Tristi wrote the following: "Bloodhound, I have to admit that a lot of this goes over my head. I'm glad you're here as a resource.
Can you walk me through the steps I need to take to find an ancestor's parents? My line just stops with this one man and I don't know his parents' names. How do I take the line back farther?"
Tristi, good questions. You will need to gather the accumulated information you already have about this particular ancestor. Then you will want to pose the following questions to yourself about this ancestor:
When and where was she or he born? Who were the family members? Who were the parents? Were they wealthy, poor, or in between?
Then you will want to look at possible sources. If you know, for example, that your ancestor was born Elizabeth Williams in Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales, in the year 1849, you then need to pinpoint her records. What kinds of birth records would be available for her? Where can you find those records?
If she was not born in a family that belonged to a religious denomination that resisted the efforts of the British government and the Church of England to register the family births, marriages, and deaths, you may well find her in the UK BMD or St. Catherine's Register. Here are some websites you can search: Ancestry.co.uk - http://www.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=8912; StCaths.com - http://www.ukfamilyhistory.co.uk/; and The U.K. BMD - http://www.ukbmd.org.uk/.
There are ways and means of searching these resources, feel free to ask for further tips if an ancestor seems unfindable...no database is perfect, and all indexes have problems.
Then look for he in the U.K. Censuses. Since she was born in 1849, she should be listed with her family of origin in the 1851 and 1861 censuses, if she was not orphaned. If she was, she may be listed with near relatives, or show up in an orphanage or workhouse.
If she moved to the U.S., Canada, or Australia, then she will probably show up in their immigration, vital, and census records. You will want to see if you can find her with her husband and/or children.
If you can find her with her family or origin, or find some mention of the father and/or mother, then you can get some idea of where and how to look back farther. The average father begat his first child at the age of 26; the average mother at the age of 19. So you can "guesstimate" backward. Knowing the ages of siblings will give you more accurate information, since Elizabeth's father probably wasn't 26 years old at Elizabeth's birth if she was the 8th of 9 children!
Then you can look up her parents in the congregational or parish, or commercial records that are available in the area, in order to begin to get some idea of who they were. Repeat the process for them that you did for Elizabeth.