Something Worth Sharing: Creating a Family History Book
September 21, 2015
You’ve put countless hours into researching ancestors, digitizing photos and collecting stories. Now what? Of course the family tree with all its records and photos can be thrown onto a USB drive and passed out to interested parties, but there’s a good chance the drive may just sit on a shelf collecting dust. Sometimes the best way to generate interest and appreciation in family heritage is to make a good old-fashioned book or poster.
As the Internet has grown up around us, we’ve begun to discover some amazing ways to express ourselves through the printed word. Services like Shutterfly, Snapfish, and even WalMart offer the ability to design and build a photo book through a web browser. Photos are uploaded to be manipulated and arranged, clip art is available to make frames or embellishments, and text can be added throughout the book as captions for photos or even entire stories. But using these sites to make a family history book may be the hard way to do it.
If you are a user of Ancestry.com, you should be aware that they actually have their own media printing service called MyCanvas. The really, really handy thing about MyCanvas is that all of the family tree work done in Ancestry.com is actually linked up to MyCanvas. To get to it from Ancestry.com, click on “Extras” along the top, then click “Photo Books and Posters.” The site has family history books and poster templates and once a project is chosen (a family history book for example), all of the relevant names, dates, locations, and profile pictures will be pulled from your tree on Ancestry.com and laid out in a book in MyCanvas within seconds. Once the general template has been filled in, pages can be added, layouts edited, media inserted, and stories shared.
I have found that the MyCanvas page editor is easy to use and very flexible for creativity. All Ancestry.com family tree records and media are accessible under each ancestor’s name, and photos not yet in your Ancestry.com tree can be uploaded directly to MyCanvas to be used within your project. Books can be made with up to 250 pages and five generations deep. Posters can be printed in various styles from the standard family tree or descendant layouts as well as a combination poster showing the union of two families. The poster can display from three to nine generations and range from 16 x 20 inches up to 24 x 36 inches.
In my experience, it has taken a lot of time and patience to tweak my books and posters to the way I ultimately wanted them, but an unexpected benefit is that the exercise actually pointed out various holes I had in my own research. It pushed me to find missing dates, spouses’ names, pictures, records, and newspaper articles. The result is something to be very proud of, something which locks context and connections together in a permanent way and gives the family’s heritage a better chance of outliving its author.
Eric Wells is a Missouri-based construction contractor in between his genealogy work. He frequently gives talks about publishing family history to his local society and regional conferences. He has published several books and posters for his family, friends, and clients, and is a volunteer with the NextGen Genealogy Network.