Any good genealogist will tell you that you start with what you know or information that you have then see what new information you can find. Usually that information is given to you by family members. Be aware tho', that information isn't always correct. Grandma might not remember all the details or mix up the names. Take it with a grain of salt. You should verify everything by finding documentation that validates what you have been told. Until you have documentation, it's simply hearsay. Consider family information your starting point.
Sometimes a family member has their own motives. They really don't want the whole truth to come out. Maybe they think information about Uncle Joe really should be left alone or it's better to keep those "skeletons in the closet". That was the case with my own father.
I mentioned last time that we were told that grandfather had been in a catholic orphanage. My father knew the name of the orphanage and he even knew the name of the town where his father had been born. When I offered to take him to these places to get the facts, he refused. It wasn't until after he died that I decided to take the trip by myself.
I realized that my father probably knew more than he was telling and was using the orphanage story as a brick wall. As it turns out the orphanage had no records of my grandfather ever being there. (The Catholic Church keeps excellent records.) You could consider that a dead end but I had two other leads. The first lead, being the name of the town where grandfather was born. Fortunately, that town was in the same county as the orphanage.
I followed up by contacting the priest at the Catholic Church in that town. I set up an appointment. Visiting the church, I was able to relate my father's story and asked where I could find baptismal records. I was lucky to have found a gracious priest who was willing to help me.
He had all the baptismal records in the church's vault and was willing to go through them. We found my grandfather in those records with his parents. I also got the name of a sister and brother that we knew nothing about as well as confirmation that grandfather was no an orphan. His father, my great-grandfather, lived until 1905. Mystery solved.
I got a certified copy of the baptismal records for my documentation. The documentation included a copy of the Indian Rolls for the town. The skeleton in the closet for my father was to admit that he was a child of an Indian. Something he denied all of his life. Yet something that I am proud to be.
Oh yeah, the second lead was that my father told us that my grandfather worked at the
Giant Powder Co. in Richmond. More on that next time...