Posted by Ancestry Team on October 16, 2008 in Website

Kelvin Hulet is principal product manager for MyCanvas (formerly AncestryPress). In this interview, he explains how Ancestry’s online publishing service has evolved — and how you can make the most of it.

Q. AncestryPress was just relaunched under the name MyCanvas. How will the change from AncestryPress to MyCanvas affect current AncestryPress users?

What the user will see is a new site called MyCanvas, so you’ll see the MyCanvas logo. When you order a book, you’ll see emails coming from MyCanvas. But the application itself — the functionality — is basically the same. It’s presented a little bit differently, so users will need to get used to the way it works, but they can still create a book in the same way they did before by selecting a tree, selecting a starting person and picking the type of book they want.

Another thing that’s different is that there are a lot of new photo book themes that aren’t family history related, on topics like weddings, photography and family.  

Q: What was your vision for Ancestry’s self-publishing application when you started developing it two years ago?

We felt that we had a great site for people to come and research their family history — to find ssdi records, to connect with other people, to build a family tree — but we didn’t have any output options. People had all this information that they’d collected over the years, but they couldn’t really show it to anyone. So the vision was to allow users to put their research in a book format that they could share with their family.

Usually in a family there’s one person who does all of the work and they’re really excited about family history, but the rest of the family has a hard time getting excited about it. So we thought if Ancestry users could put their research in a format that’s more visual and that brings these ancestors to life, the rest of the family would get excited as well.

We wanted a format where it would be very easy to create a book from an Ancestry tree and the records attached to that tree. Users could auto-generate the skeleton of a book, and then beyond that we wanted to allow them to completely customize it. The auto-generated book would pull all that information from the tree, organize it, and then let the user add photos, text and embellishments to make their family history come to life.

Q: Why did you build an online application instead of expanding the desktop book building tool in Family Tree Maker?

The reason we went with an online application is so that users can easily take advantage of all of the records they’ve found on Ancestry and attached to their tree. That way they don’t have to download all the records and then build from an application on their desktop.

We also wanted to take advantage of the ability to share and to collaborate. With the Internet, you can share your book digitally and allow other people to come view it. On a desktop application you’d have to upload the book to share it with other people.

In addition, there are people who are interested in family history but haven’t done a lot of research. On they can easily start a tree. We wanted to encourage them to search and find records and upload photos to their tree. We felt like an online application was a great place for them to do that because they could do it for free and not have to purchase an application and then download and upload.

One advantage is that maybe they’re in a library doing research and they don’t have their computer with them. They can go find records and attach things to their tree even when they don’t have their own computer. It’s very mobile, so there’s a great benefit there.

Another advantage is that if they had a hard drive crash, the online application works great as a backup. If they had everything on their computer and didn’t have it also stored on the web, they would lose all that information. So we wanted to allow the collaboration, the backup and the mobility of having an online application.

Q: You get dozens of enhancement requests from users every month. How do you decide which features to implement?

I read every single request that we get through the “Feedback” link. We actually create spreadsheets and categorize the information we get, and then we look at the volume of requests for a particular feature. We try to determine how many users will be impacted by a change, and we also bounce the requests off of our existing plans for future features.

Q: What new features can MyCanvas users look forward to in the next few months?

One of the major things we’ll be working on is a custom calendar. Users will be able to pick a starting month and then the calendar will go a year from that month. It won’t be fixed to a calendar year from January to December. What we would like to do eventually is tie the calendar to their online tree so that it automatically pulls the births and marriages of individuals in the tree.

In conjunction with the change to MyCanvas, we just released a number of new features. We have a new line of premium bindings and covers. Users can now modify their book cover from within the Project Editor. Before this change, they would enter the title when they ordered their book. Now they can do it while they’re editing the book. In addition, we now offer custom covers, so users can add photos and text and whatever else they want. There’s also a new book format — the 8×8 photo book.

Q. So the cover becomes another page to design.

Yes. If you look at the page thumbnails at the bottom of the main workspace, the first page is actually the cover. It’s got the front and back in one page.

Q: Tell me more about the new binding and cover options.

We used to have only two cover options: bonded leather and nuba (leatherette). Those both have stitched bindings. Now we also have genuine leather, nubuck, velvet and silk covers. As far as the bindings go, we have a new board book binding for the 8×8 format. Those are really stiff, heavy pages that lie completely flat. If you wanted to, you could actually have images go across from one page to the other — so that’s an exciting, very upscale binding. In addition, we have what’s called a hinge binding for the 8½ x 11 landscape format. That one also lies fairly flat. We are also offering a padded leather book in the 8½ x 11 format.

Q: What binding and cover options might be appealing to a new MyCanvas user?

I think padded leather for the family history market. We’ve gone to trade shows and people have really liked the padded leather book because it’s less expensive than the velvet or nubuck books, but it looks nice. For people who are just interested in a photo book, I think the 8×8 custom cover will be very popular.

