When I can locate free vital records and obits, I try that first--and then I decide, case by case, when it makes sense to pay for a document or a search.
Some of the best sites for free genealogy are Family Search, Linkpendium, and Cyndi's List plus Find A Grave.
I also search state and local historical/genealogical societies. And of course, I search and post on Facebook genealogy pages. (See Katherine Willson's comprehensive list of such pages here.)
My posts about "Genealogy--Free or Fee?" are:
- Introduction to Free or Fee Genealogy
- Free or fee naturalization papers
- Free or fee Social Security applications
- Free or fee, learn to record-strip and use document checklists
- Free or fee, ask a historian for help
- Free or fee, search surname and locality message boards
- Free or fee, redo your searches (again) to locate new info posted since your last search
- Free or Fee, why I paid for 3 pages of NYC marriage documents (first-hand information, handwritten by my father)
- Free or fee, ask for help with mysteries or missing documents and be polite and patient.
- Free or fee, try free newspaper sites to see whether you can turn up any news about your ancestors.
- Free or fee, search for clues in the hands of other family members.
- Free or fee, it's worthwhile to send for NYC marriage records in detail!