Occasionally people just starting out in genealogy ask me for help. I give them a few principles.
Look other places besides Ancestry. Each web site has its own collection of records. The record you want may reside with a different web site or out in the real world instead. Until recently Ancestry didn’t have the Massachusetts records I was looking for.
Use Familysearch as well as Ancestry. It may have the record you can’t find on Ancestry. However, both sites have family trees created by other people. Above all, always view those as fiction until you can prove them as fact.
Familysearch also has a huge catalog of references. Some of those are on film that you can rent from your local Family History Center and view there. Occasionally you will find that it has been digitized and you can view it on its web site.
Approach researching your family like any other research project and follow the principle of three pieces of evidence for each fact. For example, you have a census record listing your great-grandparents, their ages, their children and their ages, and where they live. Next you need to find the birth records for everyone listed and their parents’ marriage record. Then you can look for deeds, tax records and maps. Eventually you will probably have to go out in the real world to find the records. Don't panic because there are many pleasant people waiting to help you. The goal is to create a body of evidence that would stand up in court.
I recommend people find out how to research their families by using Rootsweb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees. It will explain to you what records you need to find and how to find them. The guide is also free.
Some of my favorite sites when researching generally:
Rootsweb’s Guide to Tracing Family Trees
American History and Genealogy Project
American Local History Network
Cyndislist: This is a wonderful site where the author endeavors to list and categorize every link on the web about genealogy. If you want to know more about any area of genealogy, go there.
Find A Grave: You may find clues or information there you wouldn't otherwise.
Google Books: I have found information in older histories I couldn’t find elsewhere.
Internet Archive: for the same reason above. You can also download census records so you can scroll through them page by page if you want.
Hathi Trust Digital Library; I hear the same for this as well, but haven’t really used it.
Library of Congress Digital Collections and Services
General Land Office Records, Federal Bureau of Land Management to find out if your ancestor ever applied for a land claim and where it was.
United States Board on Geographic Names to search for domestic geographic names.
10,000 year calendar for when a newspaper on Wednesday reports a death the previous Saturday.
State and National Archives
County and state historical societies
More locally to New York State (where I live)
Old Fulton Postcards : a wonderful, large collection of old newspapers. Unlike Ancestry, the webmaster has digitized the entire newspaper whenever possible. Use the guide to narrow search results and you will appreciate this site’s power.
NYS Historic Newspapers
HRVH Historical Newspapers for the Hudson River Valley of New York State
There may be old newspaper programs for other states and regions of the country.
Physical Repositories of Information:
The Local History Room of the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Mass., is an important resource of information, not only for Berkshire County and Massachusetts, but neighboring states as well.
Mason Library, Great Barrington, for the village and town
Troy Room, Troy Public Library, Troy, NY, for Rensselaer County vital records.
New York State Library, Albany, NY
Barbara P. Rielly Memorial Library, Columbia County Historical Society, Kinderhook, NY
Vedder Research Library, Greene County Historical Society, West Coxsackie, NY
Saratoga County Historian's Office, Ballston Spa, NY
Department of History and Archives, Montgomery County, Fonda, NY has information reaching back to its settlers' original homes, and New York's archaic Tryon County.
The Old Stone Fort Museum, Schoharie, NY
Grems-Doolittle Library, Schenectady County Historial Society, Schenectady, NY
Debra J. Winchell, all rights reserved.