Most of us have is an insatiable curiosity about our family past. Who were they? What did they look like? What did they do for a living? Am I descended from royalty? In other words; where did I come from? One thing I can guarantee is that your family history will be interesting and, when your research is nearly complete, you will think it is a miracle that you are here at all. Your family undoubtedly has survived famine, disease, war and much more.
So, where do you start? I am going to assume that you are in North America and therefore the product of immigration. Let's also assume you want to do your research without any cost to you.
Start with a good old Google search of your family name and add the word genealogy. First, start with actual people that you know of and have information on. e.g. "Thomas Boutilier Genealogy". This can be a valuable way to search as you may have an unknown relative that has your "Thomas Boutilier" in their family tree and has published the information on the internet. If you can match the birth and death dates of their Thomas Boutilier, you may have just found a great source of family information that has already been researched. You will probably get search results from on-line forums also. Take a look at them all be prepared to invest some time.
Try dedicated genealogy research sites with the same query. Some of the best resources are the LDS or Mormon sites. You do not have to be a Mormon for your genealogy information to exist there. There are also LDS chapters in most major cities where you can go and do your research. They often have the information on microfiche. Once again, start with your actual family members that you have information on, going back as far as you can. There will be many on-line sites that you will find that want you to sign up or pay a fee. I would note these in case you want to go back to them later.
In North American genealogy, our ancestors often drifted back and forth across the border. Many eastern Americans are descended from immigrants who landed in Halifax in the 1750's. Some of those same settlers drifted to the US, back into Canada during the war of 1812 as United Empire Loyalists and then returned to the US many years later. For example let us take the name Roscoe. Most Roscoe descendants come from two brothers from Nova Scotia. One brother stayed in Nova Scotia while the other brother drifted through the United States starting small tent towns which became Roscoeville, Roscoe,NY and Roscoe,MN. So, don't count out cross border connections. Many Nova Scotians have New England ancestors who immigrated as Planters or United Empire Loyalists.
Spelling....This is important. Your family name may have changed many times throughout history; sometimes with each generation. Many of our immigrant ancestors could not ready or write. If they could, it may not have been in English. Therefore, they depended on local English speaking scribes to record family names during such events as births, deaths, marriages, etc. The people recording these names often spelled them as they heard them. Therefore, you will see the family name Eichel become Oickle, Oikle, Oicle over the years because of its German pronunciations "Oy-kel". Try to think of various ways that your family name could have been spelled in the past. Another example... In my family tree, one brother is recorded as a Clooney while his brother was recorded as a Cluney at birth. Conrads and Conrods are the same family. Keep an open mind.
Search your local government birth and death records. Example "Texas births and deaths" or "Texas Vital Statistics". Work your way back from there.
Join a forum that includes your family name and put out a request for family information. Search for "Jones genealogy forum". When asking for information, be specific as possible. Don't ask for information on Robert Jones. Ask for information on Robert Jones, father of so and so, born and died approx these dates, location, etc. Give others as much information as possible.
Pitfalls.... Don't accept other people's information as valid until you have checked it closely. Use it as a guide and not fact. Don't claim a family crest or coat of arms too quickly. Most coat of arms were given to a specific family and not just anyone who happened to have that family name.
Old Forms of Writing - Be careful transcribing
In 1851 it was common to write a double s in a way that resembles fs. Note that the loop below the apparent f is to the left instead of the right as it would be for a true f. This name is Bisset not Bifset.
*important.... When someone volunteers the time to help you, say "thank you". Be ready to help others. You will find genealogy lots of fun, you will meet new relatives who will become friends and, most importantly, it help fill that insatiable curiosity. For instance, I found that my great-grandmother (x7) Anna Maria von Ludwig was the last witch of Kleinheubach, Germany. She survived but her mother and brothers were all burned as witches. Genealogy may become your life long passion.
**Very important** To help prevent identity theft, do NOT post the vital stats of any living person on the internet or share it someone you do not know. (age, birth, etc.)
Here is a short list of sites that you can start with. The first link is my own personal site and, under the resources button there, you will find more links, both free and commercial. Have fun. Click Here