I often receive emails from people in search of their ancestors and asking how they can locate records for them. I know that uncovering a family ancestry is not an easy task, I have been through it different times, either researching for my own family, or one of my client's families.
1 - Start with your own family
If you really do not have any idea where you are going to start finding information about your immigrant ancestor, the best way to begin your research is inside your own family. Yes, your closest family members. They are the descendants of that first immigrant and they will give you information if you ask for it. Most of the time I am sure they will. They are proud of who they are and proud of their history. The reality is when you do not know much about your ancestor's history, including stories about those who lived or are still living during your life span, you will need to rely on their information and available documentation.
|My mother and father - 1956 - Teresópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.|
Talking to your mother and father is almost obvious, but we often take this for granted. For example, I never asked my parents how they met, when and where; now I cannot ask as they passed away a few years ago. Do not skip your parents much less your grandparents, aunts, and uncles if they are still alive. In doing this your perception about their lives will broaden and the research paths will certainly start to open. This will also bring more awareness to aspects of their lives which you never understood before.
2 - Write down their thoughts
On a sketchbook
Writing down their thoughts means you are documenting them. In genealogy we call it evidence.If you like to write, draw, doodle, like me, a sketchbook is a great idea to informally take notes. Think about the fact you can carry a sketchbook in a family visit, sit down and quickly take notes of what people will tell you. At the same time, you can draw a family tree and establish relationships between individuals. The list of questions and things you can ask and do are endless. The information gathered will probably surprise you in many aspects you never thought of before. Sketching and writing combined are great tools and were used throughout history to document all kinds of events.
|Wikimedia Commons - James Abbott McNeill Whistler [CC0]|
On a tablet
If you are more towards a tech approach, take your tablet and do the same as I mentioned above, plus take photos! You can also document your new investigation by recording the conversation and later transcribing it to your computer. It could be either just a voice record or a film from your phone. Most phones and tablets have a voice recorder. Any choice is great, as long as you record it and later use it in your family tree!
|Family Group Templates|
3 - Scan or photograph
Last but not least, scan or photograph is considered one of the aspects of preservation. Ask your family for any possible documents they have, photos, letters, any heirlooms they have available. Kindly ask if you can scan or photograph them. You never know if you will see that letter or photo again. Check for resources that can help this part of your project, such as an app, a scanner bin, a scanner, etc. Do not know how to start? Check for a free poster and other preservation resources I have created while working for the library and archives at the Preservation Services UNC-Greensboro. One of the posters shows how you can set up a small digitization project with your phone, tablet or camera.
 Read more about the different types of evidence and how to evaluate them here: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Evaluate_the_Evidence
 I suggest reading the description and comments about this product as I am not endorsing it in any way. This is solely a suggestion. https://www.amazon.com/Scanner-Bin-Document-Scanning-Solution/dp/B00XM7LKZM/ref=pd_bxgy_107_img_2/144-1945271-5645318?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B00XM7LKZM&pd_rd_r=523c8f82-1686-11e9-ae99-f72e554a08eb&pd_rd_w=14VY8&pd_rd_wg=rPxX0&pf_rd_p=6725dbd6-9917-451d-beba-16af7874e407&pf_rd_r=SFWVCMPRZRKD44MBVSX8&psc=1&refRID=SFWVCMPRZRKD44MBVSX8
 UNCG - No Boundaries in Preservation – in English, Portuguese and Spanish: http://library.uncg.edu/info/depts/scua/services/no_boundaries.aspx