1. Start at home!
- Write down everything you know about your ancestors
- Draw a family tree as far as you know it. You can use the tree here as a template. You can save the page from your browser and edit it in a web page editor or even in 'Word' as a last resort
2. Look at home for any old documents or photographs, all of which can provide clues. There's a list of what to look for in the 'Making a Start' section.
3. Talk to your relatives. Tell everyone in the family what you are doing and ask their help. Ask them if they have any of the items listed above. I find the best people to talk to are aunts or great aunts - they have probably been trying to interest you in the family for years but you just didn't listen! If you can, keep a recording of your conversation with them - forget using tape recorders - use an MP3 recorder and add the recording to the website you create later. There's a list of questions to ask in the 'Making a Start' section.
4. Your next step will be to visit the website FreeBMD. There you will find the indexes for the birth, marriage and death certificates held at the General Register Office. If you can't find the entries you want, there are other sources of this information which you can find out about in the 'Certificates' section. You'll find full details of how to use these in the 'Certificates' section. The good news is that you no longer need to go to the General Register Office in person but can order certificates online.
5. To help you fill in any gaps and add more detail to your work you will find it useful to search for your family entries in the 1841 - 2001 censuses. These were held every ten years and provide a lot of useful information. A good one to start on is the 1881 census which you can access free on Internet. The others can also be found online but there is a small charge involved. Find out more in the 'Census Records' section.
6. Before 1837 in England, 1855 in Scotland and 1864 in Ireland you will need to use Parish Registers to persue your research. In Scotland many of these can be found online at the Scotlands People website. For England and Wales the parish registers are probably not available online but will be found at the county record office for the area. Irish registers may have been destroyed. More details can be found in the 'Registers' section.
7. Parish registers date from 1538 but many of them start in the 1600s or later. Early registers can be pretty sketchy in their detail too - 'Johnnes Smythe son of Wm baptised' is not a lot of help when there are four families of William Smythes in a parish. In this case you'll need to turn to wills (probate records). This page at The National Archives site will tell you where to find them.
There are lots of other sources of information which can make all the difference between a story and a list of names. The 'Monuments' and 'Miscellaneus' sectionshttp://www.familyrecords.gov.uk/topics/wills_3.htm will tell you about these and where to find them.