Posted by Ancestry Team on July 24, 2008 in Website

This month I interviewed Marie McFadden, a very talented graphic designer in our Creative Services group, in the hope that she would give up a few trade secrets. When Marie designs a page in AncestryPress, she seems to achieve a magical balance between elegance and simplicity. Her pages are always visually compelling but never kitschy or cluttered.

After talking to Marie, I realized that many of her tricks of the trade really boil down to a few common sense guidelines. By “common sense” I mean they seem totally obvious after someone with many years of professional training and experience has pointed them out to you.

But the point is that you don’t need to be a pro to make an amazing book in AncestryPress because, first, Marie and her colleagues are busy creating lovely backgrounds for you. Second, our product team has engineered the book-building tool with you, the average person with no design training, in mind. And third, Marie has provided helpful tips for combining all the different elements of your book into a beautiful, harmonious whole.

With that in mind, I’d like to tell you about some new features that will make it easy to amp up the “wow” factor in your AncestryPress projects.


I hope you’ve been taking lots of photos this summer — or scanning lots of old ones — because as soon as you’ve finished reading this blog, you’re going to want to experiment with our new frames, masks and corners. Go to the new Frames tab on the left-hand side of AncestryPress. You’ll see three separate folders for frames, masks and photo corners.

Let’s start with frames. Since these frames look like embellishments, your first instinct will be to grab a frame, drag it over to the page and place it on top of a photo. But hold on a second. These are smart frames. To apply a frame to a photo, just select the photo…

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…and then click on the frame.

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The frame will magically appear on the page, perfectly centered over the photo. The frame automatically resizes itself to fit the photo. However, if the photo has a different aspect ratio than the frame, but photo gets automatically cropped to fit the frame’s aspect ratio.

What if your photo magically cropped itself and something important got lost? No worries. You can adjust the crop by dragging the photo within the frame. Just select the photo and then click the pointy icon with four arrows in the image editing toolbar (it’s just to the right of the Zoom icon).

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Move the photo…

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…and then click somewhere else on the page (anywhere outside the frame) to apply the change.

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Note that you cannot rotate these magical frames. So if you apply a horizontal frame to a vertical image — as I’ve done in the example above — part of your photos will get cropped off. If you want to rotate a frame, you can use a non-magical frame from the Other Content tab (click the Embellishments folder and then the Frames sub-folder).


Think of a mask as a cookie cutter that you use to change the shape of your photo. You apply a mask in exactly the same way you apply a frame. The only difference is that no frame appears on the page.

Again, select the photo…

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…and then click on the mask you want to use.

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If the crop doesn’t turn out quite right, drag the image within the frame…

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…and then click anywhere outside the frame to apply the change.

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This page shows some of the different effects you can get by using masks. Notice that the photo in the bottom left corner is a rectangle with rounded corners and the photo across the top of the page has fuzzy borders. In my opinion, the fuzzy borders work particularly well with sepia and black-and-white photos. In the example below, I’ve made the top photo 30% transparent so that it blends into the background, which makes the other two photos stand out a little more.

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Photo Corners

The photo corners work in a similar manner, except that there’s no automatic cropping or resizing. Select a photo and then click on the photo corner you want to use. It will be magically applied to all four corners of your photo.

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In case you’d rather apply your photo corners in a tedious, manual fashion, you’ll find an identical set of corners in the “Borders & Corners” folder under Embellishments (in the Other Content tab). I can’t imagine why you’d want to use the non-magical corners, since they require a lot of copying, rotating and nudging, but there they are. Just in case.


I can think of some reasons why you’d want to use the non-magical borders in the Borders & Corners folder. Sometimes you want to put a decorative border around an image without changing the shape or aspect ratio of the image. In that case, you can adjust the size and shape of the border to fit the image.

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Pick the border you want, drag it over to the page and resize it to fit vertical sides of the image. You’ll need two copies, since there are two vertical sides. Then repeat the process for the horizontal sides. In the example above, I followed Marie’s advice to put a frame around a census record. It does look better without the black edges, no?

Of course, you can automatically apply a solid-colored border without changing the shape of the image by using the drop-down menu and color picker in the image editing toolbar.

Adding Pages

On a separate topic, we’ve recently made it easier to add pages to your book. To insert a new page, right-click on a page thumbnail at the bottom of the AncestryPress interface. You’ll see a little fly-out menu that lets you add new pages from templates, add a single blank page, or delete or copy the page you’re currently on.

If you select “Add pages,” you’ll see a screen that looks like this:

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Note that you can only add one family history template at a time. That’s because most of these templates are based on an online family tree and you have to select a tree and starting person for each template. But for photo book themes, you can add as many pages as you want. Use the Control key to select multiple pages.

Let’s say you want to add record pages for all the records linked to a particular person. Click the Record Page thumbnail and then click the “Add Page(s)” button. Select the tree and the person. You’ll see a list of all the records that are linked to that person.

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Check all the records you want to include in your book and then click “Add Page(s).” In this example there’s only one record available, but if there were 10 or 20 records I could include all of them — or just pick the ones that contain the most relevant information.

Facing Tree Pages

Finally, if you feel that a single page doesn’t give you enough space for a family tree, you can now build a spread with two family trees — a left-facing tree and a right-facing tree.

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This approach essentially lets you create a combination tree with a starting couple and four generations of ancestors, whereas a single-page combination tree lets you include a starting couple, two generations of ancestors and one generation of descendants.

We’ve got lots of good stuff coming out in the next few weeks — including several new themes and some new output options — so please check back often and tell us 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.


  1. Joyce Halvorsen

    Hello. Glad to see you are updating the format & publishing page. I’m about to finish adding the photos to my finished book. I am finding that some of my photos don’t fit the format page or the frames are too big for the photo. I have almost too much information in my text and when I want to place the text on the page using the information I’ve worked so hard to save in my work pages, I find that I have to edit it down to fit the book. Is there a faster way to do this? The add another page element is wonderful to use. What if I add a page and it winds up in the wrong spot in the book? How do I easily “move” the page to another part of the book? Editing is not always easy as the print on my computer is so small…if I enlarge it I loose control of the format….what next? I think I will need your assistance before I finalize the book for printing. My project is under DEANE-DEANE HISTORY – If you wish to contact me, please e-mail me…it may be easier to phone me. I have checked out your “learning Center” and like the new searching programs you provide very much. Searching is actually the fun and easy part for me. I LOVE working with and am enjoying learning so much about the many branches or my family tree. This will be a book made for myself and my Mother and sisters so we will want a beautiful book to gift one another. I would like to discuss this with you. Thank you….Joyce
    phone 352-365-4395 EST

  2. Jim

    Thanks for the constant improvements as well as your tips for design.

    I would appreciate some tips from your designers on the subject of fonts. I am using Garmond for my text and Garmond/Italic for captions. I was hoping to use a sans-serif font for titles but the available Gothic and Franklin Gothic look a little strange to me. So for now, I am using a larger Garmond (maybe bold) for titles.

    Any more fonts in the works? Or perhaps some suggestions from the pros?

  3. I appreciate the added instructions, my first book I sweated over for six months, but it turned out really beautiful. I was hoping that more and different designs would be available to choose from as I didn’t want my next book to look the same as the first. Thank you for always improving and giving simple advice on how to design.

  4. R. Holman

    I really appreciate the ideas for working on my family history. I have organized my information, I was hoping for a beautiful way to share it. This gives me an idea.

    thanks a bunch

  5. Stefanie Condie

    Jim, we are getting ready to add about 10 new font families. Those should be available sometime next month.

  6. Jerry

    I really like your presentation of the left-facing tree and a right-facing tree for 4 generations, but I am unable to locate the page template for this format. Please provide additional information on how to create these pages. Thank you….Jerry

  7. Stefanie Condie

    Jerry, click the Pages icon in the top navigation menu and then click “Add Pages.” If you click “Family History” you’ll see all the family history templates, including “5 Gen Tree Left” and “5 Gen Tree Right.” You can also access these templates by right-clicking on any page thumbnail at the bottom of the main AncestryPress workspace.

  8. Vickie Bell

    The articles here have been very useful and I am enjoying playing with the features. I would appreciate if someone could help me with printing the pages that I have created. When I am using one of your backgrounds or template pages, I cannot print the page without a white border around the edge of the page. Is there a way to make sure that the background prints the entire sheet?

  9. Diana Larson

    This comment doesn’t necessarily apply to this particular post. Among the various embellishments available, does Ancestry Press have any male/female silhouettes? If not, does Ancestry Press have any plans to offer silhouettes? In the case of ancestors who pre-date photography or those for whom we just do not have any photos, silhouettes often help spice up a family tree chart or family group sheet and make it look very nice. Anxious to hear your thoughts. Thank you!

  10. Stefanie Condie

    Diana: Yes, there are male and female silhouettes available. They’re in the “Miscellaneous” folder (under Embellishments). Just type the word “silhouette” into the search field — that way you won’t have to scroll through all the embellishments in that folder.

  11. Josie

    It would be great if there was an older version of the male and female silhouettes also (like the ones on the “Famous Ancestors” tool.

  12. I love all the improvements and appreciate all your work. I design scrapbooks as a business and I’ve discovered my clients really love having pages printed individually and displayed in a top load scrapbook album. This allows them to add pages and replace pages on which they have new or corrected information instead of having to reprint an entire book. (Anyone had the experience of harrassing your family members for information without response… then after you show them your beautifully printed book, they say, “why didn’t you include ________? or that’s not correct!”) The pages have the additional benefit of being inserted into page protectors (great for wear and tear… not to mention households with children =).

    Just wondering if you plan to offer an option of printing the pages individually or allowing members to upload the pages to a professional print house. From my research, most home printers cannot offer the archival longevity that professional printers can. I would love to have that option as well as the ability to purchase a top load scrapbook that would fit both sizes of Family History books (or the ability to size the pages in the standard 12 x 12 scrapbook size)

  13. Barbara Scott

    I am looking for a cousin, father was James Casey 6th street, Columbus, Ohio, her name is Cathy Casey. Is there someplace on this site where she might see it? She is probably married and changed her last name. We are related to William Hammond also on 6th Street, Columbus, Ohio, To; Samuel Lee Scott and William P. Scott, Naples, Fl.
    Please contact me and let me know how to go about looking for her, thank you, Barbara scott

  14. Anja

    Hi Stefanie,

    i am in the process of planning my wedding and after creating my family books with ancestrypress it was clear to me that i want something similar for my wedding invitations / save the date cards. I would like to include 2-3 Generations of our family on the invitation with their old wedding pictures. I can’t find this anywhere and i will design it on my own now, but i thought this would be a great addition to your product line, as those invitations could be used for family reunions and special events as well. I am a huge fan of ancestrypress, keep up the good work!

  15. Carol Castaños

    I think its great you have been able to upload and create so many new backgrounds, most of them are very nice but I think you have forgotten the original idea about Ancestry. I feel you have been taking another road and making to many backgrounds for hundrends of occations others than history and ancient topics You have been making a lot of contents and backgrounds for modern scrapbooking and its ok but dont forgett the original idea! I really loved it and I hope you keep on making military, life style and country backgrounds, ancient history is what we need, the ones with the old ships are fantastic, Id like more of those, we have so little.. Most of the other backgrouds are useless for me. Please dont forgett the original purpose of this site. If some one wants a picture book we can get it anywere else but I chose ancestry because it was different and special to me, you gave great importance to history and ancestry. please dont change it or forget it.

    thank you

  16. Stacie McKay

    I agree with Carol… while I love the new backgrounds and embellishments, most do not work for my family history books.

    I would love more simple pencil art, scrolls, etc. for the pages without alot of pictures and text.

    I’d also LOVE to be able to use frames for text boxes, not just photos. So that when I have a title of a page as a person’s name, I can frame it. Most of the frames and tags cannot be stretched to properly fit text and the ‘magic’ frames can not be added to text boxes.

    I love the new left-hand facing tree, but do not have 5 generations, any chance of getting a 4 generation tree, or the ability to manipulate the lines on the 5??


  17. Anne McCauley

    I am struggling with the final draft of my family history book-concentrating more on my narrative of the miagration pattern from Va-NC-GA-FLA than the correct pedigreechart. Since the families mostly had ten children, I feel that typewritten lists my cousins is good enoughto just copy in book.
    My prime objective is to illustrate some beautiful pioneer and Victorian pictures of the family.
    Right now I have my husband
    s family coming from INdiana to New Jersey to help a handicapped son moved apartments and I am not able to finish my book or atleast the first draft whichI promised all my Southern relatives in my X-mas card.
    I have a Dell lap top with a HP printer. My husband brought me a External Disk Drive for saving my pictures. All because of a local photoshop class last May I bought Photoshop Elements 6 and have most of my pictures -but not all saved in an organized manner but I still have to SAVE themon the external disk drive. I wish I couldbuy a Mac computer because I just learned today that it has automatic saving capacity within thirty minutes. I was told also today at a computer store that they couldorder me a software to help meget “automatic saving ” capacityfor lmy Dell computer but that it will be VERY difficult for me to use. I realize that I can save my putting thingson a CD but I have never done that.
    How much wouldit cost for yourcompany to print 15 copies of my book (black & white 20 pictures and about 50 pages of writing. I have done the bibliography. I need to follow instructions of my book the “Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century” by Michael J. Leclerc of the New England Genealogical Society in order to number my pages, and ancestors. I seem to remember that last July at my Boston one day class that there is a way that as I number each ancestor that the Index will automatically add that name in alphabetical order. I have yet to do that and now I have four house guests coming. I am a housewife witha retired husband. I just don’t know if the relatives will stay here for one or two weeks.

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