This is an ongoing series on starting your family history research in 10 very basic steps. The steps so far are:
Step One: Start with yourself.
Step Two: Find out what has already been done.
Step Three: Choose a reasonable goal
Step Four: Start educating yourself
Step Five: Seek a Teacher or Mentor
Step Six: Use The Family History Guide
Now I will move on to Step Seven:
Step Seven: Choose a place to record your research
Historically, genealogists had far fewer choices concerning how they were going to record their family history research: essentially, they could use pre-printed genealogy forms or make up their own forms on paper. Those are still options today but without computers, genealogy programs and the online genealogical resources it is very likely that you will become very frustrated. In many cases, once records have been digitized and made available online, they are no longer available in paper or microfilm format. This process is inexorably moving documents that might have been on paper or microfilm to online digital copies that may only be accessed by researchers with a bevy of computer skills.
So, as you start compiling your family history, you will soon realize that it is entirely possible that you might have a relative or relatives "out there" on the Internet who have already done a considerable amount of work on researching your family lines. Family History may have once been a solitary persuasion, but today, it is charged with with an online world full of researchers at all levels putting their findings in millions of family trees. As you start, you may be overwhelmed to realize how much of the research for your family history has already been done by others. This fact is a major consideration in making a decision as to where to store your family history research efforts.
As I mentioned, you may decided to maintain paper copies. The limitations of doing so today are far too numerous to mention in one blog post. However, the net effect of maintaining paper files is that you are cutting yourself off from the sharing and collaboration of the online family history community and running a serious risk of losing all your work when you die. You will also be ignoring the valuable research assistance offered by the semi-automated research hints built into the major online genealogical database programs. The research hints made by each of the four large online genealogy programs can immeasurably shorten the task of getting started with your family history.
You essentially have two computer-based options for storing your family history: online family trees and local genealogical database programs. As a beginner, it is probably a better idea to start online where you have a better chance of seeing what other members of your family have already done. There are good arguments on both sides of the issue of whether or not you also need to have your own, dedicated, local genealogy program. My current suggestion is to work online until you see the need to synchronize your data with a desktop program. If you decide to do this there are several programs that will automate the synchronization task depending on the program and the online family tree you happen to be using. The FamilySearch.org Family Tree is free, unified and provides good research hints. It is a good place to begin. If you would like to see what other users think about the various local and online genealogy programs, you should begin by reading some of the users' reviews on the GenSoftReviews.com website.