The primary rule of genealogy is document, document, document your data. Erroneous information will send you and anyone who follows you into dead ends.
The internet can be a wonderful source of data, saving time and travel to distant or hidden archives. However, you must question the sources of the information. Look at me, postulating like an expert right here! Why should you take my words as truth?
Because new information is added every day, it is difficult to make a comprehensive list of on-line resources. I hope you will all chime in here with sites that you find helpful, or questions about where to look for more information.
Always ask, why has this information been posted on the internet? Who has placed it there? Are they governmental sources, casual historians, or someone trying to sell something?
These are some of the sites that I usually recommend. I look forward to your additions, comments and questions so we can all learn from each other.
www.familysearch.org is the home of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) or Mormon church records. You may want to read up on why knowledge of ancestors is so important to their religion, but their efforts to preserve vital records throughout the world, and their willingness to share what they have collected is awe-inspiring. The site includes "How To" guides, transcriptions of records, viewable documents, forms, and many other helpful documents. The holdings of their Famiy History Library in Salt Lake City, UT are beyond imagining.
www.usgenweb.org is a gateway into individual sites created by individuals throughout the United States with the intention of creating a site for every county in every state. It includes submissions by individuals based on their research, and is a clearing house for local information. Each site is different, because it is defined by its "mother" and its contributors.
The Franklin County MA site is not very active - one of our goals as a group might be to add to this site. See what you think http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mafrankl/
www.ancestry.com is a paid subscription site, with quite a bit of information available without subscribing, to entice you to belong. Because it is a commercial site, it has generated income to advertise and advance the cause of genealogy in the public eye and to fund the collection of data. Ancestry is a sponsor of the NBC series Who Do You Think You Are, showing on Friday nights at 8. I would advise exploring it before subscribing, so you know what type of things you can find there. Some are available elsewhere. Some are their own projects. One feature that appeals to me is to attach documents to a family tree, if you choose to upload your family tree there. I have found MANY trees that were posted that are not documented and have info that is not correct. I used their DNA testing service at a cost of about $79 for a basic test.
www.rootsweb.com is now affiliated with Ancestry, but is all free. I use it as a gateway to the Social Security Death Index, which is one of the few U.S. Government data bases on-line. The mailing lists are extensive and good sources of sharing questions about specific locations, surnames, or other interests. Try subscribing to one or two. You can also go to the World GenWeb from this page, which is similar the the usgenweb described above.
www.ellisisland.org is a free search area for immigration records to New York, with fees for copies of their documents. Advanced searches are facilitated at http://stevemorse.org which gives you other parameters to search under. Ellis Island is Federal Park, but the records supported by a private foundation. Is your immigrant ancestor inscribed on the wall there? Mine is!
We all have favorite sites - please add to this list or comment on your experiences below.