Posted by Ancestry Team on November 14, 2008 in Website

My sister Christel has never been comfortable using a computer. An experienced pediatric nurse, she works in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital that handles the toughest cases in a five-state region. She can resuscitate a two-pound preemie without breaking a sweat, but she doesn’t know how to use Google. Occasionally she calls to ask me for some random piece of information and I say, “Well, you know, there’s this brand new invention called the Internet…”

Every year about this time she starts collecting photos to make a family calendar — or rather, nine family calendars, since she always makes different versions for her siblings, parents and in-laws. For the past couple of years, she’s been using a popular photo sharing site that that offers rigid templates and a rather convoluted user experience. Creating the calendars is a painful process for both of us, since she demands that I sit next to her the whole time to provide technical and moral support.

So I was excited when I tried out the new MyCanvas calendar utility, which is so easy to use that I think even my technologically-challenged sister can manage it on her own. Best of all, the creative possibilities are endless. Our creative director, Chris Trainor, has designed a lovely template with a different layout for each month. If you stick with the template, you can build a calendar from start to finish in just a few minutes. But it’s more fun if you think of the template as a starting point for your own imagination.

Here’s the default layout for January. I can just drop a couple of photos into the image boxes and I’ve got a nice looking page.

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But let’s say I want to keep the portrait (vertical) orientation of this particular photo instead of auto-cropping it to fit a landscape (horizontal) image box. I can just extend the image box by dragging the bottom edge all the way down, and then resize the photo to make it fit better on the page. If I’d wanted to, I could have deleted both image boxes and designed my own page from scratch.

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When I get to April, I decide to keep the default layout, but I want a different background.

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No problem. MyCanvas has a large and growing selection of page backgrounds — almost 400 the last time I checked — and I can use any of them in my calendar.

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Notice that when I changed the background, the white leafy image in the bottom right corner of the page stayed put. That’s because it’s an embellishment, not part of the original background. I can either leave it there or delete it and add some new design elements to the page — in this case a couple of butterfly embellishments.

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Now let’s look at the bottom portion of the calendar. By default, the bottom page has a white background.

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If I want to jazz it up a little, I can apply a background to the bottom page, too. Here the background essentially functions as a border, since most of the page consists of a block of dates.

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If you want to make your calendar a little more personal, you can use one of your own photos as a background — just as you can in a MyCanvas photo book. Go to the My Photos tray in the left-hand side of the main workspace, right-click on a photo and then click “Use as background.”

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If you look at the top toolbar, you’ll see a Calendar transparency icon, which lets you adjust the opacity of the block of dates so that the background shows through. In the example below, the calendar section of the page is 62% transparent.

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Remember to pick a background for the bottom page that coordinates with the top page for the same month. You’ll get a chance to preview your calendar, so if you end up with two pages that look goofy together, you can always go back and edit that month before you place your order.

For September, I decide to apply a warm background called “Autumn Yellow” to the bottom page. Now I’m ready to add some special events. You can add up to three events per date. When I click on a date, a little black bar appears with the words, “Add/Edit Events.”

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When I click on that bar, a box pops up with spaces for up to three events, such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and any other day that you feel like celebrating. The calendar is pre-loaded with standard U.S. holidays, but if you live elsewhere you can easily delete those and add holidays that are relevant to you.

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After entering a birthday I can even add a photo of the birthday girl. Each date is a self-contained image box. I just drag the photo onto the page and drop it into the box for the right date.

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Using the zoom and pan tools, I can enlarge and reposition the photo so that the birthday girl’s face fills up the whole box.

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Then I just click anywhere on the page to crop off the rest of the photo.

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As always, you can insert text anywhere on any page. Note that if you enter events using the pop-up box, you will not be able to change the typeface or font size for that particular bit of text. You will be able to change the font color and alignment, however. You can also apply a different background color to the text box and even adjust the transparency of the background. If you don’t like the default typeface, you can simply create a new text box (by clicking the “T” icon in the top toolbar) instead of using the pop-up. That way you’ll be able to access all the options in the text editing toolbar — including the new feature I just mentioned that lets you change the background color and transparency of the text box.

