Posted by Ancestry Team on March 4, 2009 in MyCanvas, Website

If you have an online family tree on, you know that this free service provides many, many benefits. You can connect with other researchers whose family trees overlap with yours. You get automatic “hints” of records that may contain information about your ancestors. You can easily attach records you find on to your tree. You save time while searching with the “type-ahead” feature. You can access your tree when you’re away from your own computer. And you know your data’s safe because of our triple-redundancy back-up system.

Last but certainly not least, in my biased opinion, you can use the MyCanvas publishing service to create family history books and posters based on the data in your tree. If you’re new to family history, new to or just new to MyCanvas, creating a family tree poster is the perfect project for you because it’s easy and fun — and you’ll get the satisfaction of seeing your family tree come to life in tangible form. You can make a poster that includes as few as four generations or as many as nine.  

Step 1: Build an online tree — or upload an existing tree to

If you store your family history data in desktop software program, such as Family Tree Maker, you can export your tree as a GEDCOM file and then upload it to “GEDCOM” is the universal file sharing format for family history software.

When you create or upload your tree, you’ll be asked to choose a privacy setting. No matter what setting you choose, information about people we believe to be living (based on the birth and death data you provide) is always hidden. Your name and contact information are hidden unless you choose otherwise.

If you’re interested in learning more about the three privacy settings — Public, Private and Hidden — scroll down to the bottom of this post.

Step 2: Create your family tree poster.

To access the MyCanvas publishing service, click the “Publish & Print” button from your online family tree. You can also click the “Print & Share” tab from the home page, or just follow this link:

From the vertical navigation menu at the top of the MyCanvas home page, click “Products” and then click “Family Tree Posters.” Select your poster format and size. Family tree posters are available in a combination tree format, which has a bowtie shape, or a standard pedigree format. The size of your poster (20×16, 24×18 or 24×36) depends on the number of generations you want to include. You can make a combination tree poster with 4, 5 or 7 generations or a standard tree poster with 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 generations.

If you have more than one online tree, choose the one you want to use and then pick a starting person for your poster. The starting person can be anyone in your tree. Name your project and then click the orange “Continue” button.

MyCanvas will automatically pull the relevant data from your tree to create your poster. If you have primary photos associated with the people in your tree, it will include those as well. If you have photos attached to a particular person but you haven’t designated a primary photo, no photo will show up for that person (but you can easily add photos to your poster, as described below).

Step 3: Customize the design of your poster.

If you like the clean, simple look of your auto-generated poster, you can go ahead and click the “Order” button. But I’d recommend that you spend at least half an hour customizing your poster’s look and feel. It’s easy to do, and you’ll be happier with the end result because it will reflect your own personality.

Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Change your poster’s background. Click the “Backgrounds” tab to explore the options. There are several nice tree backgrounds that are designed to be subtle enough that that they won’t detract from your family history data. You can also use the advanced color palette to create a solid background in any color, or use the color picker to match a color in a photo.
  • Add embellishments. Click the “Other Content” tab to access thousands of embellishments that you can drag and drop onto your poster. You can move, resize, rotate, flip, copy and combine embellishments to get the look you want. There’s also a folder that contains more than 200 flags from different states and countries. Flags are a great way to indicate your ancestors’ countries of origin while adding a splash of color to your poster.
  • Add photos. Any photos that you’ve attached to your online tree will appear under the “Ancestry Records” tab. You can also upload photos directly to MyCanvas or import them from Flickr, MyFamily, SmugMug or Picasa. To add a photo to your poster, grab the thumbnail and drag it onto the page. You can either drop the photo into an image box or just place it wherever you want. Once a photo is on the page, you can easily move, crop, resize and rotate it, add a border or frame and even make the photo transparent.
  • Edit text. You’ll want to zoom in on a particular area of your poster before you try to edit the text. Go to the Zoom icon on the top toolbar. When you move the slider bar or click the plus sign, a little box will appear in the top left corner of the main workspace, right under the Zoom icon. That box is a map of your poster. The red square inside the box is the panning tray. It shows you which section of your poster you are currently seeing in the main workspace. To move to a different section, just move the panning tray.

The Zoom tool may sound a bit tricky, but it’s super easy to use. I think a screen shot will help you get the idea:


Click to enlarge image

I’m not a professional designer, but here are a few simple design tips for family tree posters based on my experience using MyCanvas.

