Another cheap, thoughtful gift: Ancestry.com
A friend of mine once pointed out that gift giving is an incredibly egotistical process. In choosing presents, we almost inevitably pick things that we want, or that we would like to talk about . Of course, the problem is that our recipient doesn't always share our interests or desires.
As I had just given her a book, I asked if she was trying to tell me something.
Another example of egotistical gift giving is my sister Jen, the family label junkie, who usually buys clothes for everybody. One year, she determined that my brother-in-law, Paul, really needed a few new shirts. Furthermore, she decided that the perfect color to match Paul's complexion was pink.
Unfortunately, Paul didn't agree. Neither did his engineer co-workers, all of whom had a big laugh at his expense.
The upshot was that, the following year, everyone in the family received a list of approved gifts for Paul. To Paul's credit, these gifts had a wide range of prices. However, Christmas isn't really about price, and some of us chafed at the idea of filling out a gift registry for what is, essentially, supposed to be a voluntary gift giving season.
If you're looking for a gift that truly says something about your friend or family member, you might try Ancestry.com. For a little more than $20 per month, Ancestry links you to thousands of record databases covering hundreds of years. These include the U.S. Census database, World War II induction records, World War I draft cards, Social security records, and many, many others. Within an hour or so, you can dig up Jpeg copies of many of these original documents. After that, it's just a matter of printing them out, putting them in a binder, and maybe throwing in a CD of all the images. It's hard to imagine anything more personal than a copy of Great-Grandpa Sebastian's draft card, or a census record listing your missing Great Aunt Pearl. Even my brother-in-law Paul, who's notoriously non-demonstrative, got a huge kick out of this one. I still don't know what his co-workers thought.
A side benefit is that Ancestry.com also has a public record database that is an absolutely amazing resource for locating people. Seriously, it blows 411 out of the water!