Beat the Holiday Rush with Family History Month Projects, by Juliana Smith

Raymond Francis DyerThis morning my walking buddy and I took our regular trek around the neighborhood. As we wandered past houses decorated for Halloween, our feet crunched through fallen leaves and I could feel the bite of the wind on my cheeks.

I’ve always liked autumn. I love the fact that we don’t really need the heat or the air conditioning on, making for a little extra cash in our tight budget. (These days a little wiggle-room in the budget is a big deal!) The colors of the leaves, the smell of chili in the crock pot, and snuggling up in a warm sweatshirt with my fuzzy socks all make autumn a comfy, cozy time of year for me.

Beyond all of these fall features, the celebration of Family History Month in October gives me that extra push to put some extra focus on my family history.

In a blink, Halloween will be past and the holidays will once again be upon us. I begin every year setting goals to have completed a big grandiose family history project to share with my family as a holiday gift. Too often they have failed because of the size of the projects, so over the years the goals have been downsized to be more practical. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the complete multi-volume, multi-generational published family history is probably not going to happen this year. Let’s be real. I’m a mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and caretaker to five loving animals. Throw in work, friends, school community, church community . . . well, you get the picture. We have a few balls in the air here.

So I need to focus on something “doable.” And I have to start now. Last week Ancestry relaunched its publishing platform, AncestryPress as MyCanvas. When it comes to using AncestryPress—oops, I mean MyCanvas (this is going to take some getting used to!), the first thing that comes to mind is a family history book. Over the holidays last year, I wrote an article about a smaller scale project I was working on that covered my grandmother’s family. When it comes to editing your project, most of those tools and the editing techniques remain the same, so this article is a good “get started” look at creating a family book if you’re not already familiar with it.

There are a few things that are different. First, and most noticeably, the Publish tab on Ancestry is now the Print and Share tab. Don’t worry though, it will still bring you to your projects. After you click that tab, you can choose to start a new project (and there are several new options we’ll get into later), or you can click on the navigation list and access “My Projects.” From there, you’ll see what looks kind of like the record selections on an old jukebox. Each page represents one of your projects. You can page through them one at a time using the arrows at the top, or jump ahead by clicking on a page. If you’re in a position to pick up on a project that you’ve already begun, this is where you’ll begin.

However, I am not in that position this year and in today’s column, I thought we’d take a look at some of the other MyCanvas options that are a little more “doable” when it comes to completing and ordering them in time for the holidays. Here are some that are worth contemplating:

Photograph Books
Choose a theme, whether it’s a special event (a trip, summer vacation, birthday, wedding, anniversary, a tribute to a special family member, a holiday, family reunion—the possibilities are endless), or just a collection of random photographs and memories that will make someone smile. You’re the artist and your photograph book is your canvas. (Pun intended!)

Pedigree Posters
If you’ve got the names and dates, but are still working on filling in the family story and aren’t quite ready to publish that book, a poster-size pedigree chart is a quick and easy project you can create in literally under an hour if you already have your data entered into an Ancestry Online Tree or some other genealogical software. If you already have an Ancestry tree, you just need to select a size, format, and which tree to upload into your project. Then give your project a name. Once your pedigree poster is automatically generated for you, it’s time to have fun with it. Add photographs, embellishments, text, quotes, or whatever you like.

Photo and Collage Posters
OK, this is one where I got myself in trouble when it came to the deadline for this article. What should have been the easiest one to write about took me the longest to research because I just had to try it out. MyCanvas gives you the option of creating three sizes of poster– 20×16, 24×18, and 36×24. Prices begin at $14.95 making this a very affordable option. Once you choose a size, you can choose from one of eight templates that have pre-sized spots to add your photographs. (Note: For the larger spots you’re going to need high resolution photographs or you’ll get a little yellow triangle warning you that the resolution of the photograph is too low.)

I had some ideas that didn’t quite fit into the templates, so being a free-form kind of gal I chose the option with one large image template, selected it and hit the little red x at the end of the tool bar to delete. Now I was free to create whatever I wanted. I have several ideas for Christmas gifts and of course in the interest of accuracy for this article, I had to go ahead and work on them.

The first is a collage for my daughter. I went through my photograph files and selected a photograph from various stages in her life. I created a special folder on my hard drive for this project. Creating this folder makes it easier for me to load them into MyCanvas all at once. Just go to the Photo tab, click “Add photos,” and then open that folder and select all of the images. MyCanvas then loads them up into a folder on the site.

Another idea I had was to create a poster for an ancestor. I chose my great-grandfather, Raymond “Pop” Dyer. One of our prize heirlooms from Pop is a journal-like note he wrote on his new business stationary on his 21st birthday. I surrounded it with pictures of him and his family, added some text boxes and an embellishment and I now have a very affordable gift for cousins, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles—basically any other descendant of his who is on my gift giving list. (A copy of this poster is posted with this article. Click on the image to enlarge it.) This makes for great one-stop shopping, plus for orders of two to nine prints, I get 10% off, and if I order ten or more, I get 15% off. Twenty prints or more and a 20% discount is applied. (You can order ten of one print and ten of another and still get the 20 or more discount too.)

There are so many ways we can use MyCanvas to create beautiful heirloom gifts for members of our family. And as an added bonus, the gifts you create from home in that warm sweatshirt and fuzzy socks will save you time otherwise spent laden with bags through the crowded malls.

Click here to start your MyCanvas Project.

You can read a little more about MyCanvas in these articles by Stefanie Condie on the Ancestry blog.

Welcome to’s new and improved publishing service

Q&A with Kelvin Hulet: What to expect from MyCanvas

AncestryPress/MyCanvas blog

Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

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