Tip 1: If you have color photos and black-and-white photos on the same poster, try changing the color photos to black-and-white for a more cohesive look. Better yet, try changing ALL the photos to sepia. Black-and-white photos from different time periods tend to have a lot of variations in tone and hue. Making them all sepia gives you more consistency. I also like the warm, brown tones. Of course, you may have different preferences. The great thing about MyCanvas is that you can experiment with different effects until you figure out what works best for you.

Tip 2: Use embellishments sparingly. A few carefully chosen embellishments can add a touch of warmth and artistry to your poster. Try using the “send to back” and “bring to front” tools to layer some of the elements on your poster. For example, you can position an embellishment so that it’s partially hidden behind a photo or another embellishment. But don’t go overboard. The main focus of the poster should always be your family history information and family photos. My favorite embellishments are in the “Pencil Art” folder. They’re subtle and delicate and won’t overwhelm your family tree data.

Tip 3: Use transparent images to add visual interest. Of course you’ll want the headshots of your ancestors to be fully opaque. But once you get further back in your tree and run out of photos, try bringing in historical postcards or other types of images.* I saw a poster made by a Mayflower descendant who had scanned a painting of America’s most famous ship and placed it over the information about her Mayflower ancestors. She made the image maybe 40% transparent and sent it to the back so that the text in front was easily legible. I’ve seen people use images of a family farm or local church in similar ways.

*Legal disclaimer: If you’re using an image you don’t own, make sure you’re not violating any copyright laws by including it in your MyCanvas project.

Step 4: Print your poster and share it with family members and friends.

Before you order a printed copy of your poster, you’ll want to preview it carefully to make sure there are no mistakes. Use the handy Zoom tool.

We don’t offer framing, but MyCanvas posters come in standard sizes. That makes it easy to purchase a frame at whatever price point you’re comfortable with, from less than $20 to, well, the sky’s the limit if go you to one of those custom framing places. As always, do what works for you.

Don’t forget that you can also share your poster electronically. This sharing feature makes it easy to get feedback from a family member before you order your poster. When you share a MyCanvas project, you can invite the people you’re sharing with to purchase their own printed copy. You can also choose to let them with create their own electronic copy of your project (or not).

Apologies for the long, rambling post. I believe I’ve told you everything you ever wanted to know about family tree posters and then some. In the unlikely event that I left something out, please post your question on this blog so that I can respond for the benefit of the whole community.

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Note about Privacy Options for Online Trees

Since the privacy options have recently changed, I’ll explain what the different settings mean so you can make an educated choice.

  • Public: Recommended. We hide living people in your tree, but members can view your deceased relatives. This setting is the best option in most cases because it lets you collaborate with other researchers and tap into the collective knowledge of the community. We hear success stories all the time from people who’ve filled in gaps in their tree by connecting with other members who turned out to be distant cousins. has millions of members. Chances are, at least one of them has information about your ancestors.
  • Private: Optional. The names of your deceased relatives appear in search results, but their details are blocked. Other members can contact you anonymously to request more information. You can then decide on a case-by-case basis whom you allow to view your tree. This setting can be a good choice in cases where you’re not quite confident in your data. You can create multiple trees with different privacy settings, so if you have a particular ancestral line that you’re not ready to share yet, you could keep that data in a separate, private tree and still share your other lines with the community.
  • Hidden: For specific instances. No one can see any of the information in your tree except you and people you invite. This setting is especially appropriate for professional genealogists who are doing research for a client. If you hide your tree, you can still use it for organization, hints and printing books and posters, but you’ll benefit far less from the greater community. Since the community is one of the main advantages of using, think carefully about the trade-offs before you choose to hide your tree.

How do I hide my tree? When you initially create or upload an online tree, you’ll only see two privacy options: Public and Private. We’re working on getting the Hidden option added to this menu so that it’s easier to find. In the meantime, if you want to hide your tree, you’ll need to select “Private” and then click the “Manage Tree” link right under the tree’s name on your Family Tree page. You’ll see a summary page that shows how many people are in the tree, how many photos you’ve uploaded, etc. In the middle of this page is a line that says, “Is Tree Public?” Click the “change/more info” link and then check the box labeled “Do NOT include this tree in the search index.”

