Hunt and Gather
You might not have an enormous trove of information to work with, but most people have enough family details to get the ball rolling. To start out your mapping project, first go through the info you have at your fingertips and establish a rough outline. Once the skeleton map is finished, you'll be able to identify the holes and create a wish list of the items and information necessary to fill them.
The first and most logical source for details are your oldest living relatives, who can often shed light on birthplaces, maiden names, marriages, divorces and immigration patterns. Don't take these often-untapped resources of family "secrets" for granted, though. "My only regret is that I didn't start research and preserving records when my grandparents were living," says genealogy enthusiast Nancy Merrill. "I have so many questions I would love to have asked them."
Definitely make an audio or video recording of the interview for posterity, sentimental and factual purposes. "My mother passed away last January, and I am so thankful we have a video of her talking about her life as a young girl on through to her marriage," Merrill explains.
Of course, because the human memory is often fallible, you'll also need to double-check facts before you etch them in the proverbial stone.