If you are new to family history research you may be wondering how to proceed. The best starting point is what you already know. Write down details of yourself (e.g. name, date of birth, date of marriage). Then note details of your mother and father and their other children (your siblings). Also note your children, if you have any, and those of your siblings (i.e. your nieces and nephews).

Next consider your mother's and father's parents (your grandparents) and their other children (your aunts and uncles) and their children (your first cousins).

This is the essence of genealogy: for each person, identifying their parents, spouse(s)/partner(s) and children. More information enriches the family history. Dates and photos can be added, and information about occupations and where they lived is interesting.

Once you have done as much as you can from your own knowledge, then start talking to other relatives, especially older ones. They can probably add further details and other people.  May be there are old family photos or a family bible that you could talk about.

You can then start using historical records to progress further.  You will probably be able to add more details to the people that you already know about, and will find more people that are related to you.

The chief historical records are:

  • civil registrations of births, deaths and marriages
  • census records
  • parish registers

Civil registrations exist from 1837, but to get the full information for any event you need to get the certificate, which costs £9.25. However there are indices to the records that often contain sufficient information. Freebmd ( https://www.freebmd.org.uk/ ) is a free index provided by volunteers.  It is not yet complete but all entries should have been transcribed from 1837 up to about 1963.  There are some small gaps in the coverage up to about 1976 and after this the data becomes more incomplete. Complete indexes are available on subscription sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past. The indices only show the quarter of the year in which the particular event was registered. The principle aim of the indices is to provide sufficient information to enable a certificate to be ordered form the General Register Office (GRO - https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/Login.asp you have to register first to order certificates).  Some index entries contain additional information for example birth entries from the 3rd Quarter of 1911 contain the mother's maiden name, marriage entries from 1912 contain the spouses surname and death entries usually include the age at death. All births, deaths and marriages from 1837 onward should have been registered, but the system is not infallible so it didn't always happen. All registrations should have been included in the indices, but again this was not always the case.

The census records are incredibly useful and exist for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911.  They contain a list of everyone living at an address on a particular night. The censuses show the age, marital status and occupation of each person and (except for the 1841 census) the relationship of each person to the head of the household. They also show where people were born. Censuses therefore allow us to confirm parents and children and indicate where to look for birth information.  Census data is searchable on most subscription family history sites and some are also available free at https://www.familysearch.org/search and https://freecen2.freecen.org.uk/ the latter is a volunteer transcribing project and is not yet complete, but it is worth checking their coverage ( https://freecen2.freecen.org.uk/freecen_coverage  ) to see if the area you are interested in is covered.

Parish registers started to be widely kept in 1538, although many of the older ones no longer survive.  These records can often get your family line back to the 1600s. Note that parish registers record Baptisms (Christenings) rather than births, although the birth date is sometimes noted, and burials rather than deaths. Not every one was baptised, although it was near universal up to the 20th century. There can sometimes be quite a gap between birth and baptism, years sometimes but more usually it was just a few months.  Burials were typically a few days after the death. Parish Registers are old books that have generally been deposited in the local County Record Office.  Not all are available online, most complete online database been that at https://www.familysearch.org/search .  Some are also available at subscription family history sites and some can also be found at local Family History Society websites or the websites of local Archives.  There are also many Online Parish Clerk projects ( https://www.ukbmd.org.uk/online_parish_clerk ) that aim to put Parish Register transcripts for a particular area online.  

Civil registration indices and census records, and much of the parish register information is available online, either for free or pay to view basis. However, some records and much supplementary information is only available in local archives, libraries and record offices. WightHeirs can help you with local Isle of Wight records or online records.

Warning:  once you have started, you will never finish, there is always more to find out.