So you've decided to look into your family history ? First, contact all your living relatives, especially the elderly ones, and ask them for as much biographical information as possible. Start collecting birth, marriage and death certificates, examination diplomas, awards, newspaper cuttings - anything with names and dates. Check family Bibles - these may be inscribed with the names of your ancestors in some sort of date order. And get members of your family to go through old photographs and annotate them - your auntie might know who the people in the pictures are, but when she's gone, will you ?
Click here for more Tips and Cautions (you need PowerPoint to open this).
The conventional way
Tracing your family tree the conventional way can be expensive and time-consuming. While civil birth, marriage and death certificates do contain lots of valuable information for the amateur genealogist, every copy issued by the Family Records Centre in London (the modern equivalent of Somerset House) will cost you £6.50 if you go to the FRC in person, or up to £27 by post.
The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in England and Wales on 1st July 1837. Any information before that may be found in parish records and the like, in the form of baptism, marriage and burial records. Church of England registers can date as far back as 1538, while Non-conformist church registers start from about 1800. To see any of these will often mean travelling to county archives.
A lot of this pre-1837 data has been collated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) as the International Genealogical Index - compiled from 400 million names, mostly from UK parish records 1600-1900. This is available on microfiche at their Family History Centres and in many larger public libraries. However, these records have been transcribed by non-specialist volunteers and so their accuracy cannot be guaranteed.
Although the first census was held in 1801, it is only the returns from 1851 onwards that are reliable. They contain lots of information - if you know the address of one of your ancestors at a particular time, you can find out who else was living there, their relationship to the head of the household, their ages, birthplaces and occupations. Census returns can be viewed on microfilm in larger local libraries and at Family History Centres.
Using the internet
Fortunately for your pocket and your shoe leather, an increasing amount of genealogical information is available on the internet. But fo course not everything on the Web is accurate, or even true - you'll need to double-check.
The Family Records Centre is online, and is well worth a look.
The 1901 census is now online. You can use it to find out who lived in your (or any) house in 1901. British Genealogy takes you through all British censuses.
Family Research Link - an entire copy of the indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths for England and Wales from 1837 to 2001.
Free BMD is where you can look for the GRO references needed for certificates . This site is still being added to as volunteers are transcribing the microfiche data ; they are concentrating on records from 1837 to 1900.
Most people start their research by tracing their father's ancestors (the direct male line) - that way, there is only one surname to concentrate on. This is where the internet really comes into its own. There are many amateur genealogists out there who are eager to share their findings with you. Look for your name on the GenUKi surname list. Other useful Websites include:
Rootsweb, the Internet's oldest genealogy site.
Cyndi's List, 41,850 links, categorised and cross-referenced.
Familia lists family history resources in public libraries in the UK and Ireland.
Genes Connected is another useful site.
Other internet sources
The official registers of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales are not online. However, you can search Scotland's People (an offical site) on the internet, paying with your credit card.
Some parish records for a very limited number of surnames and parishes have been transcribed and are available on the internet
The Mormons' International Genealogical Index (www.familysearch.org) is now accessible online. This is not complete, especially not for Oxfordshire, but it's worth a try.
The Victorian Census Project at Staffordshire University aims to computerise source documents and other materials relating to Britain in the mid-19th century.
If you want details about someone who was killed in either of the two World Wars, you can get them from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
To see a photo of where your family lived or worked (if you're lucky !), use Images of England.
To put a tribute to a family member up on the Web, go to Family Tribute.
Finally, various types of computer software are available that will help you organise the fruits of your research. They will also allow you to print out various charts and family trees. Relevant software includes FamilyTree Maker (PC) and Reunion (Mac). There is also some good shareware around-for example, Heritage for Macs.