What to buy really depends on your budget and what you look to do with the photos. Will they be used purely for display on the web? For printing? An entry level "professional" level SLR camera can be quite expensive. However, you can do quite well with a consumer or prosumer level camera for well under 1k. Anyway, rather than detailing the myriad of options myself, there are plenty of resources on the web for doing your research. The following links should suffice to answer most of your questions (if not hopelessly confuse you
Good sites for camera reviews (some impressively thorough) :
For user reviews, you might want to check out:
For pricing comparison (although I would definately recommend purchasing from an established and reputable professional supplier like B&H Photo - http://www.bhphotovideo ):
Definately look into battery life. Some cameras come with a charger, others do not. You want lithium ion so the battery can be charged even if it is not full dead w/o damaging the battery. Ideally, you'd also like a camera for which the manufacturer doesn't require you to purchase their proprietary (and way overpriced) batteries. If you need an additional battery, you can shop at places like http://www.batterybarn.com for non-brand name batteries that are cheaper and better.
I'm not sure how much the technology has changed over the last few months, but I purchased a Canon G1 with a 1gB microdrive (definately worth the extra cost) for my father. The camera continues to impress me. If you're interested, I can e-mail you a few raw files to give you an idea of the quality.
Hope this helps.