Q: What advice would you give to Ancestry customers for making the most of their MyCanvas projects?

Don’t be afraid to try things. There’s an undo feature. Try something — you can always undo it. You can always start another project or make a copy of your project, so don’t be afraid to experiment. We found out that some people have no idea that you can resize a picture, that you can crop off the black edges from census records, that you can add text, or that you can move things.

Every MyCanvas project is totally customizable and editable. I would suggest taking a few minutes to understand the capabilities of the software. Browse the Help section — it’ll give you an idea. We also have a number of help videos. Take the time to watch those and look at the sample pages on the site to get a vision of what you can do.


  1. Nancy Rogers

    If you create your book on line with my canvas or what ever you call it, and for what ever reason you cancel your subscription to ancestry what happens to your book?

  2. Stefanie Condie

    Nancy, you do not need an Ancestry subscription to use MyCanvas. So if you cancel your subscription, you will still have access to any projects you’ve created in MyCanvas. The only difference is that you won’t be able to add new Ancestry records to your book. But any records that are already in your book will still be part of the book.

  3. Deb Elliott

    Why won’t the update feature add all the new event dates I have added to my ancestry people page? It added the military dates but not dates for things like new residence and retirement. It leaves a whole area of the timeline blank. Thanks

  4. Larry Czarnik

    >Q: Why did you build an online application instead of expanding the desktop book building tool in Family Tree Maker?
    The reason we went with an online application is so that users can easily take advantage of all of the records they’ve found on Ancestry and attached to their tree. That way they don’t have to download all the records and then build from an application on their desktop…..

    With that logic, why bother to redevelop FTM into FTM 2009 – a program to run on the desktop???????

    We would have hoped that Kelvin would be more sensitive to the hundreds of thousands of people who have invested in the FTM program and the similar # who now must fight to get the “book” facility back into the program because money was spent indulging Kelvin’s myoptic vision.

    For the rest of Kelvin’s reply – for every reason to have an online facility, the “offline” facility has an equally valid counter reason.

    Happy to have Kelvin’s fancy indulged, but it should NOT have been at the expense of the extensive community of users that had already invested in FTM program and it’s book and web features.

    2008OC18 08:10 Sydney

  5. Stefanie Condie

    Larry, thanks for your message. As Kelvin is currently on vacation, I’ll attempt to reply to your question. As you astutely pointed out, there are pros and cons to both online and desktop applications. For this reason many family historians use both types of software. AncestryPress was never intended to replace or divert resources away from Family Tree Maker. The decision was made to develop an online publishing application that would leverage the online resources of (for all of the reasons Kelvin mentioned in the interview). However, the company remains committed to supporting the FTM community and improving the publishing capabilities of our desktop product. I don’t think anyone here regards these two initiatives as mutually exclusive or competing projects. And since the online software is free to use, FTM users can benefit from improvements in both applications with no additional investment. While there undoubtedly were some missteps in the development of FTM 2008 – which the FTM team is working very hard to remedy – I hope you won’t let that prevent you from giving the online application a try. 🙂

  6. Marty

    I submitted a comment earlier today to the entry above this, but as it seems to have been deleted, I am posting it again. I would request that when photos are dragged into the MyCanvas pages, the name/title associated with that photo be imported as a photo caption. This would save a tremendous amount of time in creating books. Thank you.

  7. Larry Czarnik


    Well if nothing else I am impressed with the timeliness of your response – just a fraction over 2 hours.

    And it is MOST appreciated that it is stated in black and pink that FTM is working to put back functionality that pre-2008 version had.

    But there ARE other concerns that I didn’t take the time to express. Mainly one of privacy and Ancestry’s T%C’s which give them carte blanche use of any uploaded data.

    But far be it for me alone to raise the issue. [Thanks for your support Helen in #9]. I’ll anonymously include a comment by another user from our FTM UG’s private forum when Kelvin’s answer was cross posted there. [Stefanie, I have also cross posted YOUR reply.]


    When I loaded my 2009 FTM for the first time the first thing I checked was the book building part and discovered that it is an online facility. I certainly will NOT be building my books online, firstly privacy, secondly I am still in the building stage and I am not ready to share all my information uncontrolled. Unlike GenesReunited where you have a measure of control and privacy for living people. I hope the creators of 2009 FTM will rethink the book build part and at least add a choice whether or not to upload to Ancestry as well as the ability to build within the 2009 FTM file on my PC.


    Thanks again for listening and more importantly responding.

    2008OC18 15:30 Sydney

  8. Tony Cousins

    Hi Stefanie,

    You stated “Nancy, you do not need an Ancestry subscription to use MyCanvas.”

    Don’t you need a subscription to create and add to a tree on the site?


  9. Stefanie Condie

    Tony, to create a tree on, you must be a registered user, but you don’t need to have a paid subscription. Registered users can access all the tree building tools, but not the records in’s content collections.

