The July-August 2008, Discovering Family History, has a roundtable discussion for beginning genealogists with a group of ten experienced genealogists, each giving an answer to several questions:
What is the very first thing somebody should do when starting their genealogy?
Most of the panel said to start with yourself and collect as much as you can from home and family, and to find out what the oldest members of the family know. This is probably the best advice for any new genealogist, after gathering this information then you can see where the holes in your information and where you need to concentrate to extend the family back another generation or two.
What is the biggest mistake beginners make when starting their family History?
The panel tended to say, "...believing the information you find on internet or not using other sources, since everything on your family will be on the internet". - but that is really not the case. One panelist said, "Not writing down sources of your information". That one is the one I think few beginners do, and they later will regret that they did not record the sources for their information. One of two things will happen, a cousin will dispute your information and without a source you can not back up your information. The second thing that will happen is that you will forget you checked the 1880 census for your ancestors and go back and recheck it, maybe several times, where saving your sources will have shown you already checked there.
What is the one website a beginner should visit first or often?
A couple listed Family Search, a couple listed Cyndi's List, one listed GenWeb and one listed the National Archives of the country you are researching or State or local archives. This is good advice and notice, not a single one mentioned a website that requires a paid subscription. I agree to check as many of the free sites first, and I was surprised no one mentioned Genealogy & History Library Links or RootsWeb. One did mention the RootsWeb Guide to Tracing Family Trees and I agree that all these web sites are great places to start.
Do you have any tips or advice on getting and staying organized when doing your genealogy?
Wow you mean the pile of papers on your desk or in the corner is not organized? A couple mentioned getting a good genealogy program and enter the data and sources, then file your papers, maybe in colored file folders. I have to agree that the genealogy programs of today will help you organize your data, and you can add pictures, video and audio.
What is the one tool, aid, device or gadget every genealogist should invest in and why?
A couple of panelists listed a scanner, a couple a good genealogy program, and one a digital camera. All great advice, a scanner will make digital copies of photos, wills, probates, land records, birth and marriage certificates, etc. A digital camera can take pictures at the cemetery or old homestead. My first scanner was a hand held scanner and while it did a good job it was rather hard to learn how to get a consistent output. It also was only black and white or gray scale, so no color pictures.
Any Final words of advice for anybody starting their genealogy?
A few said to join the local genealogy society for the education and friends you will get. Today we see people joining social networks like Facebook and Genealogy Wise instead of the local genealogical society. While I still agree joining the local genealogy society is very important, not real sure about Facebook or Genealogy Wise as both are rather new. One panelist suggested to subscribe to a few genealogy magazines and I agree there also, and some are better than others, but all provide information you probably will not get anywhere else. Genealogy should be fun, so take your time and be persistent, and remember not everything on your family is on the internet.