Instead of just jumping into searches and queries, take a little time to prepare. Knowing just a few things before you start will help you break down those brick walls more efficiently.
Learn the area's history before you search for records
Researching the history of the area where your ancestor lived is the best way to begin your research. You’ll learn a lot about your ancestor's life before you even start researching them. You'll see a snapshot of their life BEFORE you find them in marriage, tax, and land records which means you'll be better able to evaluate the bits of information you find about them. Plus, you will understand the "big picture" context of the records. And once you start making those discoveries, it will help you avoid feeling lost and wondering if you missed something.
So how do you find the history? Use internet searches. Find books and articles. Blogs are great resources. Do not be shy about asking people who are experts in the area. Find a local genealogy or historical society. Read the local newspaper from that time. Seek information to educate yourself about what was going on before and when your ancestor was there. Educate yourself about the history of the area and the issues of the day.
Knowing the area helps you know your ancestor.
Once you understand the history of the area, you’re ready to find out what records are available to help you.
Get ready to play "Go Fish"
Remember that records are often missing or destroyed. Time, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes all are detrimental to records. You can’t know if the records you need still exist until you ask. And you may have to ask several places until you find them. That’s ok. Even the most highly experienced researchers have to go through this same process before they begin looking up records.
Preparing to research is a little bit like the game “Go Fish.”