Remember that it is not just names, dates and places -- think "story”
It is more than just your direct ancestors. Think “family unit” – all of the people around the ancestor. Be sure to get their siblings and their spouses and children and grandchildren. A living descendant of theirs may have just what you have been looking for -- and more!
Try to get as many primary documents per person/family as possible. Use secondary documents for clues and substantiating the primary documents. See the list of Primary and Secondary Documents in a separate section called Genealogical Source Document Record Types.
Very important: carefully document when, where and how you found everything so that you, or anyone else, can "re-find" it in the future. See the separate section on Citations.
Critical: do not, repeat, DO NOT, believe everything you read or hear about your relatives. Corroborate and verify it with other sources, preferably using primary records. Other researchers should also give appropriate citations of the sources used and how certain conclusions were arrived at.
Be careful about any conclusions you make. Be sure to explain how you derived them.
Always watch for spelling variations of surnames and first names. Transcription errors, typographical errors, and heard-it-wrong errors happen often.
Put accuracy and completeness first ahead of how many names and how far back you can go
Always try to work backwards in time from the known to the unknown
To learn recommended genealogy standards look at the web site of the National Genealogical Society at www.ngsgenealogy.org
Learn the past four hundred years, the meanings and/or spellings of many words have changed. Thus, the further back in time you go, more words will have different meanings.
Geographical places also have a genealogy – their names and borders may have changed over time
Before the 20th century, as a rule of thumb, men usually married around age 20 and women around age 18, their children were born every other year
You are very fortunate if your have New England ancestry – there is a tremendous set of records and research aids available that start from the Mayflower days
To get an obituary for a relative, if you know the state and county along with the date of death (at least the month and the year), most libraries will send you a copy of the obituary. Include a dollar bill per obituary to cover their copying and mailing costs. Some libraries may charge you per a standard rate.
Those great deals on a book claiming to tell you everything about your family surname – think sham at first, at least until you check it out
Do not expect to find someone famous, or infamous, as a direct ancestor. You might have one or more in your family tree, but chances are your ancestors were everyday citizens.
Some genealogists put much emphasis into tracking their family coat of arms. Coat of arms are the family crests started during the English period of lords and knights. Many businesses will try to sell you your coat of arms. The advice is: do not bother. For more information, see the web site at http://genealogy.about.com/library/tips/blcoatofarms.htm.
Each time you generate a paper version of your family history information that will be given to others, be sure to include some type of alphabetical index for every person in the document.
Book are available in the library reference section to define the origin of first names and surnames. Click here for a list of the most common first names for male and female.
If you have a family bible, be sure to carefully leaf through it page by page. You never know what treasure someone has tucked in between the pages.
Warning: if you decide to publish your genealogical data on the web think carefully about giving details for living persons. Identity thieves look on family history sites for such information as full names, birth dates, mother’s maiden name, etc. that are often used in credit applications and security.