I responded to a “how do you get started” question somewhere else and came out with the following brain dump, so I’ll post it here too.
What tips and tricks would you have to get started with genealogy?
You don’t have to put your tree in Ancestry and pay monthly, especially if you have hosting somewhere. Webtrees is good software. If you are associated with a university, you may have access to an Ancestry subscription for free through the library. Set up a system for digital files and naming conventions on your local machine to back up any documentation you add to an online tree. Family tree software should all operate with the GEDCOM format, which makes it really easy to move around if you are dissatisfied (although objects like photos may be harder to).
When I started in high school 20 years ago, it was just a tree of everyone I knew I was related to. Then you get back far enough and have to ask people for help. My grandmother remembered dozens of names and dates, which got me further. Ancestry and similar free websites (findagrave.com) can fill in a lot. Newspapers.com helped me find a ton of obituaries and gossip column entries, which filled in even more.
It’s only recently that I got into thinking about the “History” going on around my ancestors when they were alive, and that’s been driving my interest for the last year. Person A lived in this place in the 1890s–what was going on there, and how were global events affecting them? Newspapers.com or another archive were very useful for this as well.
Although Ancestry and Newspapers.com are subscription, even one month lets you dig into and download as much as you want, so if money is tighter you can sign up for a single month and dedicate a lot of time to getting as much raw material as possible.