I have been successful with familysearch.org the site of the Church of Latter Day Saints. I have also had success with rootsweb.com. They are both free sites. I haven't subscribed to Ancestory.com, but have heard great things about it. It takes a lot of time and patience with both sites though because there are so many people with the same names. The more information you have such as birth dates the easier it is to sort through things.
Virtually all of the genealogical research done on our familes was without benefit of the internet. I will point you to a couple of ideas:
Census records may be available online by now. They will let you know how many were in the family at that time and place, and should show their names. They will also show the occupation of each. This points you to courthouse records. Deeds and wills, as well as property tax listings, help you trace family relationships as land moves through generations and changes hands.
Your county library may have some decent local history, including genealogy. There are scads of books that you can use for paper research, and localities tend to have the ones of local significance in their town or county library collection.
There may be a local historical society. Somewhere in the loop, you will meet people who can lead you to a lot of information. If there is a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, or groups that memorialize your locality's founding, their members are usually a treasure trove of how- to's on family history.
Also, when the weather allows you to travel and you have some idea of what you are looking for - Civil War records, for example - the state archives are worth a day trip.
One very important asset is family Bibles. People used to keep all the births, marriages, deaths, and perhaps more written in special sections in them. They were seemed such a valuable asset, there was a special wooden box lkept for storing them in a prominent place, and everyone knew it had to be carried out in case of fire. You may have noticed a Bible box in touring an historic home.
Online, you can search for the family names you are digging into - and it will involve a lot of different branches of the tree. Many people have taken it upon themselves to post very detailed family histories. If you are lucky, you may find someone has done a lot of the work already, if you share a common ancestor.
Be aware that some sites are verified and many are not. Someone else mentioned the LDS records. They accept anything they are sent at face value, and do not require any documentation as proof of correctness.
Some folks who mean well but do not know how to verify their records appropriately do make significant mistakes, and those are just left in the LDS records. DAR records, by comparison, are now required ot meet rigouros standards with copies of birth and marriage records, photos of tombstones, etc, to authenticate them, or they are not accepted.
Tracing your family tree can get to be an addiction. It is a great project to involve the kids in at their ages, and it could be a great homeschooling add-on.
Some 1890 Census Records may have been destroyed in a fire.
If your family immigrated, you can check the passenger lists for their names. The age and name spelling are not always correct as they were hurried through the ports.
Spellings! All clerks wrote waht they heard, and it can vary quite a lot. My "American Eve" in both sides of my family was a woman whose surname before marriage was spelled variously: Foster, Pfister, Worster, and Wooster. In England, it was mostly Foster, so that is the one we use when we speak of her.
You may find some funny stuff: I had a female ancestor who was ducked in he Withcduck Pond in her colony for the formal charge of "saying vile things about a man." Mike says he cannot imagine that anyone related to me could have done such a thing!
Be honest with yourself about what you find. I've had relatives who didn't want to claim a man as a plowwright, but thought it was wonderful that he was also a Methodist minister. To me, it was cool to know we had family that had skills and could read the Bible in that era, too.
It was thrilling for me to touch the ink that an ancestor wrote onto a page as a royal subject on the eve of the American Revolution, and then to see his signature again on documents as a citizen in the new United States of America. I remember the chill it gave me to think that his blood was part of mine.
You will have a moment like that , and it was when I finally understood why people spend the time and energy it takes to undertake this search. Enjoy the trip back in time.
My first "find" is going to be an uncle of Jerry's, by the name of John Jahn, born abt 1927-1930ish in New Braunfels, he left there after highschool and went to Washington/Oregon area, had a wife and a daughter. It seems that leaving the family was the thing to do w/that generation, home must not have been a favorable place. We can easily trace the Jahn clan to the first one's arrival in New Braunfels, TX, only know that he came from Prussia. All that said, John is the one i'm after. Thanks for all your suggestions. m
I have logged in 1134 people into my Family Tree Maker software! I have gotten some of the information off of county historical society sites. Mostly from information handed down. I have contacts all over the United States that I have found to help expand the family tree. When I was off work for 6 months, that is what I did. usually every winter I work on it. This winter, not so much. I found 4 old family albums and scanned in the pictures. Don't know who most of the people are though. I need to get the ones I now attached to the family tree maker information. I am a cemetary guru too. Took alot of pictures. My mom has done her parents families and my dad's family. I am doing my husbands parents families. Local Historical society wants one of the family history's for a property that they own that belonged to one of my husbands ancestors.