THROW A FAMILY TREE PARTY
To understand the dead, we start with the living.
Invite relatives to a family tree party. Ask them to bring old photos,documents, newspaper clippings and stories. Family lore is a rich source of family history but too often not gathered centrally or well documented.
Be sure to mark photos with names, places and details of the occasion. It's very sad to have great pics but no idea who they are. Flea markets are full of lonely orphan photos. How marvelous it is that we have Smartphones to capture our past quickly and easily. And be sure to video the stories and lore.
PRACTICE SAFE STORAGE
We've come a long way in storage options. Cloud is a safe and easily shared solution for scanned images or documents. Google Drive is great and it's free if storage 15 GB or less. Nominal fee after kicks in after that. Whatever your storage choice, it's important to assign a Legacy Contact to ensure continuity of your accounts access.
Avoid CD's for storae. They rot over time so not a good long-term solution. Anything you already have on a CD should be transferred.
Original fragile (and precious) documents and old original photographs require special preservation procedure. Lots of professional advice available online Learn how here Life Storage .
GATHER YOUR PUZZLE PIECES
Discovering your history is like working on a giant jigsaw puzzle. Piece by piece information fits together to solve your family puzzle. There are many online information sources that offer free access.
Chances are some unknown distant relative has already done a ton of research and publicly shared the information. Check out these sites first. Rootsweb & World Connect are owned and funded by Ancestry but both sites are free-use.
Rootsweb Message Boards This is a online genealogy forum searchable by name. Lot's of convo and people are eager to help you in your search. Just ask.
World Connect Project People from around the world uploaded their family trees to this free-use, searchable-by-name site.
Family Search History & Genealogy Far too much great stuff here to list it all. Set up a free account, enter your family name and see what pops up. Many but not all images are available for free download. You can create your free tree here and search existing trees. Another great feature is they will email you when someone posts information related to an ancestor you are tracking. Check names of uploaded trees here.