You do this by learning everything there is to know about where your ancestor lived and what was going on in that area during his lifetime. You need to read local histories and put together local timelines. At the very least you should have a timeline for the United States in general and then for each individual state you do research in. You also need to understand your ancestor's religious beliefs as that can also influence what he/she does. What was his/her standing in the community? People of different social standings behave differently. What was his/her ethnic background? Different ethnicities have different customs and beliefs.
Not only will this lead you to other records you hadn't thought of, it will bring your ancestor to life. If you don't get anything else out of this blog just remember that your ancestor was a real person with an interesting story to tell. A real genealogist does not reduce a person to a list of place names and dates.
"I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Crooked Man"]
Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis