First, in your preferred method of record-keeping, record all that you know already.
Then talk to close family members for anything they may know about previous generations.
You should start with the oldest generation still alive, because you never know how much longer you will have them here…
You will want to get names, dates and places for birth, marriage and death at the very least.
Parents and children names are the next most important data. When you talk to anyone, it’s a good idea to record it, if possible, especially in video.
Plan ahead with a list of specific questions, you can take notes also, and it’s the best way to preserve that particular person for posterity. What’s better than videos?!
If video is not a possibility for you, then at least record audio of the interview. Try to get them to tell stories about the people, as that is the most interesting part!
It’s also a great way to involve the younger generations; everyone loves a story, so tell them one of yours or one of someone who is gone already!
Next, you will want to record the data either on paper or digitally. You will play back the recording you made, and either write in or type in the data you gathered.
There are paper forms you can use for both individual family groups, which show parents and children for a single family, and pedigree charts, which are more like a family tree showing just parents in 4 to 6 generations going back.
I have handouts with sample blank forms for everyone. I also have a page on the website with links to download and print forms.
It’s a good idea to keep folders with the originals of anything you write down, just in case of computer virus or failure, etc. I also like to take pics of them with my phone or tablet, for additional security, which I backup in “the cloud” or on easily portable thumb/flash drives or external hard drives.
This is a good way to digitize printed photos also! Mobile devices nowadays have cameras which will take high quality photos.
I prefer online, as it makes the information available for other family members to search, especially those who don’t know yet they are related to us/descended from the same ancestors. It is easy to compare with others’ findings too.
I recommend familysearch.org, as it is completely free, always will be, and has as much information as ancestry.com if not more.
Familysearch.org also has very easy to create, colorized “fan charts” of which I have a few samples here. I haven’t looked for them on other sites yet.
Whatever digital tools you use, make sure they can import and export the information in the industry standard Genealogical Data Communication .ged (GEDCOM) file format. This allows you to move your tree to different web platforms or software programs.
Now you can view the group sheets, charts or pages you have filled out, and easily see what data is missing. This is when the fun really begins! I think of it as a puzzle, with the missing data as missing pieces waiting to be put in place.
There are so many resources to find this data, besides searching websites! There are places like public libraries, historical groups, museums, churches, government vital statistic offices, cemeteries, family reunions where oral stories can be recorded.
Also there are written records such as family Bibles, newspaper obituaries and other articles, journals and diaries, books that include family history or stories like our 1915 Lake Family Book, immigration records and probably about a hundred others I haven’t listed.
The best of these IMHO is the Family History Centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which are connected to their main base of records in Utah with billions of names) in locations all over the world, and which are open to the public for free.
They also have free access (only in their locations) to a much larger collection of records, including international data, on https://ancestry.com which you otherwise would pay for on that site. They also have a wealth of indexed records from many countries that are not available anywhere else. There is lots of information on microfilm, which can be ordered from the main vaults of data in Utah to be viewed on machines in these locations. This data is also being indexed into familysearch.org, so it may already be available online with no need to order the microfilms.
The closest local LDS Family History Center is Linwood, NJ. They always have computers available. You can call them for their hours: 609-926-9511. Address: 624 Zion Rd, Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234. There is also a location at 110 Highland Ave, Vineland, NJ 08360.
Once you have gathered and entered your information, you may want to collaborate with other genealogists around the world. This may be done by using the online genealogy websites mentioned above.
There are message boards within these sites with online genealogical communities, other websites dedicated to specific families, cemetery listings such as findagrave.org and many other resources to share information.
I just found this fun feature on familysearch.org! Create your own Family Story Book