Today, one can type just about any noun into a search engine provided by Google, MSN or Yahoo, to name a few, and one will quickly be up to their nose in a list of website choices. There are directories of directories which list site after site from Alabama to Zanzibar. They categorize sites by topic, geographical location, category, research tool, and surname. It is quite amazing the mixture of private, commercial, and non-profit websites constantly popping up. I used to try to keep up with and list what I considered the largest or most useful sites. However, I think the collection of sites have become so great that I could only list them by the sites which I most often visit. Obviously, if I visit a site more than once, then the site has a greater breadth of information.
As helpful as I found the Internet for my research, it may not be so easy for the newbie or late-blooming genealogist. All the cyber criss-crossing and the download sizes, is dizzying and overwhelming. Hardware and software makers always need to increase processing speed and random memory size, as well as hard drive size to accommodate the size of today's websites. Gone, I am sad to say, is the simple and uncluttered website. Advertising and graphics have filled sites and obscured lists and menus. It seems one has to turn in his old computer every three years just to be able to keep up with the same sites. Could anyone back in the 90's figure we need a trillion megabytes? It is certainly not your father's Internet anymore.
When a newbie asks me, "So where should I start?" I no longer suggest one website over another. I now direct the beginner to the directory websites and let them experiment as they slide closer and closer to the source of data which could help their search.
There are a number of "Top 50" genealogy lists which list the most often used sites. I do caution the surfer in accepting, out of hand, what the author used as a criterion to judge the order of sites listed. Rather, it is best to see it as a generous place to start, and then pick the one that best describes what your interest.
When looking for someone to do research for you, make sure they are reputable and keep in mind many sites will require you to set up an account and will have fees. You can narrow your search for only "Free" genealogy sites by going to http://genealogy.toplist.net/ or the "50 Most Popular Genealogy Websites" at http://www.progenealogists.com.
There are other sites that purport to be directories for genealogy sites. Such directories are http://www.all-genealogysites.com and http://www.gendir.com/, and you can go to http://genealogy-websites.no1reviews.com/ .
And of course there is always CyndisList.com and, of course, [[http://www.liveroots.com" target="_blank">Live Roots, a member of the Genealogy Today family of websites.
Directories are for sure a good starting point to find sources on the web. Do not forget the plethora of state- and city-run genealogical society type websites. These are perhaps the most helpful and provide some geographical expertise concerning any given town, county, or area where ancestors lived. Many are listed on the US GenWeb or RootsWeb projects, which are also on the Internet.
If someone has taken the time to transcribe documents, indexes, etc. concerning history, chances are it is somewhere on the Net. But remember, an actual first-hand copy of the original document is the only real proof of the pudding. Internet searches let you find where data is, the next step is to retrieve it. The more a document is transcribed or re-copied from second-hand or third-hand sources the greater chance of errors and mistakes. You should always have a "hard copy" (paper) as well as a "soft copy" (digital) on your computer. You never know when someone new to research will be asking the question "Where do I start?" Some of them might be looking for information which you have.