If you want to do some research into your family history, the internet has become a powerful tool to help you. It cuts down on countless hours of legwork and untold savings in travel expenses. Some websites charge a membership fee and others don’t. Some libraries subscribe to these databases so you can use their machines to look up information and print out whatever you find, which may mitigate any costs involved. You have to do your homework and see what options you have.
As for the subscription sites, they compile everything quite nicely into one search engine. They are fairly easy to use and there are some options with the price point. Some come with a trial membership. So if you have two weeks and want to work out as much research as possible in that time, as long as you make your own copies of everything you find, you might get away with not having to pay. Ancestry.com might be the only way to access many of the UK census records, so keep that in mind. Most, however, will let you create a family tree that will help you link to the work of others as well as allow potential relatives to contact you for an information exchange. Some good options are:
You may be able to find copies of some documents online for free, but it does depend on what you’re looking for and how old it is. The National Archives website has some searchable information about military service, wills, and naturalization information. They also have a lot of government documents. Some of these things are available online and others you would have to go to the building in Kew to see. If you can’t get it off their website, they do have many research guides online that can give you some pointers on what to look for and where you might be able to access it. Many charity sites are transcribing old information and it is a long, tedious, and ongoing process with the potential for transcription errors. But if you are lacking in funds and can’t travel to every parish in question, it is a worthwhile option to investigate. Some good sites:
http://www.freebmd.org.uk is an ongoing birth, marriage, and death certificate index project. They often have scans of the documents they used to base the transcription on, so you can confirm the information or correct it if necessary. You will be able to locate the index number of the certificate you are looking for, which you can then order through the General Register Office.
http://searcharchives.bl.uk has an impressive list of documents, as well as the GRO index. If you have relatives who went to India, this is a good place to start.
The Ministry of Defence website has forms available for download if you are trying to locate old military records from 1920 onward; they will give you only some information when you do not have permission or are not a direct next of kin if it has been less than 25 years; they are a little more free with the information the older the record is. There are some restrictions, so be sure to read the website carefully and fill out the correct form. This also costs money, so be sure that when you mail in your request, you also submit payment.
Hope these sites will get you started or help you if you get stuck! Good luck!