You will be amazed and what you learn when you start talking to your family about your ancestors. But don't just think about how family information will help in your genealogy search, think about what your descendents will know about 50, 100 or more years from now. Will they want to know just the statistics...lived/died/had this many kids...or who these people really were and what went on in their lives.
It is not that hard...like eating an elephant...take it one bite at a time. And believe me, this is not a one time effort. Memory is a funny thing and going back and talking it over again brings up new facts and interests that were missed "the last time we talked".
There are lots of family question summaries and work sheets on the internet. I like about.com for sample forms and ideas. Try this website:
But use this only to give you some ideas. My grandparents had taken time to write a autobiography...unpublished...telling about there lives. I mentioned this to Mom and my aunt and they realized they are part of the next generation that needs to do this. They need to tell us about their lives, what was the best memories, the worst; who were their friends, etc. Were their parents firm or fun? What of other relatives they remember.
Yes, you still need to capture the essentials - as they remember them -
When and where were their parents born/die?
What work did they do?
Where did they live?
What about their siblings?
What about their parents? Any hints for parent's parents?
Be sure the pick the easiest way for the person to record. Some family members may be better at quietly typing. Others may be better by having it video taped. Others, just taping a talk or two.
This is where you start but this part is rarely finished. After many years, I am still capturing more information. I recently found a telephone record on line with my grandmother. Mom confirmed she lived there and that is where she met Grandpa. Further look at the phone book, and there was Grandpa. Found out that Grandma was nursing a man whose son (we are sure the man was older) knew Grandpa through the ROTC. Must have decided to introduce the two. Grandpa, the devote bachelor, changed his mind. All this I would not have known without Mom even though I started recording history more than a decade ago.
So as the family historian, you are getting the stories down. Don't forget someone needs to start archiving documents. Marriage records, death certificates, birth records, school diplomas and other certificates. But also, letters, family bibles, awards. Depending on your family, you can share these or give them to one person to keep. I am setting up a special closet with humidity controls (OK, just a dehumidifier set right) and items on shelves. Guess whoever gets it next will have to decide how to preserve it. Start bringing the next generation into our searches.
Next topic - where to document all this stuff