Ancestry Search

Thanks largely to TV shows like the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?, finding out more about our ancestors is becoming more and more popular. But it's not just celebrities whose families have hidden pasts worth exploring - and affordable, easy to use web tools mean that anyone can get on board.

Free sources

Digging around your family history doesn't have to break the bank, and whilst you're probably going to have to sign up for a paid service if you want to get the very best results, it is perfectly possible to make effective use of free sources as well.

These are particularly useful if you are going into your genealogy project armed with at least some knowledge of your background - a significant location or high profile individual you know of, for example. It doesn't have to be big - just something you can latch onto.

UK National Archives

The British National Archives are a good place to start provided you know what it is you're looking for. Not all of it is free to access, but you can search for births, deaths and marriages, as well as central government data such as welfare or immigration records. It's particularly good for military history - so if you happen to have a soldier somewhere in your family tree, it will give you a solid foundation on which to build more detail from elsewhere.

Find a Grave

Find a Grave - completely free to use - is slightly more accommodating of American users, but it does have some use for those in the UK. You can search from a database of several million graves, and the site often gives you a name, location as well as the dates the person in question was born and died on.

Paid sources

Sufficed to say, the better search tools charge you to use them. Luckily, a lot of sites offer a free trial period, with which you can sample the service before committing to a long-term subscription - so make sure you shop around and find one that suits all your needs.

Genes Reunited

Genes Reuinted allows you to search records at a fairly decent cost - and it also gives you the option to connect to other members of your family tree also looking through their past (hence the name). You can either sign up for a "pay as you search" deal or get a subscription. The downside is you have ot sign up for a full year to reap the benefits of a discounted rate - otherwise you're paying nearly £20 a month.

Ancestry.co.uk

Ancestry is among the more comprehensive services available online, offering rich and detailed accounts of your ancestors' lives - as well as helping to usher in a new DNA technology aimed at really unlocking your family's hidden past. In terms of cost, you can opt for a six month subscription at £70, or £13 a month for a rolling deal. Currently, they offer a two week free trial for new customers.