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Genealogy is a fascinating hobby. This is a long, general answer to your question, with some links. Cyndi’s List (cyndislist.com) is a web site with nothing but links to other genealogy sites. She has over , links; some are general. Some are devoted to a particular region, state, county, ethnic group, surname or occupation. , is a little much for a beginner, so the next links go to the largest free sites. Here’s a paragraph for each link. How to start and family crests are below the link descriptions.
Family Search (familysearch.com) is run by the LDS Church – the Mormons. It is where most people start. Their Ancestral Family database is about % accurate. Their International Genealogical Index is about % accurate. Their US, UK and Canadian census is about % accurate.
RootsWeb World Connect (worldconnect.genealogy) is a collection of genealogical data that other genealogists have uploaded. Exactly half of the data there is below average, and half is above average. (That is from the nature of averages.) I tend to trust the ones who have notes and original sources, and less than , individuals in their database. You’ll find lots of duplicates.
Ancestry.com has free databases and fee databases. They make money selling genealogy information. For instance, they will sell you access to the US Census images.
GenCircles.com is like RootsWeb World Connect, although once you upload your data they match it to others, which make sit easy to compare notes with others.
US Gen Web (usgenweb.net) is a series of volunteer web sites. There is one for each state, and another one for almost every county within each state. Some county-level sites are better than others.
GenForum.com is a series of bulletin boards. There is one for each of about , surnames, one for each country in the world, each state in the US, each province in Canada, each shire in the UK and each county in the US. You can post a query or, better yet, search the old queries.
WARNING – If you post a query on GenForum (above) or Ancestry (below), you’ll notice they have a higher standard than most Yahoo! Posts. Genealogical queries tend to be grammatically correct, properly spelled, with complete sentences and enough details that someone can help. I usually compose mine in Word, proof read, spell check, then copy and paste. If you are tempted to post, please read my page (goodpost.html) first. The worst examples of posts I’ve ever seen are on the Yahoo! News items. Only one out of is properly spelled, relevant and a complete sentence.
Ancestry Query boards (boards.ancestry.com) are like the GenForum bulletin boards; it is a competing web site, like Ford vs. Chevy. This is a sub-set of Ancestry.com. They are entirely free.
RootsWeb Mailing List Archives: (searches.rootsweb.com) There are mailing lists for many surnames and for most counties in the US. The link goes to their archives. Try the surname you are interested in or the US County. County mailing lists are of the form sscccccc, where “ss” is the state abbreviation and “cccccc” is the first six letters of the county. Stanislaus County, California is CASTANIS, for instance.
To get started, you’ll probably have to use birth certificates, death certificates, obituaries, SSN applications, funeral home records, cemetery records and marriage licenses to get back to someone born before . Then you can start digging into the wealth of data that countless volunteers have posted on the web. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) may help you here; it has people who died in the US, and they update it every month. It is one of the few large data bases that has people born after . The very best place to start, or course, is with your oldest living relatives, if they are still coherent and still speaking to you.
I put two links to my site there at the bottom. The begingen.html page has some hints for beginners. Goodpost is the one I mentioned before, about an effective query.
If your surname is rare and you wonder if there are any others of you in the US, use the super pages.
There isn’t any such thing as a family crest or a family coat of arms, but about companies will be happy to sell you one for $.. ($. for the walnut plaque.) Crests and coats of arms were given to specific individuals. The oldest legitimate son inherits it. Not all the sons, not the by-products of the Duke’s youthful indiscretion, not the daughters. People who keep track of Coats of arms tend to be prigs, and sexist ones at that. The merchants will sell you a Coat of Arms that was once issued to someone with your surname. It was issued to him, not to your family. If your last name is Smith, you’ll have dozens to choose from.
You can try www.lds.org then click on No good luck
http://www.familysearch.org/ is a good free place to start.
Ancestry.com is a huge corporation devoted to separating you from your cash, so be sure you want to do it before you give them your credit card #.I did subscribe to them for one year, but, like most, I had some trouble with their service.
Here are a few: