Finding the Answers
Doing an online search of the Social Security Death Index should help you find your grandmother's death date. The SSDI gives birth and death dates for millions of people, mostly from the 1960s on, but also as early as 1937. Not everyone is in the database, but it's always the best place to look first. With the date in hand, you can go to VitalChek to order the actual death certificate. The death certificate may include birth date, parents' names, spouse's name, occupation, address, cause of death, cemetery name, and funeral director's name---all depending on what information was required by the state.
Besides the death certificate, you may want to check for obituaries, cemetery records, and funeral records. By going to the USGenWeb site for the state and county, you may find leads to help you get these unofficial but often very revealing records. Sometimes obituaries will give names of parents and children (which is particularly helpful with married women's names), occupation, membership in societies, and a short biography.
For your grandfather's birth, you also can check the SSDI. Other sources include headstones, family Bibles, Social Security applications, obituaries, and passports. Follow up by ordering the birth certificate. It will help you go back another generation by naming his parents. Marriages are a little trickier to pinpoint, unless you have a wedding album, photo, or wedding invitation that include a date. Some obituaries may mention how long a couple was married. Another option is to estimate a date two years earlier than the oldest child or at the average age for marriage, say 25 for grooms and 22 for brides. Then search the statewide marriage index or give a date range for the record clerk to search for the actual birth certificate. For more help with doing genealogy, check out the how-to web sites in the sidebar.
Now, when my one-year-old daughter catches me on the computer doing genealogy, I tell her I'm busy working on my family tree and she can work on Daddy's. She smiles and grabs for the keyboard.