As an 'ex - pat', access to original historical records relating to my English ancestors is difficult and potentially costly.
I am fortunate in that my research has coincided with the period where important record collections have become available 'online'. Much serious research can now be done from the comfort of my own study at home. It might not be as atmospheric as an archive room, I might not meet as many like minded people, and I may not get to see as many interesting locations connected to my family history.. But I can research.
As with most serious family historians, I like to be able to verify everything before making changes to my family tree, I also like to record my sources so that when I come to look again at a particular family, I can see where a particular fact came from. In my haste to follow a particular trail I have been known to 'overlook' this. Without fail I've always regretted it afterwards.
Of course, I use as many sources of information as I can find, but one of the most helpful for 19th century relatives, are the UK Census returns. They also happen to be easily accessible online, either as transcriptions or through images of the original schedules compiled shortly after each census count. The information which can be learned varies greatly according to the year of the census and to the way in which particular enumerators did their work. As a general rule a census entry will give at least a very good indication of the address where a family lived, or where they were staying on census night. It tells us broadly where and when they were born, their occupations, and marital status. Later years can tell us even more, including an indication of a disability, how long a couple have been married, how many children have lived or died, and how many rooms there were in the family home. I also like to look at neighbouring families which are frequently related, or where a future bride or groom and their family can be seen.
Census counts were made every decade beginning in 1841 (there were earlier counts in some areas, although the information gathered was much more limited) So for those whose lived from 1840 onwards, we have a regular insight into their lives every ten years. This helps when searching for other documentary evidence, not least because we see where a family were living, the names associated with each individual, their occupations etc. I have often been able to confirm or eliminate potential records simply by comparing with what I have already learned from a census. The most recent UK census which has been published to date is the 1911 count.
Census records are, for me, among the most useful 19th century documents available online. Fortunately they are also easily accessible.
I maintain family trees on Ancestry.co.uk and where available, census returns are linked to every individual who lived during the period where census documents are published. I am in the process of adding images of the schedules for each family to this site and to my other sites. To make things easier for my readers, I am highlighting the relevant family on each image. (though you may also wish to check neighbouring families on the same image) This is a time consuming process and it will be some considerable time before I complete the task, so if you are connected to someone here and don't see an image, please ask, I'll post one for you if it exists.