1. Make your first step collecting information that might already be available at home. Ask relatives for their recollections and look for old letters, photos or certificates, anything that might reveal hometowns; dates of birth or marriages, or parents' names.
2. After you have collected as much as possible, search U.S. census data for names of people living in a household, with ages and states or countries of birth. From this, you can guess years of birth or marriages and even the places, if the census was taken near the time of the events. U.S. censuses from 1790 to 1920 are available to research on microfllm in Southern California at the regional branch National Archives, 24000 Avila Road, Laguna Niguel (see our Genealogical Libraries page)..
3.There also were censuses taken by some states between federal census years. Write to state libraries for information on availability. Some state libraries will interlibrary loan microfilm copies.
4. Next, write to county clerks offices and state health departments for copies of your ancestors' birth, marriage and death records. Addresses and costs are in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' pamphlet "Where to Write for Vital Records." Check the reference area of your library for a copy.
5. Land deeds, wills and probates are among other county records that can provide proof of relationship between individuals. When writing to a county clerk's office, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply. Be as specific as possible, including the ancestor's name, possible spelling variations of the name and the approximate year a document might have been recorded.
6. You might also find helpful historical and genealogical societies where your ancestors lived. Addresses are in "The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy," edited by Arlene Eakle an Johni Cerny.
7. A good textbook on genealogy
is Val D. Greenwood's "The Researchers Guide to American
Genealogy." The author discusses the genealogical value
of many types of records both public and private. Be sure to
check your library for this and other reference books.