When starting your genealogy research, decide which side of your family (Surname) you want to start with. The best one will probably be the surname that is closest to you geographically, and the one which you have most contact with. For instance if you live in south Georgia and all of your mom’s family are from the same area, but your dad’s family are from California, start with your Mom’s family first.
From the beginning of your search, be organized. Buy several notebooks, tablets, page dividers, and sheet protectors. Whenever records are found for a surname in your family, place them in a designated notebook. Keeping a journal of your research efforts will be extremely helpful. In your journal keep a list of who you have talked to, places where you have visited, your thoughts on resources, and reminders. Evernote is a great online and mobile way to keep notes wherever you go.
Document and Verify
Start talking to your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends of your family. Take notes or record your conversation. When speaking with your family, try to get information on the person who is the subject of your search. If possible get their full name, date of birth (and death), and places where they lived. Find out if the person of interest owned any property (real estate), if so, find out where so that you can conduct a deed search. Do not disregard oral traditions as just old wives tales. They can be a very important source for you. Once you have obtained this information, use library and online resources to find related documents in order to verify what you were told (ideally from at least two different sources). A genealogist is someone who researches ancestry by verifying and documenting oral information obtained from family.
Types of Records
There are several types of records that genealogists use: vital, probate, census, deed, and genetic. Vital records include birth certificates, death certificates, social security records, immigration/naturalization records, and military records. Birth and death certificates are extremely important, in that you can obtain names of parents of the person listed on the record. Examples of probate records are marriage licenses, annual returns, wills, and courts proceeding containing orders for widow and child support. Census records are taken every ten years by the US federal government. It records family information by listing names of everyone in the house, the age and position of each family member (wife, son, daughter, mother, etc).
Lastly, there are companies that can analyze your DNA in three ways.
1) Autosomal DNA. Your DNA is tested across multiple ancestry (not just one direct lineage). This type of test can be taken by both men and women. It provides an ethnic summary of your genetic makeup (breaking down ethnicity into percents).
Examples: Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA Family Finder
2) Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). This test provides results from you direct female lineage (mother, grandmother, great grandmother, etc). Both men and women can take this test and results place you in a Haplogroup.
3) YDNA. This test of the Y chromosome can only be taken by men since they are the only gender that have this DNA structure. This test provides results for a man’s direct lineage and are placed in a Haplogroup (father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc).
Understanding DNA Testing