How do I know the information is accurate?
There are two kinds of information sources: Information from government sources (like birth and military records, immigration records and the social security death index) and information from books, newspaper articles and the community.
One of the types of resources you may find helpful online are the thousands of message board postings surrounding surnames with people looking for and providing information. If you have a common last name, like Lewis or Smith, be prepared to be inundated with possible information. There's a lot of sharing that goes on and a real sense of community surrounding these efforts.
Wherever you get information from, it's important to remember to make sure it's relevant to your family, and not just a family with your last name. For example, if the government record indicates your great, great grandfather was born in Ohio, and you have several other pieces of information you know to be true, then you have confirmed a piece of your family tree. If you get information from a message board, "yes, I once knew your grandmother," the onus is on you to contact the person providing the information to verify its accuracy.
Are resources free? What kind of investment is required?
Some of the basic information is free. As you get deeper, there are annual subscription fees for access to information such as Census Bureau forms, usually about $40 per year. By far the biggest investment you'll make is time. Most people chip away at this over weeks and months.
Where should I go online? What are the best sites?
Helpful sites include:
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