If you’ve used MyCanvas to create a book or poster, you know that I’ve touched on just a few of the many ways that you can manipulate photos and other design elements in MyCanvas. If you’re new to MyCanvas, you might want to check out some of my other recent blog posts to get a few ideas. Anything you can do on a photo book page you can also do on a calendar page.

If you have any comments about the calendar utility, feel free to post them on this blog or send us a message through the “Give Feedback” link in the top right corner of the main MyCanvas workspace. I’d love to hear what you think!

P.S. We had a miscommunication that resulted in some mixed messages about our holiday promotion. The correct discount is 20%. If you saw a message that said 15%, just ignore that number and go ahead and use the code provided: ANHOLIDAY. Sorry about the confusion! The 20% discount applies to all MyCanvas products ordered before midnight PST on December 24. However, if you’re ordering holiday gifts you’ll want to get your order in by December 1 for premium books or December 11 for all other products…unless you want to pay for expedited shipping, and I know you don’t want to do that unless you’re truly desperate. The expedited shipping deadlines are December 4 for premium books or December 16 for everything else.


  1. Thank you for this simple and informative explanation. I’m going to the site next to look at it and get started. I do a family calendar like this every year and am ready to get it done this month–before the December crunch! So this is perfect timing–I’ll try to use MyCanvas this year instead of MS Publisher! Thanks so much!

  2. J.A. Lewis

    I don’t understand the point of having this calendar utility at What is the difference between this product and what we can buy at any photo gift site?

    I don’t want yet another calendar program where I have to manually enter 75-100 events. The number one thing I expect from a calendar generator at Ancestry is to be able to import events from my family file — birthdays, anniversaries, etc. — and have them automatically added to the calendar. In other words, I want to be able to generate a custom list from Family Tree Maker or other program and add all those events to the calendar. I would also like some sort of auto-size option so that I don’t have to manually crop every photo in the grid.

  3. Stefanie Condie

    J.A., thanks for your comment. The difference between the Ancestry (MyCanvas) calendar utility and calendars offered on a typical photo gift site is that MyCanvas gives you much greater flexibility in terms of design. You can customize every element on every page and even design pages from scratch. Eventually we plan to add some features that will leverage the data in your tree so that you don’t have to manually enter birthdays and anniversaries, etc. Just to be clear, you do not have to manually crop or resize a photo that you apply to a specific date. Any photo that you drop into a date will automatically adjust to fit the size of the box. But you have the option to resize or crop the photo if you want to focus on a certain part of the image. I should have done a better job of explaining that in my post…sorry for the confusion.

  4. J.A. Lewis

    The problem Stephanie, is that you have multiple groups at TGN that do not seem to communicate with each other. We see this over and over — no sychronization between the web trees and our software, no way to include attachments in downloaded data, and publishing options that seem to focus on appearance rather than content. In this case, the situation is that FTM team dropped the calendar feature and the Press team introduced a calendar that, while prettier, doesn’t have even minimal support for family history information.

    I can get a pretty calendar from My Publisher. What I can’t get anywhere, is a replacement for the calendar feature that I had in older versions of FTM.

  5. carol castanos

    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

  6. Stefanie Condie

    J.A., I just spoke with the lead engineer on the Family Tree Maker team to make sure I’m giving you accurate information. They are planning to release a patch early next year (Jan/Feb) that will include both a calendar feature and a book building tool, among other things. The calendar feature will be very similar to the one in older versions of FTM. You’ll be able to pull in birthdays and anniversaries for everyone in your immediate family, everyone in your tree or just people that you select. Like its predecessor, the new FTM calendar has a very simple design and is meant to be printed out on your desktop printer. The MyCanvas team plans to offer the best of both worlds – a calendar with family history features as well as lots of nifty design features – but unfortunately we weren’t able to fit the family history features into this initial release.

  7. J.A. Lewis

    I really think you are missing point. You are promoting this for holiday gifts to family members. Who cares what we may or may not be able to do after the beginning of the year; who gives out “family” calendars in March?

    I don’t think it is unreasonable for people who are paying Ancestry for access to genealogy informationto expect products that focus presenting that data. Right now, there is no real family history component to this product at all and as others have noted, the backgrounds even seem more suited to general scrapbooking than family history.

  8. Stefanie Condie

    J.A., I understand your concern. Unfortunately, because of resource constraints we can’t always develop new features as quickly as we would like. In this case, we made the assumption that many of our customers would prefer that we release the current calendar utility – which has the most robust design capabilities on the market – before the holidays rather than waiting until Jan/Feb to release a version that would have been integrated with trees. (As you pointed out, nobody’s giving out family calendars in March.) The current MyCanvas calendar was never meant to replace the calendar feature in the older versions of FTM, a print-from-home product that was not particularly “gifty.” Our intent was to provide a fun, creative gift option for customers who don’t have time to complete a more elaborate project (such as a family history book) or are looking for a gift with a lower price point.

  9. Karen M.

    I’m confused about this new calendar too. What does it have to do with family history if you can’t import information from either the online tree or a GEDCOM?

    Anyone who wants a “gifty” calendar can generate one with any number of programs. It’s true that they don’t all have as many WOW features but they do the job. What no one offers — and what should have been the distinguishing feature from Ancestry–is something that will combine our data with nice family history backgrounds and personal photos.

    The team who worked on this was obviously not focused at all on actual Ancestry customers. Your assumption that customes would be more interested in form rather than content was misguided.

  10. Well, I stumbled upon MyCanvas and have just been having a BLAST making family calendars using images I scanned earlier this year of vintage postcards that belonged to my husband’s great-grandparents! You can see some samples of what I’ve done so far at my genealogy blog here:

    I’m looking forward to doing this every year, and I hope you add more of the following embellishments and backgrounds: military, vintage, seasonal, year-round holiday and seasonal items.

    Keep up the good work!

    Miriam Robbins Midkiff
    Spokane, Washington, USA

  11. Stefanie Condie

    Someone just sent me a link to the “AnceStories” blog by Miriam (I don’t know her last name, sorry). She created a family history calendar in MyCanvas, using vintage postcards and leveraging the program’s freestyle design capabilities and embellishments. I especially love the page she designed for December (apparently Santa was skinnier back in the old days). If you’re looking for inspiration you should definitely check out Miriam’s blog:

  12. Jonelle

    Hello, I’m having a problem. I’d really like to start a tree with my grandmother that shows both her ancestry, her husbands ancestry and on the other side all of her children and grandchildren. How can I make this happen? Thank you!

  13. BJ DiCrocco

    I have a couple of coments on the calendar.
    First, it is difficult to pull in correct dates and I was dealing with less than thirty people. My workaround was to print a bare bones project in FTM2006 – yes, I have kept 2006, 2008, AND 2009 on my computer in order to gain without losing features!
    Second – one of the issues to annoy me personally in all of these MyCanvas projects is that I can only pull from one tree to a project- then I have to manually enter other information. I keep family lines separate. My husband is from overseas and his paternal line is large – his maternal line is extremely limited but common names and families intersect frequently from a small village and merging improperly is not easily corrected! For the projects it would be nice to pick a few of those choices from a tree by an add in feature without having to manually enter all of them.
    Which brings me to the third often complained about feature. Transferring a tree usually brings everyone without a death date as ‘Living’ leaving us to enter hundreds of names manually – that is ridiculous! The privacy toggle has some sort of glitch.
    My fourth complaint is also about backgrounds. I found the colors to not print well or as clear and bright as they show on the monitor. No, it is not my printer settings because in othe projects the colors print accurately! So it is limited to this area?
    All in all though – I LOVE this project. I printed for my parents, sister, nieces and nephew, and my adult sons and families. Birthday months rated those persons’ photos in color and remember to caption with their names. Anniversary months I used photos from their weddings to highlight it would be an anniversary month. Fathers Day I used all dads’ photos in sepia tones to differentiate and same for Mothers Day. Again those color choices were made due to backgrounds not printing as brightly as I would have preferred! All told they will make wonderful stocking stuffers!

  14. Brenda Cummings
    Although I recognize the frustration Ancestry owners might feel, I think the calendar feature is fabulous. I have ordered calendars for all my family this holiday; certainly a sale Ancestry would not have otherwise made. I could print them myself, but I’m so proud of them that I want to have them “professionally” printed!

    I ended up editing all the events I added from Ancestry (changing font and making the text shorter), so I don’t know that “auto” entering items from Family Tree maker would really have saved me much time or energy.

    When you do add this feature back to FTM, please keep in mind that us perfectionists will want to edit the text and tweak the placement of items… “auto-generating” a calendar can only take you so far.

    Brenda Cummings

  15. Carol King

    I agree with J A. I want the calendar feature that was in older versions of FTM. Although now I understand why they took it out.

    In years past I would make a calendar for the different sides of my family for Christmas. Last year I was unable to do this due to illness and when I started to work on it this year I found it was gone. Using a previous version isn’t an option as I now have Vista and it isn’t compatible.

    Please bring back the Calendar!

    Thank you

  16. Nancy Bird

    Just set down to do the yearly calendar for Christmas gifts, again this year and found it no longer available on 2009. Really a big disappointment.

  17. G. Cote

    I just upgraded to 2009 because of Vista and was very disappointed that the calendar feature was removed. Looking forward to the upgrade patch.

  18. peggyleaduncan

    I just loved doing the calendar project for my family. I consider it a great gift that you offer such a thing & I was more than happy to put my family information in & pictures I chose to use.I don’t understand all the fuss and I’m sorry that others aren’t happy with it. Count your blessings as they come & be grateful we have such a site here. I know I love it & look forward to more projects. My family thinks I am talented for putting these things together & I just tell them it’s so easy, they have all the templates there & all I have to do is add photos & dates. No biggie! Thanks…..I love your site and appreciate all the hard work each person puts into it. God Bless & Happy hunting for family roots!

  19. I made the Photo Calendars that Ancestry has as a project. I just received them in the mail. They came out very good. I know my family will enjoy them.

    I put pictures of everyone on the month they were born or had an anniversary. I also included Bible Versus on each month. For Easter I added a picture that I took in Israel when I was there over 20 years ago,of the grave that Jesus resurrected from. Then at December I reminded them of Jesus Birth. I really came out special. So it is good to add special things that you think is special to the family

  20. Yvonne Dougherty

    I think that this is wonderfull..I had no idea that so much could be done to a calendar that would make it so personal. How could you take a calendar and put on it the ancestor’s in your family birthday information. We had a family reunion and I wanted to take my generation and the children form this generation and put them on a calendar for the next reunion. I thought that if anyone was interested maybe then they would want to start doing this for their kids and the future generation.
    Do you have any suggestion’s?

    Yvonne Dougherty

  21. Mary 'Peggy' Antrim

    I am interested in creating a family calendar – I just received this e-mail about Mycanvasblog on the 9th of Jan 2009. How can I get the templates and instructions to create the calendar and what does it cost?
    I was very impressed with the wide variety of choices in the demo that I saw. Thaaanks!

  22. Laurene Shewan

    Can I start the calendar in the middle of the year and go into 2010? In other words, can I make June or July 2009 the beginning?

  23. Can we use the calendar pages from this feature on mycanvas as individual pages in our Family Ancestor Books? If so, is there any posts that will indtruct me on the proper steps to go thru to do this correctly.

    Thanks for all the great posts & information! It really helps to see the details before getting into a project.:o)

  24. Stefanie Condie

    Laurene, we’re working on letting you start a calendar with any month of the year. This feature should be available in late February or early March.

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