A forum is a place to talk, a place to ask questions, a place to help and be helped. How well that works in practice depends on YOU!
Finding your way around
There's a big difference between forums and other websites, so if you've never used a forum before it's important to undersatand this difference. To move around most websites you click on a menu that runs down the side of the page or across the top, but in a forum most of the time you click on the topics themselves. For example, to get to this page you clicked on New members start here, and then you clicked How to make the best use of these forums. It's not the only way you could have got here (more of that in a moment) but it's the way most people move around in a forum.
As you work your way through the forum you'll come across pages (like this one) full of useful information that have been compiled by the volunteers who run the forum, often with help or prompting from other members. These information pages are much like ordinary web pages - you can't add anything (although if you have a suggestion for a change or addition please contact one of the helpers), and any links will have been checked out prior to inclusion. So it's a bit like reading an article in the LostCousins newsletter.
Tip: if you want to follow through the example in the next paragraph open up a separate tab in your browser - you can do this by right-clicking on one of the links, eg 'Forums' and choosing 'Open in new tab' (Internet Explorer), 'Open link in new tab' (Chrome or Firefox). This way you can continue reading this page in one tab while trying out the examples in another tab.
Most of the forum is comprised of discussions which are organised into topics, or subforums. For example, if you go to the section headed up British Isles then click on England you'll see a list of counties. Click Cheshire and you'll find an information page called Cheshire Resources, a subforum called More Cheshire Resources where any member can tell others about useful websites and other resources related to Cheshire, and a general discussion area. Click on the title of any of the discussion topics to read the messages that members have posted relating to that topic.
In most parts of the forum anyone can start a discussion and anyone can join in that discussion - however, make sure that you say 'on topic'. If something you read inspires you to say something on a different topic, start a new discussion - don't add it to the existing discussion, otherwise it will be confusing for other members.
Are you still looking at Cheshire? Notice that towards the top of the screen there are some arrow-shaped tabs which read Forums> British Isles> England. These not only show you where you are and (usually) how you got there, you can also click on them to go back. For example, to switch from Cheshire to Essex click England then Essex.
However, there's an even quicker way to move around, known as 'quick navigation'. On the far right of the screen you'll find two arrows, one near the top and one near the bottom of the page - click on either of them to open up the Quick Navigation Menu. By moving the scroll bar on the right-hand side you can see all the subforums and information pages, enabling you to jump to any one of them in an instant.
How to find out information to help you in your research
What are you really trying to find out? Try to put it into terms that are going to be relevant and meaningful to other members of the forum. For example, you could post a question with the title "Help wanted", but it's hardly the most helpful of titles. There are two key reasons to think very carefully about the title you choose - one is that you're more likely to attract the attention of the members who are best able to help if you can be more specific about the help that you need; the other is to make it easier for members who have a similar problem in the future to find your question - and the answers that it prompted. An example of a good title would be "Looking for non-conformist baptism in Essex c1750".
Now you've reformulated your question in more general terms the next step is to look at the list of forums and subforums to see which ones are particularly relevant to your question. In this case the "Non-conformist records" and "Essex" forums would be a good place to start. Indeed, you might find that the answer is already there (in which case you may not need to ask for help). When you're looking for information start on the Resources page for that part of the forum, eg 'Essex Resources' and, if you don't find the answer there, look through the 'More Resources' subforum.
If you want to search more widely there's a Search box in the top right hand corner of the page. You can use this to search the messages that have been posted in specific forums or in all the forums. You can limit your search to the titles of the messages, or you can search the entire text (usually it's best to limit your search to the titles). If you specify more than one keyword then you'll only be shown messages which include ALL of them, so if you don't find anything when you search for non-conformist Essex try searching for non-conformist on its own. Of course, if you were specifically searching in the Essex forum there wouldn't be much point including Essex in your search since all of the messages should relate to Essex.
If you didn't find any similar questions when you searched it might be worth considering whether there are some other keywords you might have chosen. If there are, then it would be helpful to include them in the title of the message you post.
Joining an existing discussion
If you find that there's already a discussion focusing on the same topic, the first thing to do is read what other members have said - you might find the answer you're looking for (or more likely, something that points you in the direction of the answer). If you do, you can show your appreciation by clicking the Thanks icon just beneath the message that has proven so helpful.
If you don't find the answer to your question you can join the discussion by posting a message of your own.
Starting a new discussion
If you can't find a discussion that relates to your query - start one!