The online publication of the 1841 census for England and Wales completes a set of basic resources for people researching their family trees. As Rob Liddle reports, doing your family history online is now easier than ever.
Keelman George Liddle is at home on the banks of the Tyne in 1841
For someone who spent many hours poring over microfilm in dusty record offices trying to track down ancestors "the hard way", the publication of new finding aids feels a little bit like cheating.
But they have offered up some precious leads in my quest to throw light on the lives of my ancestors and helped me break through what were seemingly brick walls.
The success of programmes such as the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? has led to an upsurge in interest in family history among people who do not necessarily have a lot of spare time to research.
But now anyone with access to the internet can now often go a long way without ever leaving home.
The subscription-based US firm Ancestry has just put the indexed 1841 census on its site, completing the set for England and Wales up to 1901.
At the same time, a five-year project to make all of Scotland's census records accessible online has culminated in the publication of the 1841 records on the ScotlandsPeople site.
The censuses, together with the central registry of births, marriages and deaths - also available on the net via firms such as 1837online - are the major tools for researching ancestry in the 19th Century.
FAMILY HISTORY STEPS
Speak to family
Gather up documents
Order birth marriage and death certificates as necessary
Keep ordered research notes
Join a family history forum
Locate family on census
Find family on previous censuses
Check other resources: National Archives, county record offices
But the golden rule when starting research is to speak to older members of the family who should be able to fill in some of the basics and perhaps hint towards what lies beyond.
Family history is a bit like filling in a crossword, with every new piece of information giving you a clue to where to go next.
When I started, I just had my parents' birth certificates and knew the names of my grandparents, but this led to me to my grandparents' marriage certificates.
The information given on an English marriage certificate are the names of the bride and groom's parents - which takes you back another generation.
Soon I was using birth, marriage and death certificates in conjunction with the census to establish facts about my ancestors' lives.
Now with names, ages and professions at my disposal, I was able to find out more about the customs officer who withheld his staff's wages or the father and son who died in the same fashion, falling from ladders while constructing the new London in the 1800s.
Discovering wills, often very useful for establishing family relationships, helped me go back further and I found myself reading contemporary accounts of the Seven Years' War, knowing my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was a serving officer on board one of the ships at the Battle of Quebec.
I found distant cousins on the internet who were researching the same lines and other people on forums such as Rootschat who were just keen to offer their expertise, taking me back further into the mists of time.
And as more and more information becomes available online, even those mists may start to clear.