Recently, someone asked a question about where to start researching and creating a family tree. I thought about the things I've learned along the way, and a few things I wish I had done differently. I was lucky to have been able to videotape my paternal grandmother talking about her family, and wish I'd been able to videotape my other grandparents as well. The most frustrating thing for me has been when I find information that contradicts something I have written down, but not knowing where I'd gotten the information I had written down...
Here is my reply (with websites added thanks to ngairedith):
I'm not an expert by any means, but I can tell you about some of the things that I have done and some things I WISH I had done.
Start with your parents. Talk to each of them about themselves and their families. Get as much detail as you can (where they lived, dates and places of special events). Video or record them talking if you can and take as many notes as you can. At the top of the page where you're recording, write the date and who you're getting the information from. Ask them about their memories of where they lived, their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Use photograph albums and home movies to help you and them remember as many of the details as you can. Do they remember occupations of their parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles or anything about where those people lived? They may not remember birthdates, marriage dates, or death dates of relatives, but guide them to get a rough idea if you can, e.g. "Do you remember about how old you were when..." or "Where were you living when..." or "Was _____ born before or after ____?"
Meet with cousins, aunts, and uncles if you can, and do the same thing. If you can't meet with them, can you phone them, email them, or snail-mail them? Start with the people who are the oldest, as they may be able to give them more leads into the past. Every time you get information, write down where you find it.
Find a "family group sheet" (a kind of record form) somewhere on the internet (you can download one for free from ancestry.com) and fill it out for as many people as you can. EVERY time you get information, write down where you got it (can you tell that I didn't always do that?). You can find other ways to organize your information (analysis sheet, research checklist, research journal for repository and records searched, correspondence log, fill in when writing and when replies are received family group sheet and more ...) from the Wakefield Family History Sharing website.
As you collect information, organize it with a family tree program or using a family tree website. I know there are a number of programs and websites available, but I haven't tried enough of them to recommend a specific one. Post the details you've found and those you're looking for on this and other websites to try to find information. Look for websites that focus on genealogy of the particular area your ancestors are from, for example, I was very lucky to find a website devoted to genealogy of Prince Edward Island, Canada, where both my dad's parents were born.
Try to always look at information and judge how reliable it is (that's why you need the source information). When you find someone with the name you're looking for, keep a record of it, but make sure that it makes sense, because at times it's very easy to go in a wrong direction.
There's a start. Best of luck. Maybe one day we'll find that we're cousins...
Thank you to ngairedith for the links for forms!