I have studied my family history since I was 15 years old and actively online since 2000. If you are looking to start the process of researching your family tree, I recommend starting here:
Talk to your parents, grandparents, cousins, great aunts, uncles, etc... and start with what you do know. Family stories and pictures, as most genealogists can attest, are the heart of the family tree. The dates and events in someone's life are interesting, yes. However, a biography or better yet, auto biography of someone two, three, or four generations back can really show you more than when, but who this family or family member was as a person.
WHO, WHEN, WHERE?:
Stories are lovely to pass on, but stories can indeed be just that. A story. You can discover that Grandpa's chin scar wasn't from fighting Indians; it was from falling out of a wagon at age 6. He’d always told a fun story to make light of the actual incident. Taking stories and family histories with a grain of salt can reveal a more accurate picture when confirmation comes across your research desk.
In this same vein of confirmation, there are some sources that should be used as a loose guide. I've seen names misspelled on a cemetery marker, people interred under maiden names, nicknames, or with someone without a headstone indication. Even vital records spelled incorrectly, especially with internet data transcription falling into play. The State or Federal Census and birth certificates should be regarded with care.
Census enumerators, immigration records are subject to name changes, age discrepancies, transcription or memory errors. Variations in name spelling are quite common, especially after naturalization and persons of foreign extraction.
Documentation is of utmost importance even with unverified documentation. Reputable websites, word of mouth, interviews, pictures, vital records, court documents, even the family Bible are all great sources for information. This practice of documentation even with the smallest lead will greatly help you in the long run.
Years ago, when I was first bit with the genealogical bug, I had my first six months undocumented. I had to retrace steps to document. It was a chore and now not a bit of information that goes by undocumented. I once had someone contact me to tell me some of my online research was incorrect. After further discussion, I found that the person had gleaned from my online family tree years prior and had not kept the documentation I’d offered with said gleaning. My documentation had indicated 1) a probability of facts and 2) further need for verification, which I had since nullified and documented hard evidence to the fact. It was interesting having my own documentation come back to me this way, however had that researcher (insert egg on face) done her own documentation, she would have not propagated erroneous information to other people online, in the family tree, nor embarrassed herself.
SHARE WITH FAMILY:
I recommend offering your family tree to cousins, sans living members, with documentation but include contact information for their records. Anyone can come along and take your hard work for their own monetary gain, copyright the conglomerate, and make a buck with your research. It is a rarity although it does happen. It is a good work ethic to source your work accordingly, be it interview, photos, distant cousin, another researcher, online or book repository. This also helps eliminate the propagation of erroneous data.
INDENTITY AND PRIVATE INFORMATION:
I am also careful to never give out personal information on living individuals. ID theft is bad enough without someone ordering your personal documents (most vitals and Social Security are public record) because your info is innocently posted online or passed to a distant cousin who places it online for everyone to see.
I recommend setting up a free email account (e.g. gmail.com) that is online accessible to avoid loss of any email addresses supplied by an internet provider. I don’t know how many times I have gotten email from some of my five, six year old posts on message boards that I was so thankful to receive.
WHERE TO START and WHAT I RECOMMEND:
Rootsweb is very helpful for the beginner. The message boards there and the email newsletters which are regionally specific are the best.
I would also start with a good genealogical program for your PC. I personally like...
Its nominal $20 upgrade (bells and whistles). Any program that is easy for you to use, input records, document sourcing, and provides printable charts is good. I recommend reading the reviews on any free or paid family tree program which vary in price and usefulness as an $8 to $80 bottle of wine.Costlier is not always better.
The biggest things I have found in genealogy research:
This is the LDS website, where the census is searchable by every member in the household. You can click on the link (scroll) on the far right of the page to find others listed. You can then take the reference and go to Heritage Quest (below).
One of my favorite websites is Heritage Quest.com
A number of libraries and genealogy sites have access to this. You can access it in your PJs on Saturday morning from behind a cup of coffee and a computer and also from home! ~grins~ I love this site. You usually get a pin number to use with your library card. It will then direct you to Heritage Quest.
This is a searchable list for immigrant ships...not inclusive, but extensive. There are other links to Ellis Island Ships there as well. If your ancestors came over via boat or ship you seek, this is a great place to start.
This is the best site for info on Civil War persons. This one too:
This is the 'county-finder' for any township you may come across. Good family tree programs have this already installed.
This will link you to the Bureau of Land Management. Civil War Veterans were granted land patents for 160 acres of land by the Federal Government. Non Veterans were granted 80 acres these were on newly homesteaded property. This is a searchable site by name for those patents.
These are good for searching for headstone transcriptions.
I am at FindAGrave under my moniker, "The Cemefairy"
First look up the actual US Geological Survey location
For instance, this cemetery land was donated by my 3x Great Grandfather, Franklin KELLER back in 1856.
This is the location:
Feature Type: cemetery
USGS 7.5' x 7.5'
Map: New Virginia
Then we can look up the actual satellite image on this site…kind of fun.
This is for finding out what those old occupations really were. (What is a Mule Skinner? Someone who handles a team of horses..a teamster)
I have ordered from this company before and loved them. They take OLD, expensive books and take images and place them on CD Rom. I have an old history of the Frederick LITTLEHALE family. Nice find for only $25 for a book that runs in the hundreds. And later I was able to access the book images on Heritage Quest (link above) several years later.
Fun site for identifying or submitting unnamed or lost photos.
I have many links in my side bar that can help the budding genealogist. Feel free to leave me a comment if you can’t find what you need.