A short review is in order; you must remember that genealogy, like politics, is local and is about “where.” Your ancestors very seldom left records other than in their home county and state. Then, too, while the Internet is fun and fast, it is but a starting place, at least for the present. Until some future time, it will be sadly lacking in the information you need. So, while fast, the net cannot be more than a place to begin or to chat with other folks who probably know no more than you do.

Seek out relatives more distant than your parents (you can interview those anytime). Talk to all cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, old family friends and such like. They will have information and memories to be found no place else. Personal interviews are best and are done in the homes of those folks. Nevertheless, whether you make those contacts by such visits, by phone or by email makes little difference, so long as you make careful and complete notes. From them, learn all you can, and surely ask “where” folks once lived.

By going straight-away to the records of those “where” counties, you will save a lot of time. Identify one line of your family back to 1930 (you can only search one at a time), then search backwards in time for the earliest censuses in which that family is shown. In census entries about him/her you will find the state (or colony), county, precinct, district, township or general location in which that family lived (their “wheres”) and surely left records of themselves. Next, look in the records of those places by visiting there, by hunting reliable sources on the net, by reading some of history of that region, by joining their inexpensive societies or by conversations with folks who are now there and researching.

We will suggest that you Google certain words in italics; search those suggested words with punctuation exactly as shown, e.g., try Googling “Princess Ann County VA tax records.” You will find there thousands of sources. Google yet once more for "Isle of Wight VA land records,” where hundreds of sources will again appear.

So, Google the county and state you want and whatever records you want to examine. Always also look at FamilySearch.com (the LDS site), at Cindy’s List, and in such sites as Heritage Quest, most of which you can locate through your local library, and follow up on those suggestions.

As to any specific family, until you have more basic information, looking in other than local and state sources likely will be time wasted. Further, if some census or record index does not seem to reveal your particular family, also put that record aside for future use.

Suppose you trace one of your lines back to the Census of 1870, and can’t find that family in any census earlier than that. If the surnames you seek appear in that census, yet seem not to be your direct family, for the moment don’t waste your time noting folks of the same surname but different given names, even if they live not far from your own people. Again, look at those folks later. Your task is to identify and search for only those “same name” people who are yours. You don’t need cousins yet.

No matter how unusual your surname, other folks also will have it, the greatest percentage of who will have only a remote relationship to you or more usually, none. When you do find a family with the same fore- and surnames as your own ancestors and who are living not far from where your family may have lived, forget all the others of the same name until you search out those same-name. There will be plenty of time later to examine such of those surnamed others as may be interesting.

Why is such an approach so important? Because you must shorten your task; you would not be able to examine all the available sources if you were to live a thousand years.

Still though, even if all you know about an ancestor is the name of a state (colony) in which he/she once lived, you will have eliminated, for the time-being, any need to search the remaining 49 states, and probably for all of the other counties of that state, as well. Similarly, if you were to find an ancestor in 1880 in Monroe County, Ohio, at least for that year and since Ohio came to have 88 counties, notice that for at least that period of time you will have eliminated records the remaining 87 counties.

Next time — more county searching.

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