Thanks to the development of the personal computer, and toil of thousands, a huge amount of personal data is available to you at no charge. For example, Ancestry.com is available at many of the Riverside and San Diego branch libraries. This site was created and is maintained by the Mormon Church. It is the largest genealogical data bank in the world. It contains all of the US Federal Census records from 1790 to 1940, military records obituaries, public member trees, state records, etc. Their records have been gathered from all over the world, even remote places like the Fiji Islands.
If you are just starting to research your own family, a good place to start is with your older family members who can recall who their parents were, where and when they were born, where they lived and died.
Next you should search the US Federal Census records for your relatives who were living in 1940, the last census released to the public. The federal census will list all members of each reporting family and their relationship, so that if you can find the name of your relative in the census file as a child, the parents will likely be listed as such. Once that connection has been made, determine where that parent was as a child and look for the parent in the census year in which he or she was a child. You may be able to identify your family in this manner all the way back to the census of 1850. Before that , the federal census recorded only the head of the family by name.
Birth and death certificates are generally available at the county in which the event occurred , and often at the state capital, as vital records. The states usually began listing these records about 1900. If you request birth records, be sure to request the long form, which lists the parents. Death records will normally list the parents of the deceased.
Another good hunting place is the DAR online system open to the public, called the GRS. The GRS has a file listing by patriot ancestor and one listing by descendants. They also have other index files online.
If you are searching for records before 1850 the task gets harder, but not impossible. Look for wills which can be found at the county where the relative died, Church baptism records, early town records, gravestones and grave records, and the Ancestry.com file of Public member trees. Another good source: Google Books has many of the old county histories on line at no charge You can also search the web for family genealogies. While some of these sources do not provide the primary documents that we require, they may point the way. Also, there are professional genealogists who can be of service, usually on an hourly rate basis.