How to Start
Links to 11 great sites
Grandfathers in Queries
Beginning Internet Skills
Off the web
People after 1900
The LDS 1880
Googling your Ancestors
Main Genealogy Page
Essays on Genealogy
This page has what most beginners want first, links to large, free genealogy data bases. There are some other beginners' topics on other pages.
That was the links in a nutshell. Here they are again, only this time in a watermelon rind - more explanations, search tips and so forth.
These links will all open a new window on your browser. I thought that would be more convenient. This way you can explore the site to your heart's content and not have to click on your browser's BACK button seventeen times to get back here to try the next link. Just close the new window when you finish.
These are the biggest, most popular sites, listed here for the rank beginner. I'm not trying to compete with Cyndi's List. If you've been searching for ancestors on the Internet for more than a couple of months, you have probably seen many of these sites already.
Family Search - The mother of all genealogy sites, brought to you by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons). They have over 500,000,000 individuals. You can download the data as a GEDCOM. If I'm looking for a married couple, I usually try to find them with the husband's full name and the wife's surname alone, then with the wife's full name and the husband's surname alone.
RootsWeb World Connect - World Connect had almost 600,000,000 entries in September 2009. This is a giant depository for GEDCOM files with a great search engine. You can search by name, spouse, birth and death date and place, just like the Mormons.
Ancestry.com - Millions of individuals; exactly how many is subject to debate. They count their SSDI when adding up names. Some of their data is free, some is available only to subscribers. In 2000 Ancestry bought Rootsweb. They have been merging the data ever since. What used to be "World Family Tree" is now merged with RW WC.
US Gen Web - Click on a state, then on a county. Each county has a volunteer coordinator. Some are better than others. A good US Gen Web site will have queries, cemetery listings, census transcriptions and lots more.
These next pages all allow you to post a query, answer a query someone else posted, or search all of the queries on the page. Some are organized by surname, some by county. County queries sound strange today, when it isn't uncommon for five siblings to live in five states. Before 1850 people would usually marry someone from their county, often a cousin. If you find one ancestor in a county, before 1850, there's a good chance you'll find lots more. It would be considerate of you, once you get a couple of hundred names with impeccable sources, to search the areas you know the best and try to answer questions from newcomers. It is usually good to read a couple of dozen queries before you start posting. Search the site, too; your question may have already been answered.
If you have never posted a query before, please read Posting a Good Query before you post.
GenForum - They have both surname and state boards. Each state board has a link, "Counties for this state", in the upper right-hand corner. In my experience, county boards are better than state boards. They have boards for non-USA countries as well. Some of these boards (Canada, England, Scotland, Australia, France) have "Regions for this country" links in the upper right-hand corner.
Ancestry Query Boards - Ancestry.com makes money selling genealogy information. They subsidize a lot of free sites. This one is free. There are boards for surnames, topics, countries, states and counties. You can click down through the categories (Regions -> North America -> United States -> West Virginia -> Monroe County) or enter "Monroe" in the "Find a board" and pick the one you want.
RootsWeb has the most, and the most active, mailing lists. You can search the archives by list and year. They have lists for surnames, counties, regions and some special interests. Whenever I'm looking for people I make it a point to look for them in the mailing list archives for the surname and county in question, if possible. If I'm desperate I join the mailing list and ask them about him or her. If you are so new to all this that you haven't heard about mailing lists, you can read my introduction: