Posted by Ancestry Team on June 12, 2008 in Website

I recently called my sister Brigitte, an economist at a prestigious university, to ask her advice about my mortgage. A few days later, I was in the room when my sister Heidi called Brigitte to ask whether she should refinance her townhouse. Since I had moved some of my retirement funds into “safe” assets, I said to Heidi, “Ask her when she thinks the stock market is going to bottom out.” To which Brigitte replied, “What am I, a genie in a bottle?”

My feeling is that if you spend your whole life developing a profound knowledge of a particular field, you can’t be too annoyed if your friends and relatives take advantage of your expertise. Whereas if you spend many years getting a “well-rounded” education and don’t really commit to a career path until you’re well into your 30s, you’re pretty much safe from ever having to give anyone advice about anything.

Since I fall into the well-rounded category, it behooves me to tap the expertise of others so that I can provide you with useful information. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by experts on many subjects, including family history, publishing, photography, graphic design and software engineering. My team here at AncestryPress also includes a former Naval officer, a certified ski instructor and a guy who builds 7-foot model rockets in his spare time. So as you can see, you’re in good hands.

For our first issue of the AncestryPress Monthly, I interviewed Maureen Taylor, who is both a professional photographer and an avid family historian. After talking to Maureen and reading her new book, I put some of her advice to the test. I was surprised at how easy it was to improve my photography skills by following a few simple tips. And the timing was perfect, because AncestryPress has several new features that let you do some really cool stuff with your photos.

Create your own backgrounds

Here at AncestryPress, we often get messages like this: “I love your page backgrounds, but I wish there were more options. When are you going to add a background having to do with X?”

I’m happy to report that as of this month, your background selection is limited only by your imagination. Any image that you import into AncestryPress — a photo, document, old map or any other image you’ve saved in a JPG or PNG format — can be a page background.

To add a background, go to the Backgrounds tab and click the “Upload Background” button. You can grab any image file on your computer and turn it into an AncestryPress background. All the backgrounds you’ve uploaded will appear in the “My Backgrounds” folder.

In addition, you can convert any image in the My Photos tab or the Ancestry Records tab into a background. Just right-click on the image and then click “Use as background.” The image will be applied as a background to the current page. It will also be saved in the “My Backgrounds” folder. You can also right-click on an image that’s already been applied to a page to convert it to a background.

What I love about this feature is that it lets you fill up a whole page with one photo. You can let the photo stand on its own — which is a great way to showcase a particularly interesting or dramatic shot — or layer other images on top of it.

Here are a couple of examples…

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

I like the effect of using a close-up of a face as a stand-alone page. The thoughtful child in that last example belongs to one of our engineers, Greg Burgess, who happens to be a pretty good photographer. The photo of the German storybook village is from my brother-in-law, who is also a software engineer and photography buff (I’m seeing a pattern here).

The “Use as background” feature also works really well with scenic shots. Try using a scenic photo as a background and then placing a detail shot on top of it.

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

Note that when you convert an image into a background, the image is automatically cropped, resized and centered to fit the background area. Images that have a portrait rather than landscape orientation might not work very well. And depending on their resolution, smaller images may not look so good when they’re scaled up to fill the whole page.

Take your photos to the edge

Here’s another trick for showcasing your photos: drag a photo to the vertical or horizontal edges of the page, leaving some white space along one or two sides of the page. You can keep the white space white or add a solid background in a color that complements your photo.

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

To get this “full bleed” effect, drag the photo OFF the page, meaning that the edges of the photo will get cut off. In the screen shot below, the green outline shows the dimensions of the photo. This technique doesn’t work for every image obviously you wouldn’t want to chop off someone’s head but it works well in this case because the pieces I’m cropping out are mostly grass.

Click to enlarge image

In the example below, I layered a vertical full-bleed photo over a textured background (“Green Cursive”) and then added a detail shot.

Click to enlarge image

Check out this two-page spread by Greg Burgess, featuring another of his photogenic boys:

Click to enlarge image

I like how Greg made the photo from the left page overlap onto the right page. What he actually did was make a copy of the photo and then crop both versions to make them look like one continuous shot. This is a bit tricky to do, but it’s a fun idea to play around with — especially if you’re a “power user” who likes to get creative.