You may be wondering what I mean by “people we believe to be living.” If you’ve provided a birth date but no death date for a specific relative, our system assumes that person is living if he or she was born less than 85 years ago.


  1. Tracy

    Will there ever been an option to make a living person older than 85 listed as living and thus protecting their privacy? Could this be done on a person by person basis. I’ve had to make my tree private to protect two elderly relatives when I otherwise would have made it public.

  2. Sheryl

    I agree with Tracy. People are living longer these days and it is no longer unusual to have living relatives older than 85. If it not possible to change this option on a case by case basis, you may want to consider raising the age limit to 100.

  3. Mary Beth Marchant

    As I understand it, the rational for showing persons older than 85 is the fact they have already been counted in the census(that is, if born in the US)in 1930 and will show up in the 1940 census which will be released in 2012. This is a federal requirement. However, it is also my understanding that if a person is 85 or older and still living, only persons invited to your tree can view their names. Now as to posting a gedcom on Rootsweb’s World Connect, I change the cut off year from the default 1905 to 1930 or above. I did that several years ago in response to a person who found their father listed. I realized then that I should do that because my own father lived to be 96.

  4. Christine

    This comment has nothing to do with creating a poster I’ve been searching on here. I wanted to know is what is the best text size for creating the history books. Most on here are making them for our elderly parents and grandparents so I want to make sure they don’t have to pull out a magnifying glass to read it..any suggestions

  5. H. A. Wentworth

    It would be nice if Ancestry/Family Tree Maker supportred their products and assured that work with prior versions of FTM was not wasted by incompatabilities between FTM Versions as has occurred in my case.

  6. I use FTM 2009 and love it. I had been using FTM since Noah threw one overboard … just kidding … I mean a very long time. At present I am finding that sometimes I make updates to my family tree on line and forget to make them on the copy on my computer. Is there a way to synchronize these two “versions” please.

  7. Josephine Bartley

    I am having trouble with the Timeline section of the tree. Several times I find something has been entered twice or find an incorrect fact. I need to be able to delete or edit an entry in the Timeline but can not figure out how. Please help me out! thanks Jo

  8. Stefanie Condie

    Josephine, for technical assistance with your online tree, please call 1-800-ANCESTRY (1-800-262-3787). Customer service agents are available weekdays between 10 am and 6 pm, Eastern Time.

  9. Stefanie Condie

    Dora, research-related requests should be posted on one of the message boards, not on the blog. Please go to the Community page on to find a relevant message board. There are thousands of boards dedicated to specific surnames and geographic locations.

  10. What do you mean free! I have to pay to visit ancestry sights.
    If it is free can you tell me how I can get it for free?
    t y

  11. ssheehan57

    Becky –

    While many of us pay to be able to spend long hours doing our research at home, many public libraries allow patrons to access computers for periods of time and have a special public library subscription to Ancestry. On that you’d be able to look up and research, you likely wouldn’t maintain a personal online tree.

  12. ssheehan57


    I had my poster printed and received it shortly after – it’s very nice. Heavy paper, quality printing, the frames and other elements look terrific.

    I had certain areas where I needed to squeeze in even more text, I used very small font by typing a lower number in than was available in the drop-down for that font style (in my case, I took Garamond down to 5) and it printed out properly and legibly if you’re close to it and have decent eyes or a magnifying glass. For the person wondering about font size – try printing your poster to PDF and viewing at 100% onscreen or printing it out in black and white to just check the fonts. My instinct would be to not go below a size 9 or 10 for someone with dimming eyes who doesn’t want to use a magnifying glass but sizes can vary among font styles so you’ll probably want to test print.

  13. Stefanie Condie

    While much of the content on is available only to subscribers, the site also offers a number of free features that anyone can access. The MyCanvas publishing service is free and so is the online family tree service. However you will get more value out of both of these services if you are a subscriber, because you’ll be able to access historical records, attach them to your tree and include them in your MyCanvas projects.

  14. not telling


  15. Stefanie Condie

    “not telling” — I’m confused by your comment. Once you’ve created a project in MyCanvas, it’s available to you on an ongoing basis unless you delete it.

    To access a project you’ve previously saved, go to and click “My Projects” in the top navigation menu.

    For customer support, please call 1-800-507-4612 to speak to one of our dedicated MyCanvas agents.

