Posted by Ancestry Team on July 24, 2008 in Website

Marie McFadden is an associate art director at She designed most of the country backgrounds in AncestryPress, as well as the “Photo Book for Mom” theme. In an interview with Stefanie Condie, Marie offers guidelines for creating a book that will make a lasting impression on your family and friends.

SC: If I’m creating an AncestryPress book, how can I use embellishments to enhance a page without overwhelming it or detracting from the family history information?

MM: I would say the first thing you want to do is make sure your embellishments match. If you already have a lot of information on your page, you might want to use fewer embellishments. But don’t be afraid to manipulate them so that they enhance the elements you already have on the page and bring them to life. If you have a lot of photos on the page and you don’t have room for a lot of embellishments, you can use embellishments to accent the photo corners. They won’t detract from the photo if they all match and they go with the background.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try combining two or three embellishments. You can layer the elements on a page and place an embellishment behind something so that only part of the embellishment is showing. You can use an embellishment by itself on one page and combine it with something else on the opposite page, so that each page has a unique look, and yet the two pages match.

SC: Should I have a consistent look and feel for each page type? For example, should all the family tree pages look the same?

MM: When I did a family history book, I wanted some consistency between all the timeline pages and all the family tree pages. The timeline pages didn’t look exactly alike, but they all had the same background, so I knew it was a timeline page. And then to differentiate between a woman and a man, I would put the same feminine tag on all the women’s pages and a more masculine tag on all the men’s pages.

SC: So you’re using the embellishments and backgrounds not just to make the page more visually interesting, but also to help orient the reader.

MM: Right. You don’t have to do it that way, obviously, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little bit of consistency when you have so much going on and so much information.

SC: What should I keep in mind when I’m selecting a background for a particular chart or image?

MM: You have to think about what’s on your page. If there are a lot of photos, are they all in color or are they black-and-white? Think about the other information on the page as well. We have several country backgrounds that are perfect if you’re highlighting an ancestor from a specific country. But you want to be careful that you don’t make your images so large that you’re filling up the whole page and you can’t even see the background.

SC: So if you have a large image you should use a more subtle background that doesn’t have a lot going on.

MM: Right, or maybe a background that has repeating patterns. And if you have a lot of text on your page, you don’t want to use a busy background. If you have a page that’s just photos, or just a photo and a caption, that’s where you could use a background that has a little more movement. But if you have a ton of information, it’s going to be better if you have a simple background so that your information really shines and it’s not competing with the background.

When you’re doing a book, it’s also good to think about what you’re going to have on both pages of a spread. Pick backgrounds that go together. If you have a really busy background on one page, I would go with a more subtle background on the opposite page. The page with the simple background functions like white space—it gives the reader’s eye a little bit of a break. The simple background is probably highlighting the information better, but the more elaborate background is probably a more of a “hero.” Because they work together as a spread, you’re going to have a balancing effect.

SC: So people really should be thinking more in terms of spreads rather than individual pages?

MM: I think both, because you want to concentrate on one page and make sure you get it just right. When you get one page done, you can play off that design in your next page. So in that regard, yes, you’re going to think about the spread. But you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. It can be overwhelming for some people to think about two pages at one time.

SC: Is it OK to mix color photos and black-and-white photos?

MM: There are going to be cases where you want to mix photos. My preference would be to stick with all color or all black-and-white on a particular page. It harmonizes a lot better. But that’s not going to work every single time.

SC: Most people, as they get further back in their family history, have fewer and fewer photos. How can I add visual interest to timelines and family group sheets if I don’t have any photos of those ancestors?

MM: You try to find maps or embellishments that are consistent with the rest of your book. And then really embellish the one photo you do have, or highlight the little bit of information you do have. Try to find generic images, like a historical postcard or maybe a document from the country the person was born in.

SC: Do you have any advice about formatting text for family history charts and photo captions?

MM: If you want to spice it up a little bit, don’t be afraid to play with color. You can do a lot with color, but you don’t want to go overboard. For instance, on a family tree, you could use dark green text for the men and pink text for the women. Use a complementary pink that matches some of the embellishments throughout the rest of the book, so it doesn’t look like you’re just picking random colors. Or you could decide that all the men on one side of the family are going to be in green and all the men on the other side are going to be in blue, so that you have a pattern.

SC: So there again you’re orienting the reader.

MM: Right. But it also adds a little bit of color to the page, because most of your pictures are going to be in black-and-white if you’re doing a family tree. In that case it’s nice to add some color. If you have color photos you probably would want to stick with black text.

SC: Would you recommend that people pick one font and stick with it throughout the whole book?

MM: I definitely would. I know it’s exciting to use different fonts because you think it’s going to add more variety to your book. But I would use one font for your headlines and titles, and then I would pick a nice, very readable font for your body copy so that it’s consistent and it looks nice and people can read it. Or you can use the same font for everything and just do your headlines and titles in capital letters, so that it still has the same look and feel. Capital letters are a great way to differentiate between a headline and body copy. Italics work great for sub-lines, because you’re using the same text but it’s a little bit different.

SC: How can I make a census record or other historical record interesting and meaningful to someone who isn’t familiar with historical records?

MM: The first thing you want people to see is the name of your ancestor. So you want to include the whole record, but you can also duplicate it and then crop and resize the copy and place it on top of the original record. You want to expand the row where the person’s name is so that people can see it and read it. You can also play with the color options or drag over a highlighter to call attention to the person’s name.

I would put a frame around the record, because most of the time the edges are uneven. Crop the record as close as you can and put a frame on it so you don’t have those uneven black edges. A lot of the images need to be rotated too, because they were scanned a little bit crooked. So don’t be afraid to crop and rotate. You really can make the image look better and it isn’t that hard to do.

