If your ancestors were a member of a denomination over any significant length of time, learn something of their history. A broad understanding of the history of your ancestor’s denomination may provide you with insight into their life, what might have motivated and why the church kept the type of records that it did.
Are you in isolation in your research? If there are not relatives (close or distant) working on your same line, consider joining a mailing list at Rootsweb (http://lists.rootswebcom). Roots-l and Gen-Newbie are two good lists to join that are worldwide in their scope, but there are other regional lists devoted to countries, ethnic regions, counties, etc. Even if you don’t find a relative, someone working in the same location as you can be an excellent resource.
We all know this, but forget that sometimes it impacts our genealogical research as well. Early in my research, I was surprised that when my uncle died in 1907, without any children that his wife did not automatically inherit his entire estate. She inherited a part of it as his wife, but the balance went to his heirs. In this case, his siblings and some nieces and nephews were also heirs to his estate besides his wife. It made for an interesting court case.
Back in the “old days” of research, page by page was often the only way to find someone in a census record. With the advent of every name indexes, “point and click” research is a real option. However, there are times when it just not the successful approach. And there are times, where if you know where your ancestor lived, that “traditional” approaches may be faster. And reading the census page by page for where your ancestor lived, may give you a broader understanding of his neighborhood.
For every census listing you have for an ancestor, think of other sources and materials that it suggests. A value of real property in an 1860 census indicates land and property tax records, a personal property valuation in an 1850 census suggests personal property tax records. An occupation may suggest local county records or occupational records. And children with different last names in the household suggest multiple marriages or extended family who may have been living in the household at least temporarily.
Do you have your ancestor in every extant census in which she would be enumerated? Skipping one because “it won’t tell you anything” is never a good idea. One ever knows what surprising information may be lurking in a “routine” census enumeration.
I’m not going to summarize Elizabeth Shown Mills’ “Evidence Explained” in one tip, but generally speaking a source citation should provide enough information to allow you or someone else to get back to the actual record you used to cite a date or an event. That citation should also information in regards to the provenance of the source, its perceived reliability, and whether it is an original or some type of derivation from the original.
If you have gotten stuck in extending your family back to earlier generations, consider tracking the descendants of that earliest “unknown” ancestor. Perhaps one of his other descendants has information, sources, or family mementos that you are unaware of.
Don’t just research mindlessly. It is bad in more ways than one. Decide what you want to know, determine what you already know and learn about ways to get there. Research plans need to be more detailed than this obviously, but don’ t do your research in a haphazard fashion.
Learn about the geography of where your ancestor lived. It might explain where they later settled, how they travelled, or where they went to church, got married, etc.