You may be inclined to jump right into some online searches, but first you should concentrate on gathering the information that you already have in your possession. It will save you a lot of frustrations later on.
Start by writing down things you know for sure. (I will discuss in a later entry about types of forms you can use, but here is an example of one.)
Information about you. Your birth date, where you were born. Are you married? When were you married? To whom, where? This information may or not be useful in further searches, but your family tree will start with you, so thats a good place to begin.
Next you will move on to your parents. When were they born, where? When and where were they married. Where in their lives have they lived. What are the names and date of births of all of their children (your siblings).
Then, what do you know about your grandparents. List anything you can think of. Where they in the military? If they are no longer living, do you also know the date they died? Do you know where they were buried?
You might know a little something about your great grandparents. If you do, write it down.
See, already you have some information to go on. Maybe it’s not all complete, but what you have will hopefully give you a good place to move on from. The more information you can start with though, the easier it will be. So, the next step is too look at any documents you might have in your possession. Maybe you have a family bible, or old military records, or anything else that would contain any hints of your family.
Now that you have some information, you will want to talk to your family members. Go visit them, and see what they can tell you. Some people might be able to tell you stories. Maybe you will want to record your conversation so you can refer to it later, or bring along some paper to record things. Don’t trust that you’ll remember everything they tell you. I’ll talk about sources later, but also knowing who gave you the information will become very important later on, so make sure you keep track of who told you what.
Your family will be able to give you lots of information. Learn from my mistakes. Make sure you talk to your eldest relatives and write down whatever you can remember from the stories they tell you. They may provide a piece of information that may help you later on in your research. Maybe you could even get them to write down information that they recall. They can do this on their own time and then give you that information at a later date.
So have fun!
If you've already done this stage (maybe even a long time ago) what was your experience. Were family members willing to share stories with you? How did it help you out?