Can you fill in the basic data for your four grandparents?
Name: surname at birth, married surname
Born: date and location
Married: date and location
Children: name and date born
Died: date and location
Buried: date and location
Beyond the basic data we document on a family tree, where else may we find out who our grandparents were?
Emigrated: (I have my grandfather's 1912 passport printed in Russian (in 1912 Russia ruled Finland)
Immigrated: (My Finnish grandparents came through Ellis Island in 1912 - their records are online)
Naturalization records: records for my Finnish grandfather are online
Moved: changed residence?
Census: residence on state or national census
Education: school, apprenticeship, etc.
Taxed: valuated on tax records
Military: what branch? served in war?
Profession: date, location
Religion: Christened, Baptized, Ordained, etc.
A basic family tree entry for a President and a felon looks the same in the data. They were born, may have married, may have had children, they died. It is in the records generated beyond birth, marriage and death that we understand who they were. One lived in the White House, the other in the Big House.
The short list given here for other records is just the start for where to discover the lives of our ancestors. Other records may include newspaper articles; obituary; fraternities, court records; personal journals, letters, ethnic societies (my grandparents belonged to the Finnish Brotherhood); draft cards (cards for both of my grandfathers are online); and much more.
Like the pointillist style of painting, genealogists fill in one little piece at a time, until suddenly - voila! a picture emerges that is startling in the colorful details it reveals.