Getting started with your genealogy research is probably one of the most inexpensive things you will do. All you need is a tank of gas and maybe not even that if you live within shouting distance of all your relatives. The first rule of genealogy is to begin with yourself and work backwards. You will need your date of birth, where you were born, and your parents' names. And you will need to prove it! The best way to do this is with your birth certificate. Most of us have a birth certificate stashed away somewhere. If not, check with your local or state government offices to see where you can obtain your certificate. Keep in mind that there is a fee involved, so first make sure you don't have one floating around somewhere!
If you look closely at your birth certificate, you will find that it gives a lot more information than just the date and place of your birth. Here you will find your father's name and possibly his age, race, occupation, and place of birth. The same goes for your mother except her last name will be her maiden name. Now you will have two family names that you will be researching. Of all the information that you have sitting in front of you however, only a few facts can be proven from this certificate. That would be your name, date of birth, location of birth, parents' names, and your mom's location when you were born. This is called primary evidence. Everything else is considered to be collateral evidence. In other words just because your father's name is listed on the certificate doesn't mean he was in the area when you were born, although he probably was! However, don't disregard any of the information you have found because the day will come when it will provide valuable clues.
We should take a minute here to discuss citing your sources. There is only one rule for this -- always. Since rules were meant to be broken, chances are pretty good that you won't always cite your sources. If your eventual goal is to be accepted into a lineage society such as First Families of Ohio, all of your research will need to documented and the source of those documents will need to be cited. The reason is very simple. Anyone who needs to verify your research will be able to find the document(s) you used. There is another important reason for citing sources -- it keeps you from doing the same thing over and over again. It only takes a couple of times going thru the same book until you remember to cite your source every time you find a piece of information.
Once you have your first real document that verifies who you are and where you came from, you can venture out into the world of genealogy to find, meet, and get to know all the people who got you there. The family bible can be an excellent source of this information. Last year I found the Perkins Family Bible at the Ohio Genealogical Society Samuel D. Isaly Library in Bellville, Ohio, and I found people I didn't even know existed. My grandmother had two siblings who died at a very young age. Something like that can give you a very personal look at life in the 1800's. A family bible can be considered almost as authentic as primary evidence and it will always be full of clues.
Letters and journals, if you are fortunate to be able to find them, are another excellent source of information for the genealogist. When determining if the information is true, you must considered the intent of the writer. For example, I have a letter from my Aunt Daisy telling about the day that her mother died. The letter was written 78 years after my grandmother died. Although my aunt was 6 years old at the time, I am sure judging from the detail in the letter that the account of this event is about as accurate as it gets: "It was my first year in school and I remember a neighbor came and got me and I went to her bed, she talked to me and later that day she died." These letters and journals are full of information that you will never get from court house records. I have always found that every time I take a minute or two to reread a letter, I will find something new that I hadn't noticed before.
You won't find everything there is to find in a day, a week or even a year. You have to keep looking because when you least expect it, something else will show up in the most unexpected place. That's genealogy!
Of course, living relatives are a huge source of family information. One thing that you will eventually realize is that you need to talk to "Aunt Bessie" before it is too late. And we all have done it, thinking that "I will get to that next week". Your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins are just full of family information. Granted, some of it may be hearsay or folktales, but you need to remember that there is always some truth at the root of each one of those stories and it is your job to figure out what it is. That's genealogy!
One frequently overlooked source of information is the phone book. Chances are you don't know all your relatives. My mother told me once that her father only had two brothers and a sister. Wrong! He had twenty siblings! This meant that the family I thought was confined to a small area of Toledo, Ohio, was now spread all over northwest Ohio!! So where did I start looking for all these family members? Local phone books. Of course, that could be an overwhelming task if you have a common surname. I don't and I found a whole bunch of new relatives.
Once you have gone through a tank of gas visiting relatives and compiling names, dates, facts, and stories, you will be ready to join the real world of genealogy and meet your fellow genealogists.
Next: A few $$ can get you an enormous amount of information.