When you need a genealogical clue (name or date or relationship), maybe you don't need to actually pay for a record. Consider searching for your ancestor in one of the free newspaper sites. You might get lucky, as I have (more than once) during my Genealogy Go-Over.
For example, here is the headline from a newspaper story about my father's Markell cousin and his bride. Danny and May were at my parents' wedding in 1946 and my parents probably attended the Markell wedding the following year. This marriage announcement, found via the free news site Fulton History, included details about the bride's and groom's families.
Go ahead and try searching for your ancestors in one of these free newspaper sites. You might find a birth announcement, marriage announcement, obituary, social news, or other item that the editors thought was newsworthy. If the state or locality you seek isn't covered by one of these sites, try doing an online search for "state AND newspaper archive" or "city AND newspaper archive" or a similar phrase to locate other possibilities.
- Fulton History is a free site with many thousands of newspapers scanned in from New York and beyond. The image here shows page one of 11 pages filled with newspaper names/dates, if you want to browse by location and time period. Or use the search function to find surnames by place (my search for "Markell and New Rochelle" is an example). More papers are being added week by week to this excellent and entirely free site.
- Chronicling America is a free site from the Library of Congress, a database of nearly 12 million newspaper pages available from across the country (see image at top for an excerpt). The collection is not comprehensive, but with more than 2000 papers represented, you may find one that will help you learn more about your ancestors.
- University of Illinois Library listing of historical newspapers available online shows which are free and which are not. Check out this long list of links, which includes international as well as U.S. newspaper archives.
- Wikipedia has a list of online newspaper archives, both U.S. and international, both free and free. I've clicked on some of these and not all the links work, but it might point you in the direction of a collection that will be useful.
- Check your local library or state library, which very likely has access to one or more newspaper archives and databases. The Connecticut State Library, for example, has a finding aid that shows what it owns and where the files are. This library is digitizing newspapers from around the state and adding them to the Chronicling America database. Maybe your state library is doing something similar and making the files available free with your local library card (or with a state library card)?
- West Georgia Historic Newspapers (a library link shared by Michelle G. Taggart of A Southern Sleuth) has a number of papers from 1843-1942. She's had good luck with these papers. If you have Georgia ancestors, this might be a good resource for you.