogy publishing companies or ebay when you get to that point. (There are complied books of b/m/d records done by individuals or genealogy societies. There are books of newspaper marriage/death announcements. Others deal with property or wills. Many options. Then sell what you don't want on ebay.) Genealogy costs, but it can be spread out in workable chunks.
Minimize costs by using online catalogs, some of which you can order from, some you have to go there: DAR, Library of Congress, and National Genealogical Society. If someone mentions a genealogical book in passing, rather that make them type it out, go to an online catalog. Keep a running pile of print outs about books you'd like to view. Once you see them, make notes on that paper about the book.
To be continued...