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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. Cheryl Smith

    It sounds so interesting, but a bit worried about cost. How do I get more information???

  2. Janet Gregory

    Just read this article and found it really interesting along with the example also shown. Its given me an awful lot think about now for my neices 21st birthday.

  3. Lynn Milligan

    Sounds great but iam very worried about cost and as iam only a beginner I need help as I go through the pages.

  4. Waff

    Great tips that could be used on any type of a scrapbook project. I would love to see more ideas on how to present census pages and other documents in an appealing way.

  5. Stefanie Condie

    In response to all the questions about cost: There is no charge to create, edit or share an AncestryPress project, and you can print pages from home for free. To view the price list for professionally printed books and posters, click the “Product Pricing” link in the top right corner of the AncestryPress website (


    I just read this and found that I would like to make my own family history book. I belong to but would like more information on how to go about making a family history book. Thank you, Mary Jo Sibel…

  7. I am interested in making a book, are you supposed to make one for my side of the family and another for my husbands? I thought you must if there are only 24 pages. I don’t understand fully how to start, I have copied a lot of stuff already but thought the book would make a nice gift for my family.

  8. Stefanie Condie

    Georgia, you can actually include up to 250 pages in your book. The base price for a professionally printed book covers the first 24 pages; after that there’s a small fee for each additional page.

  9. ola chapman

    so far okay,a lot of work and searching,some seem unnecessary,but what do I know I’m a beginner.however,I do wish it could be simplier

  10. Rosemary Thorburn

    We are delighted with our second book and have just heard the third is on its way to Scotland. We have really enjoyed putting it together. To those who are worried that it might be difficult to do, it isn’t. Drafting the order of material out on paper can be useful. We are a couple of senior citizens and have managed without any difficulty to produce two really professional looking books, much admired.

  11. debra williams

    as a book goes back 4-5 generations how can i add the rest as i have gone back 8-9. is there a way without puting in blank pages and working it out myself

  12. Lois

    I want to include some historical information from a book which is out of print since the 1970’s and is unavailable for purchase anywhere. Will I violate copyright if I copy paragraphs?

  13. Victoria Wright

    Loved your advise. I started a book project today and was having some fun/some difficulties deciding on which background or frame to use…but I’ll get it…just need to go dig up more photos. Again, thanks for the ideas, can’t wait to get back to my project and physically see it in my hands and just not on!!

  14. Stefanie Condie

    Lois, I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that you will not violate any copyright laws if you use a small percentage of the book’s total content and include a proper source citation in each instance.



  16. It sounds easy tell you start on the book. I do not see a Genealogy report form in the book. I have two bk’s to be made and they are small, not a lot info. on the familys. So I need to make it more interesting for the family. Not many pictures or any stores, do have census. What would you suject?

  17. Found this interesting. Just was wondering how one would go about putting together information so it also includes siblings of direct ancesters. For example i am working on doing a project for my first grandchild-I would like to include his great-great grandmother along with her siblings even though most are deceased. I guess I would like this project to be as detailed as possible.

  18. Bernadine Ware

    Thanks for letting me become a part of the Ancestry Press family. it look easy but it so hard to chose what to do. I wish you could chose for me and i will be happy.
    Thank again \Bernadine ware.

  19. doris wall

    i have been using 2005.on computer 1.
    Ihave laptop and lost the the disk.I have 300 names .can you help ?? doris

  20. Veronica

    OH BOY!!! I need HELP! I am trying to put together my family history book, how in the world do I get everyone in it and keep it in cronilogical order?
    Should I do like my dad’s father’s side, then his mother’s side and then the same for my mom? Is that going to be in order? Ugh, I am so frustrated!!! Help PLEASE!

  21. I have been working on a family history book for almost a year. The ancestry press is the greatest. I have a couple of questions I have numerous records that have been photo copied from micro film. They look aweful all black you can barley read them. I have fixed a few using adobe but it would take forever to fix them all any idea how to display them in the book with out making the book look bad.
    Also any idea’s on how to display tombstones maybe a background of somesort could be used developed where we could just insert the picture of the stone.
    Thank you

  22. Stacie McKay

    To those unsure about starting a book, my suggestion is to just jump right in and work on a ‘sample’ book to get the feel of how the program works. Play with all the features, click on everything – it’s a sample so no worries if you ‘mess it up’.

    I did a book with 49 pages – easy to add pages and LOVE the new background features and embellishments.

    For my book I did maternal ancestry on the left pages [pinkish background] and paternal on the right pages [blueish background].

    I also labeled the pages [Grace E. Monahan’s Maternal Great-Grandparents] so that folks would know who I’m talking about.

    I used the family group sheet, but moved the information around for a better flow. My family was very impressed and found the information easy to follow.

    Good luck!!!

  23. Leopold Roberge

    I have researched my family history in Canada to the first ancestors arriving in Quebec,Canada.

    I have prepared 10 pages of text which will likely result in 20 or more pages when photos and diagram charts are included.

    Can someone help by coaching me through the project at “mycanvas” or with AncestryPress (or are they one and the same)?

  24. candi boehner

    I would like to stitch a family tree doing 4 generations. Have you found a pattern you prefer? Thank you for your time.

  25. candi boehner

    I would like to stitch afamily tree for 4 generations. Have you seen a pattern you like? Thank you for your time. Candi

  26. Karen Dei

    Do you have to belong to to create a book?
    I have 6+ generations with hundreds of family members.
    I just purchased FTM 2009 and thought that I would be able to create a book through this program, as in previous editions of FTM.

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