Note that the “how” for most of the below items is covered in other sections
Determine your goals – what do you want to discover, what do you want to accomplish
Talk to, or write to, your oldest living relatives as soon as possible while they are still available. If you talk to them in person, consider recording the conversations.
Read “how to” books and attend classes -– many can be gotten from the library, many tips are in articles on the web. Attend classes/lectures at libraries, colleges, local genealogical societies, etc. to learn more and have a chance to talk face to face with others.
Learn the proper way to do full citations of the sources for all of the genealogical information you find. This is one the most critical aspects of genealogy. In the future you will be glad you did it. Certainly all other researchers looking at your work will be grateful. For some examples see the separate section on citations.
Determine your filing system -- think big and think long term
Make your genealogical presence known:
word of mouth – tell everybody what you are working on
letters and emails – ask questions about information you seek
write papers and books on parts of your family history and send them to relatives
donate books you wrote to libraries, be sure to include your name and address so people can write to you
donate books to genealogical societies and get mentioned in their newsletter
donate purchased books genealogical societies – they’ll probably put your donation in their newsletter
write articles for newsletters that are mailed to a genealogical audience
send your data to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
put your data on one or more web sites – be sure to include the sources for where the data came from
attend family reunions and get to know your relatives
sponsor a family reunion – be a celebrity for a day, everybody will seek your attention during the event
Think of future generations -- what do you want to leave behind after you are gone, and to whom? Imagine one hundred plus years from now someone finds a bunch of boxes in their basement with old color photos, old black and white photos, video tapes, CD-R's, cassettes, diskettes, Zip disks, newsletters, emails, web site addresses, etc. What can a person of the twenty second century do with it? Probably the only things this future person can get any use out of are the black and white photographs and anything else on paper that survives a long passage of time.
Read books about the life and times of ancestors by region and/or time period to get an idea of how they lived
Get used to the genealogy jargon -– see the separate section for a short glossary of genealogy terms. A glossary of over 2,000 genealogical terms is available here [glossary].
Get on the mailing list of genealogical book sellers -- very wide list of topics available, they also have useful info on their web sites. See a list of book sellers in another section.
Watch out for spelling variations, example: Searls, Searles, Searle, Searl, Sarles, Sarl, Sarls
Label your photographs with who/what/when/where/why for people looking at them one hundred years and beyond from now
Image/digitize/photocopy old photos then put them in acid free sleeves (look on the web for “acid-free” for where to get them) and store them in a dark, cool, dry and safe place such as a safe deposit box
Preserve family papers, records, photos, family bibles, etc. – use acid-free containers, store at room temperature in a dark and dry place -- see the November 2002 issue of “Martha Stewart Living” magazine on pages 202-207