Adjust the transparency

We just launched another new feature that opens up all kinds of design possibilities: a transparency meter. Just click on an image and then click the icon with the little blue circle in the image editing toolbar. By default the meter is always set to 0, meaning that the image is fully opaque. Scroll down or move the slide bar to change the transparency.

If you’ve applied an image to a page with the “Use as background” feature, you can adjust the transparency and/or flip the image by clicking the “Edit Background” icon at the top of the screen. Alternatively, you can right-click on a page and then choose “Edit background” from the fly-out menu.

You can create some interesting pages by using a transparent image as a background and placing a smaller, 100% opaque image on top of it. In the example below, the German village is 25% transparent (75% opaque).

Click to enlarge image

If you place a transparent image over a colored background, the color will of course show through, which lets you create some interesting effects. In the example below, the Alaskan wilderness is 50% transparent and the background is pale blue (“Light Blue Distressed”).

Click to enlarge

In the final three examples below, I’ve left a border so you can see the background color at the top and bottom of the page. The German wildflowers are 50% transparent, the flamingos are 35% transparent and the moose is 20% transparent.

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

I don’t typically include pictures of myself in this blog, but it isn’t every day that you get to pose with a moose.

I hope the sample pages I’ve presented here have sparked some ideas for showing off your own photos through your AncestryPress projects. Have fun experimenting with these three new features and as always, let me know what you think!

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NOTE: AncestryPress is now MyCanvas

In October 2008, AncestryPress was relaunched under the name MyCanvas. It is still a free, online software program provided by For current information about products and features, please see my more recent blog posts.


    I have been bugging you guys for months to do this and you came through!

  2. Stefanie Condie

    Carol, I’m glad you asked that question. On the contrary, we will be continuing to add new backgrounds on an ongoing basis.

  3. Laurie A. Barthlow

    It’s all super slick. Thanks so much, in case I didn’t mention this before.

  4. Donald Harb

    These are great features that will add more diversity and make all published products so much more interesting and personal. Features like this are exactly what I look for and I look forward to other great enhancement features in the future. Thanks for giving us creative control rather than a bunch of templates like everyone else.

  5. I was becoming disenchanted with doing ancestry. When I started putting my ancestry on line over a year ago, I went balistic! I started clicking on the little green leafs and adding ancestors back to kingdom come. That was the problem. The links kept going to the year 100! The “ancestors” were like Caeser born in Canada and dying in Italy???. I was angry that someone had fouled up the links to be farces and I deleted as much of the obvious jokes on me that I could. But, I still have a lot of people that may or may not be actual ancestors. I quit working on the site. Now with this wonderful possibility of making books, and using my photos to do so, I am really excited to return to doing ancestry for my descendants but, will not need to put in the garbage that I was adding to the tree. I am really thrilled with this new concept. Thank you.

  6. Peter Ibison

    Thanks for the changes you have made. It would be useful to allow sharing of backgrounds. So for instance, if someone created a ‘farmer’ background’ or a ‘sailor background’ this could be used by others who had family members of similar professions.

  7. Eric Stoltz

    This is all great stuff. I’m wondering about another feature regarding transparency. I have some images I want to use that are not square. I have saved them as pngs with transparent backgrounds, but when I try to put them on a page they appear with a white background. Now when I have ovals, coats of arms, old documents with irregular edges, etc., I have to go into Photoshop and give each one an Ancestry-colored background. I’d love not to have to do that. If the Ancestry-provided images include lots with transparent backgrounds that show the page background, why can’t our images be used in the same way? I’m a designer, so I’m adept at all formats of image files, yet all of them acquire a square white background in my book project. Yuck!

  8. Theresa Dupre

    I’m simply in love with and am addicted to the ancestry press site. has come a long way. Thanks, you guys!!

  9. Arlene Hudman


  10. Bob Wheatley

    Another excellent addition to the list of features available in Ancestry Press. This keeps my work evolving and gives reason for new editions to “finished” work. (We all know work on our family histories will never really be “finished.”)

