I. Stay Organized!
II. Start with what you already know.
Look for documents that show family names, dates (birth, marriage, and death), places, or relationships:
Visit or write your relatives. Ask them to tell you stories and experiences that are a part of your family history. Even if they do not know the specific facts, relatives can sometimes give clues.
III. Work from Known to Unknown
IV. Search for Records
In addition to a name, know approximately when and where an ancestor lived. These facts will help you determine your starting point.
If you know Great Grandma Helen died in Ohio in 1953, you may or may not find a Social Security Death Index record for her (not everyone had been issued a card back then or drew SS benefits). You could search the Ohio Death Index and request a copy of the death certificate. And you could try searching the 1930 U.S. Census, the last pubicly available census (1940 will be released in 2012).