In the New Testament, the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem was for a Roman census related to taxation ...
Whenever governments wanted to know who is available to form an army or to pay taxes, it was time for another census ...
In more modern times, most of the Western world has a national census every 10 years. This allows you to follow a family backwards in time, giving a rough time-line of moves and births, marriages and deaths.
Here is the family of James Lidgett and Mary Ann Tyson in Lincolnshire, England.
The chart is compiled from census records spanning 41 years. The census gives the birth places and approximate birth years. This makes it relatively easy to find vital records.
|James Lidgett born Ludford Parva, Lincoln||1845||1845||1845||1845||1845|
|Mary A Lidgett born Ludford Magma, Lincoln||1846||1845||1846||1846|
|Edith Lidgett born Ludford Magma, Lincoln||1869||1869|
|James LIDGITT born Ludford, Lincoln||1872|
|Sarah J. LIDGITT born Ludford, Lincoln||1875|
|Charles W. LIDGITT born Ludford, Lincoln||1876||1875|
|Mary Ann LIDGITT born Ludford, Lincoln||1878||1878|
|George H. LIDGITT born Ludford, Lincoln||1880||1880|
|Thomas LIDGITT born Ludford, Lincoln||1881||1882|
|Fred Lidgett born Ludford Magma, Lincoln||1884||1884|
|Earnest Lidgett born Sixhills, Lincoln||1886||1886|
|Agnes Lidgett born Sixhills, Lincoln||1888||1888|
|Auther Lidgett born Benniworth, Lincoln||1890||1891|
By "vital records" we mean records of major life events: birth (or christening), marriage, death (or burial). In different time periods, vital records may be kept at the national level (e.g. England and Wales), or at the state/provincial level (e.g. Canada), or at the municipal/county level (e.g. USA), or they may be kept at multiple levels – even in the countries listed above. In addition, vital records may also be kept by non-governmental organizations such as churches. Local newspapers may also record births, marriages and deaths.
Primary or Secondary Sources?
This question becomes important if different sources provide conflicting data. A primary source is a record created at the time of the event, by someone who was present. In a court of law this would be referred to as "eye witness evidence". A secondary source was created at a later time or by someone who wasn't present. In a court of law, this would be referred to as "hearsay evidence" (probably true, but open to challenge).
Your research will have greater credibility if you can support your data with sources. Your sourcing should allow other researchers to know (a) what you found and (b) where you found it. It can also be important to explain the basis of conclusions you have drawn from the evidence. PAF's notes gives plenty of space to do this.