Now that I’ve researched several different family lines, I can tell you there is no specific way to start. For me, starting involved getting as much information about family names, birth dates, death dates, spouses, children, etc., anything I could get family members to remember as far back as they could. Parents’ names, grandparents’, great-grandparents, etc. Don’t forget to ask about aunts and uncles too because sometimes uncovering things on them can uncover information on the people you are looking for.
Also, if they can remember neighbors’ names, where they lived, etc., write that down. You never know when that’ll help.
For me, knowing the neighbors’ names helped when I couldn’t find my great-grandparents in the 1900 or later Census. My great-grandmother was still living with her parents in the 1890 Census and my great-grandfather was a laborer on a neighboring farm. I knew they married sometime in the 1890s because my grandfather was born in 1893 but they didn’t show up in any searches in the 1900 Census.
Fortunately, my aunt remembered some of her grandparent’s neighbors and a search on them proved successful. When I looked further on the pages before and after where the neighbors appeared, I found my great-grandparents, grandfather, and four of his siblings born in the 1890s. The Census takers handwriting had been transcribed wrong so the search engine skipped right over it. Yes, I could have gone through all the pages of the 1900 Census for the area I knew they were in and would have if using the neighbors hadn’t worked but this was a lot less time consuming and tedious.
Therefore, in my opinion, getting as much information as you can before you start can help prevent some of the major roadblocks you might experience. The information can help you confirm you found the right person as well as eliminate individuals that don’t belong. (i.e., that Martin Bishop born in 1875 was probably not the father of Andrew Bishop born in the early 1880s, etc.)
It won’t eliminate everything, but it does help in the long run. And don’t forget about taking information you learn back to those people who helped you start. It might jog some of their memories so they can give you more information to help you with your journey.
So what about you? How did you get started? What pointers can you give to others?