Want to give your family some of its history this year for the holidays? It's probably easier and cheaper than you might think. Earlier this year I joined ancestry.com, the huge genealogy website. I know there are plenty of other sites and programs out there. But as a complete novice I went to the big, user-friendly ancestry.com.
I have to say my husband was not thrilled with the new hobby. I would be excited when I found a ship record from Prussia or the town in Sweden where one part of my family comes from. He would look at me like I'd suddenly become a stamp collector. And that I was blowing about $30 a month on old stamps. (There is nothing cheap about ancestry.com; it's anywhere from $13 to $30 a month, with discounts if you buy by the quarter or year.)
But, you don't have to be on it that long to find some neat stuff. Basically, if you're lucky, you may be related to someone who is better at genealogy who will have already traced your tree and maybe even supplied documents that you can access. You'll be able to print out census forms and all kinds of obscure documents. If you're not lucky, it'll take a lot of work. My guess is that I'm probably typical: I got some easy breaks, did some work and hit some dead ends.
Overall, though, I was able to learn a lot about where my family came from. If you're ambitious, you can organize that information into a nifty booklet you make yourself for your relatives. Ancestry.com makes it easier--they have a program to make a bound family history book that includes whatever documents you find on their site and whatever pictures you upload. They start at $35 and go up to $350, but are mostly in the $50-$60 range. Family tree posters are $15-$40. If you're in one of those families that still hasn't gotten out of individual gifts yet, this could be a really nice option, where you don't go broke and put some effort into making something no one else could give your family.
Broke for the Holidays: Genealogy Projects