The first question people often ask is, ‘Where do we begin, when it comes to researching our family tree? In the first instance you have to make a start with the family members who are closest to you. It’s quite possible that some of your relatives will have little or no interest when you first approach them, but it is always worth the effort to try to enthuse them and get them on board. There will almost certainly, however, be others who already share your enthusiasm and they will be encouraging. One of the first things you can do is to look for the Family Bible, to help you trace your family tree. If this has been regularly updated over the years it could give you a very useful snapshot of important events in earlier generations.
Another very useful source of information should not be overlooked as most families have pieces of memorabilia of various kinds stored away. There will be photographs going back to the early 19th Century if your ancestors had access to photography. There may even be portraits going back even earlier if they had the artistic talent or leisure to exercise it. There will be diaries and letters from family members who travelled overseas for a variety of reasons. Some of your forbears may well have been posted overseas in times of war; while others might well have been caught up in a gold rush frenzy, in the States or in Australia. Others will have gained medals, citations and awards. Every document or artefact will have a history and an association to help you throw more light on the kind of people they were and the sort of lives they lived.
Record Offices provide a mine of information. The provisions are different from country to country but the strong probability is that there will be lots of archives accessible to you locally and nationally. The majority of primary material will be housed in record offices, libraries and museums. There are Family History Centres set up by the L D S Church in North America, in the British Isles and around the world. County Record Offices are useful if you are researching family links associated with a specific geographical area. You might also need to check out what is available in the National Archives located at Kew in England at some point.
Record Offices also have their online facilities on site. However, one can always investigate online options at home or in an internet café. You will find lots of websites to help you find the advice you need to get started. You may well find private websites offering information about members of your own extended family simply because so much research has already been undertaken and is now in the public domain and so easily accessible. You can also join a chat site or forum and link up with fellow researchers.
Finally, Census Returns are a useful source of information for your family history research. They were first instituted in the late 18th Century in America, and in the early 19th Century in Great Britain. The Union States first held one in August 1790. Twenty years later the first one was held in Great Britain. However it wasn’t until the Census of 1841 that genealogists in the United Kingdom could look up family details on the Census returns. Of course from time to time you will find mistakes simply because no human-sourced record will ever be entirely free from errors and so census returns have to be checked against other reliable primary sources to be sure your findings are correct and reliably substantiated whenever possible.