  11. Joe Coale

    In there anyone in the Baltimore area that could help me with the publishing program? Thank you.


    when I put a photo for the background- and it states it will be not 100% resolution- does that mean it will have the look of “bleeding”?

  13. Stefanie Condie

    Jane, “full-bleed” means the photo goes all the way to the edge of the page. If you’re getting the print quality warning (“The resolution of this image is below the recommended resolution for this page size and may print poorly”), that means the image file doesn’t have enough pixels to look sharp and clear in a larger size. Some photos that look fine as a 4×6 will look grainy (“pixelated”) if you blow them up to 8.5×11 or 11×14. You can use a low-res image as a background, and it will still “bleed” to the edge of the page, but it won’t look very clear. I have some photos that I took with a 4-megapixel digital camera, and they work fine in both the 8.5×11 and 11×15 sizes. On the other hand, I have a bunch of old photos that I scanned at 300 DPI, and some of them don’t even work in the 8.5×11 size. So if you’re scanning photos and you think you might want to use them as backgrounds, I would recommend scanning them at a higher resolution. Scanning at 300 DPI is fine for printing images at their original size, but if you’re going to blow them up I’d suggest scanning at 600 DPI.

  14. Stacie McKay

    LOVE being able to flip the background horizontally [some of the flower ones look better when the view is opposing].

    I also LOVE the transparency option… some backgrounds I wanted to use were too dark before – now I can use them!!

    I also agree with Eric – I’d like to have our images retain their transparency as well… My family is all Celtic and I have some great Celtic art, frames and borders, but I won’t use them because of the lack of transparency.

    I also agree with Peter – would love an option to ‘share’ our backgrounds with others.

  15. Jeani Burgess

    My son, Greg, told me to go the the website and see my grandsons. I did and then read the article. It was not only full of good information, but it was fun and interesting reading too. I love the idead of being able to use my own photos for backgrounds, what a great idea.

  16. Rosemary Thorburn

    I am really pleased with programme and find it very easy to use. It would be nice to have a few more British backgrounds. Perhaps some of the Cathedral cities, Edinburgh Castle, Forth Rail Bridge. Could I perhaps suggest that the War backgrounds might have some with a British influence. Otherwise, great!

  17. Carol Castaños

    I also think it would be very useful and nice to have more Military backgounds with British and Mexican Influence, Please, Please, Please.

    Thank you so much

  18. These are helpful tips. I’ve not touched geneaolgy for several years. I received my FTM 2008 today and am excited to begin. First I must merge my old file to the new, I think. Technical Support should guide me through (I don’t see it in the index of the manual I printed out.

    I’d like to get your weekly newsletter, if it’s free. I’m retired, so need more freeies now.

  19. Emily Aulicino

    First, I use daily…several times a day.

    Next: I tried to do your survey, but it locked up…couldn’t get off the first page although I answered all the questions.

    NEXT: I do NOT like the new home pages. PLEASE give us the option to stay with the old pages. I am not interested in Ancestry tracking my activity. You need to make that optional, PLEASE.

    This new system makes it difficult to scroll down the Births, Deaths and Marriages database.

    I like the old way!!!! I realize I’min the minority, but that doesn’t make me wrong.

  20. patricialgrant1949

    I am wondering is the away I take the pictures grantand turn them the other way on the page without making the faces looking long?


  21. Sharon McKeon

    Is there anyway to combine 2 family trees or projects in one book and not exceed the 250 page limit? I have 2 lines I have traced and would like to publlish in one book if possible

  22. Harry Beam

    I think this is a great setup. It has made my grandchildren understand more of their family heritage thru the “FAMILY TREE” I had set up. Congradulations on a superior job.
    May I ask if the “FAMILY TREE” I have in the system can I print it onto a disc in case something happens such as a crash If so how is it done? Thank You, H.B.

  23. Julia Green

    I have been frustratedly repeating a search on the 1880 Census for over 2 years now, getting nowhere. I have called and tried to speak with someone who could help. No one could. So here I am. I find a hit for Mary Reid in Hampden County, Massachusetts, but the viewer brings up the wrong page. I can see my family in the margin of one page, but their page is missing. I know this is not the place for this but I cannot get an answer elsewhere. Please help, someone, anyone. Thank you.

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