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:
FamilySearch Internet Genealogy is another terrific free site from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If your ancestors were slaves, FamilySearch has databases such as The Freedman's Bank Records for sale that contain records of hundreds of thousands of family names. The Freedman's Bank Records CD costs $6.50. It can be ordered over the Internet or call 1-800-537-5971 and ask for item #50120.www.familysearch.org
The Statue of Liberty—Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. This free site has immigration records from 1892–1924: you can purchase pictures of your ancestor's ship and the ship's manifest.
Ancestry.com, one of the most popular sites, has many different levels of subscriptions and tools ranging from $99 per year to $24 per quarter (depending on how long you'll want access to their files or census records). www.ancestry.com
Genealogy.com offers free tools, but as you get deeper into your search the tools you will need (such as census records) will cost money. www.genealogy.com
Rootsweb.com is "the oldest and largest free genealogy site"—its purpose is to connect people and give them a forum for sharing their research. www.rootsweb.com
Genealogy Forum, hosted by Rootsweb, is another of the free older genealogy sites that is primarily a community resource. www.genealogyforum.rootsweb.com/gfaol/beginners/
ICAPGen will help you find an accredited genealogist if you want to go the offline route.
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