  10. M L Lacombe

    Could you please let me know, if I have to reinvite family members to view my book project? It seems none of the previous links work anymore!!

  11. joyce patterson

    I tried to download an old picture from my ancester’s scrapbook in FTM16 and in my canvas it took me to my pictures on the computer “c”. I have downloaded all those pictures to my ftm16 scrapbook. I guess somehow now I have to reenter them into my pictures?
    thanks, joyce

  12. I see a lot about the book’s, but never see a price on them.
    I am not nearly ready.
    Do I have to do each Family line seperate?
    I have tried with my family line amd just got it. I didn’t get my Maternal line.
    I have a lot to learn, so am really nervous.
    Thank You
    Margaret Audet

  13. Col Varian

    I have completed about 110 pages of Family stuff going back about4 generations.But there is a lot more to do. How do I transfer my work into ONE complete work.


  14. Suzanne

    Perhaps not having to be an Ancestor subscriber to use MyCanvas is part of the problem.
    Too much traffic; slow, freezing, I could give myself a manicure.
    Get rid of it. I dread using. It doesn’t work well. What a disappointment.

  15. Suzanne

    I just reread one of the comments. Do I understand correctly that since MyCanvas evolved, it is no longer available to just Ancestry members, but will be published on the web? For anyone to use/abuse?

    I hope not.

  16. Can I still publish myself instead of having to buy a book? My project is almost finished and I want to continue the way I’m doing it. Half of it has already been printed.

  17. Patty Rice

    I have many generations that i have placed on my family tree. How do I get them all printed out so I can see them in a chart?

  18. Elaine

    I am working on my first book and don’t have a lot of picture’s of older ancestors. I would like to use the silouettes in their place but can’t figure out how to reduce them, or any embellisment for that matter, when you drag them to the page they remain large. How can I reduce them to fit the small picture squares? Thanks.

  19. Stefanie Condie

    Sue, you can still print your family history book from home.

    Elaine, you can resize the silhouettes (or any other embellishment) the same way you resize a photo. When you click on any image on a page, you’ll see a little resize icon in the bottom left corner. Drag it to shrink or enlarge the image.

  20. Neil Barnett

    Have you considered making it possible to copy and paste text from word into canvas book projects? I have a number of stored pages I’d rather not retype since I am a very slow “hunt & peck” typist.

  21. MyCanvas looks really interesting – and works with Mac / Safari! Yay!

    I will definitely be making and ordering calendars when the dates integration is ready.

    The posters look nice, I especially like the double-sided tree. It would be interesting to maybe have some drop spots where we could drop semi- transparent background photos. I’m thinking here of being able to have a few greyed out group family photo in the background.

    A timeline poster that lets us drop in photos, add text and choose background images such as maps, town photos etc and control the fade into each other would be interesting.

    Can’t wait to find enough time to sit down and plot out a book!

  22. Carol

    I do not wish to upload my data to a website owned by Ancestry or FTM. Unless you plan to make publishing offline available again, I am going to purchase another genealogy software package.

  23. Belinda Carroll

    How do I get living people (they are privatized on the web) to show up in my MyCanvas pages? I get their names, but none of their information. If I’m only doing 4 generations, a lot of those people are living, and I don’t want to have to type all the information in!

  24. jennifer

    I would like to attend seminar, but it is on a weekday at 5:00pst. I am in traffic at that time. Anyway that I can see a taped version?

  25. Joyce Langlas

    I have begun a photo book in MyCanvas. Will I be able to move this over to Family Tree Maker, when FTM begins a publish/book function?

  26. Robyn Orban

    It seems that you cannot register for the webinar on using MyCanvas unless you’ve already published something using MyCanvas. Is the webinar a thinly disguised marketing ploy?

  27. Gordon

    I know nothing about MyCanvas or the desktop publisher. With more than 13,000 names in my data base I have no idea how to start. My book will be done for my grandchildren with family lines for both of their parents. I am concerned about a format that will:
    (A)allow for locating people in the book
    (B)encorporate my pictures
    (C)encorporate family stories

  28. How does FTM/Ancestry (whoever now owns them) respond to the article critiqing FTM2009 published in the latest issue of Family Tree Magazine? The faults found are major and disturbing. I’ve been researching for over 27 years and have put my trust in FTM all these years only to have the floor pulled out from underneath me by removing the book option back in 2008. It’s too late for me to go back to an older version and I’m ready (as are my relatives!!!) to publish. I don’t want to publish something that will have over 10000 names with doesn’t have an index!!!!

  29. How does FTM/Ancestry (whoever now owns them) respond to the article critiqing FTM2009 published in the latest issue of Family Tree Magazine? The faults found are major and disturbing. I’ve been researching for over 27 years and have put my trust in FTM all these years only to have the floor pulled out from underneath me by removing the book option back in 2008. It’s too late for me to go back to an older version and I’m ready (as are my relatives!!!) to publish. I don’t want to publish something that will have over 10000 names which doesn’t have an index!!!!

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