When is it time to subscribe to an online database? The answer really depends on your needs. For example, where are you at in your research? If you only know “Ireland” then chances are you need to subscribe to Ancestry: www.ancestry.com to work on your immigration research first. If you know a place in Ireland, then you certainly may be ready for databases on FindMyPast: www.findmypast.ie Both of these websites are constantly updating their databases with new ones, so they are worth subscribing to for the long haul.
When considering your needs, it’s wise to check the sources on subscription sites. For example, do they even have what you are looking for? If you are looking for births, marriages and deaths records, then does the website cover them? If your needs are early land records, then are these part of the database?
Now there are other websites which are “pay as you go” rather than subscription. For example, RootsIreland: www.rootsireland.ie has millions of civil and church registers indexed. The index is free, but it does not give you the full date or the parish where the event occurred. If you find an entry of interest, then you print off the full information a reasonable amount (always use credit card, not your debit card).
In the case of RootsIreland, there is a feature where you can view by county what records are included on the database. One question when approaching databases such as this is whether the church records go back far enough to help. Another question I ask is whether Protestant records are part of the databases.
Only you can decide if investing in a website is worth it. Once you educate yourself on the scope of a website’s databases, then you are ready to proceed accordingly.