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Unusual gifts can be inexpensive, meaningful

(ran PT edition)

The holidays are closer than you think, and people are starting to think about what to give. Here are some ideas for unusual gifts that are free or inexpensive and may mean more to the recipient than anything you could buy in a store:

Pages from the

family history

One way to bring family members together is to look back at their common roots. Perhaps you'd like to track down a memento of an immigrant ancestor. The National Archives maintains passenger arrival records dating back to the 1820s. Its staff will even research your ancestor's passage if you supply some basic information, such as the port of entry, passenger name and date of arrival.

If they find a ship manifest with your ancestor's name, they will send you a notice. The manifests consist of 2-by-3-foot sheets, listing passengers' ages and occupations. Manifests after 1906 even included such information as language spoken, height and weight, and how much money the immigrant was carrying.

If you want a copy of the page of the manifest, the cost is $10. For more information or a copy of Form 81 titled "Order for Copies for Ship Passenger Arrival Records," contact Reference Services Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20408, or call (202) 501-5400.

Naval memories

Perhaps a close friend or relative who served in the Navy might like a picture that will recall those exciting times. The U.S. Naval Institute has more than 450,000 photographs (a limited number are in color) of the Navy's ships, battles and major events. You can purchase an 8-by-10-inch, black-and-white photograph of a specific ship or other subject for $12 ($18 for color) plus a $3.50 shipping and handling charge.

The more information you can supply with your photo request, the better. The vessel's name, hull number and the person's years of service are helpful. It normally takes four to six weeks to process the order. For more information, contact U.S. Naval Institute, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD 21402; phone (410) 295-1022.

Direct from

the White House

If your gift list includes new parents, or someone celebrating a birthday at 80 or older, or a couple marking their 50th wedding anniversary, a note of congratulations from the president might add to the excitement.

The White House will also send get-well cards and congratulations to a young person on becoming an Eagle Scout or receiving the Girl Scout Gold Award.

You can also write and ask for a picture of the president and first lady. Contact Greetings Office, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20500; Make sure your request includes the name and address where the card should be sent. You would never guess how many people forget to do that!

A high-flying flag

If you are at a loss as to what to give someone, what about an American flag that's been flown over the Capitol building. These flags cost from $14.05 to $25.30 depending upon the size and material. They come with a certificate listing name of the person for whom the flag was flown and the date.

You can request a specific day, such as a birthday, anniversary, or even the day someone was discharged from the military. The flags are available for purchase through your representatives in Washington. Call (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senator's or representative's office, or write to them at U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510, or U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515.

_ Matthew Lesko and Mary Ann Martello are the authors of "Free Stuff for Seniors." For more free stuff information, call (800) 532-5566 or e-mail them at

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