I find this stuff fascinating. There is so much information available online now that you can dig up your family history right back into the mid 1800's with not much problem at all.
I spent many, many hours on this hobby from 2004 to 2007. Two of my grandparents were from England, and England has detailed records available dating back to the 1840's. These include the census that was taken every 10 years starting in 1841, as well as detailed birth, marriage, and death records. I even applied to the United Kingdom General Registry office to have copies of records sent to me, and the death records even state what the person died of.
U.S. census has been taken every 10 years since 1790, so if your American history goes back that far you should be able to find out a lot of info about your relatives. Census records don't include birth dates, but they did ask how old each person was who lived at a certain address so once you find one relative it's fairly easy to trace back who the mother and father of that person were.
I started my searching at ancestry.com and then had to use several government websites to help. It's handy to get a subscription because once you get started it's amazing how much detail you can get.
Here is one example of the depth of information you can find if you search...
I found that one great great great grandfather was born on Christmas Day in 1806 in the village of Normanton in Yorkshire England. He was married on Christmas Day in 1832, and he fathered 6 children, only one of whom was a boy. Census records from 1851 and 1861 list 4 children living at that address, giving names and ages.
However, census records from 1841 show that 2 other children were born. But because these children are not listed in the 1851 Census, it is probable that they died prior to the 1851 Census.
The Pigot’s Trade Directory of 1834 lists this relative as being the owner of the Marrow Bone Tavern and Public House in Knottingly. On the 1842 birth record of his son Joseph, his occupation is listed as “Innkeeper”. At that time, the family was living on Ferry Lane in the village of Stanley, about 6km north of Wakefield, England. However, his death record, only 13 years later, states that he was a labourer at a “colliery”, which is a coal mine.
He died at the age of 49, on September 3, 1855. Cause of death was listed as disease of the liver.
You can get very good free family tree software at www.legacyfamilytree.com/