There are a large number of websites associated with family history including www.ancestry.co.uk and www.findmypast.co.uk. These belong to a group of websites that charge either by subscription or have a time or entry charge. Some will give you a trial period but please remember to unsubscribe at the end of this period if you do not wish to continue using the site and start paying fees. Some public libraries allow free access to Ancestry/other relevant sites. A Google search will list many more websites and you may find one that is specific to your requirements. For example, www.forces-war-records.co.uk says that users have free access to Military Records from before 1630 to WW1 and WW2; however you will have to pay to access the detail of the records.
This list only provides a starting point and is by no means exhaustive. The many family history magazines will provide much additional information on relevant sources. Most public libraries and councils provide short courses on family history that may be useful. Additionally there are local history groups which can provide helpful information.
Researchers should note that the various websites operate in different ways and use different types of search engine. The spelling or transcription of names may be inaccurate and it is sometimes necessary to try alternatives to identify the correct individual. Sometimes a little lateral thinking is necessary!
It is often useful to Google the name of the person or family under investigation as this may throw up useful leads and may also provide interaction with others pursuing similar family research. The website www.ancestry.com/ has a number of message and family boards that are useful to researchers.
English and Welsh family history
Census data from 1841–1911 is available from www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/census/. The only data that is currently free is the 1881 census information and even then certain pieces of information are not free.
Free information on births marriages and deaths is available from www.freebmd.org.uk/. However researchers must be aware that this information may not be complete. There is often no substitute for looking at the original parish records which are usually held on microfiche in County record offices. These data are available without charge to researchers who have a valid reader’s ticket.
Free information on individual parish registers is available on www.freereg.org.uk/ but again the information is currently incomplete.
Researchers should also realize that the Public Records Office and County record offices hold a vast amount of data on individuals. Some may be accessible on line but often it is only possible to search the catalogues on line prior to a visit. This can be useful when valuable research time is limited. National archives from the Public Record Office can be accessed on www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ . Website details for individual record offices can be found on line. Their charging policies do not seem to be standard.
Scottish family history
The website www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk takes you to the General Register Office for Scotland for births, deaths and marriages and provides Scottish census data. However this is not a free site.
The National Library of Scotland also holds records relevant to family history and the address to go to there is www.nls.uk/family-history Prior to 1855, births, deaths and marriages were recorded in parish registers. The National Library holds a microfiche index to old parish registers but the registers themselves are held by the General Register Office for Scotland which is mentioned above.
The National Library of Scotland holds various directories including trade and street directories from the nineteenth century onwards; professional directories; Army and Navy lists of commissioned and warrant officers from the mid-seventeenth century; matriculation and graduation rolls from Scotland’s universities and emigrant lists, etc.
Scottish public libraries provide free access to Ancestry UK via www.ancestry.co.uk for visitors to the library (i.e. not online at home).