  16. Vicki

    Re: Privacy settings

    I hope you are already aware of the following problem and are working to fix it ASAP. Until it is fixed, my tree will remain private, despite my wish to share it.

    It appears that if no date of birth is given, a person’s information is shown in the public trees. For example: I had an uncle who was born in the 1940s and died several years ago. I can find his information in several public trees. I can also find information about his spouse, siblings, and grandchildren, all but one of whom are still alive. I assume this information is available because no date of birth appears to have been given for the people who are showing up.

    Your software should be smart enough that if someone was born within the 72 year cutoff date, all of his or her descendants were too, despite no date of birth being provided for the descendants. These people should listed as “living” in the public trees, unless a date of death is provided.

    The same should apply for siblings and spouses. I know that this is not always the case, but I would prefer to err on the side of caution, rather than the reverse.

    A harder hole to cover is when a date of birth has to be estimated from a different generation. I believe Ancestry has (or had, a long time ago) the software to do this. I know that the actual date could vary greatly from the estimate, but again, I would rather be too cautious than display information on living people.

    An additional related feature could include the ability for the tree owner to set the cutoff date to something greater than 72 years ago.

    Also for consideration would be a feature to allow the tree owner the ability to set an individual’s privacy setting to something other than the tree’s setting.

    I would like the ability to see which people in my tree would be considered private or public. Some sort of list or report would be nice, where I could quickly review who would show up. If it was an online list (perhaps similar to your hints feature), I could click back to that person’s profile, check if they should be on the list, set the privacy switch as needed and return to the list to check the next person.

    I may be your only user concerned about this issue to this extent, but as I’m including personal information about living people in my tree, I feel I also have the responsibility to protect that information and keep it private. It is disappointing that Ancestry has not developed more robust programming to protect that information, and that protecting it is forced on the tree owners who may not be even aware of Ancestry’s lapse.

    I look forward to the day when Ancestry will better address the issue of protecting the privacy of the living and I can share my tree on Ancestry with others. Until then, my tree will remain private on Ancestry, and public on RootsWeb.

  17. Teri Smith

    I have not been able to find the price of this family tree.Your offer states 40% off, what is the cost?

  18. Stefanie Condie

    Teri, from anywhere on the MyCanvas site, you can click the “Pricing and Shipping Details” link to get pricing information. The regular prices for family tree posters are $14.95 (20×16″), $19.95 (24×18″) or $39.95 (36×24″).

  19. RonamdMiller31

    Can i use mycanvas to develop an Ancestry Book using the Decendent vice Ancestry profile. There are six generations in my family from my grandfather down and I colud possibly generate a purchase from that book.

  20. Linda

    Re: The 40% off special for MyCanvas posters. I’ve been working very hard to put this together to beat the deadline of 31 March. I made it! But you can’t imagine how disappointed I was to see that the 40% off only applies to the first poster. I wanted to give one to each of my two siblings, one for me and one for my parents. Copies 2 thru 4 were only 10% off! What a let-down. It would have actually been cheaper to place 4 separate orders and pay the shipping 4 times (if the system would even let me do that). I reduced my order to only two copies. Your promotional email said nothing about quantity restrictions. I feel that it is very poor judgment that you have chosen to administer this promotion in this way.

  21. Theresa

    I have the same question as Dora Brewer.If I’m looking for a certain person, to find my family history (from a broken family)is there a way to get intouch with them? I’m new to this and stuff showed up for a Paul Tyda (Grandpa) and my mother Francine (havent seen since I was 2) and her brother Vincent. It looks like its under someone eles’ tree.

  22. Stefanie Condie

    Theresa, if you find information about your relatives in someone else’s online tree, you can contact the tree owner anonymously through the Ancestry connection service. Just click on the tree owner’s user name and you’ll see a button that you can click on to send the person a message. It sounds like you’re on the verge of making an important connection…good luck!

  23. I want to make a family history book for my son, and a different one for my brother, both using my family tree. How do I change the information going into MyCanvas to reflect each one as the ‘home’ person. Also how do I change the name of the projects – I have two false starts in there right now.

  24. Stefanie Condie

    Eve, anytime you create a family history book or family tree poster in MyCanvas, you’ll be asked to select a tree and a starting person. So you can easily create two books with different starting people. If you have some pages that you want to use in both books, you can just copy them from the first book into the second book so that you don’t have to re-create those pages. To copy pages from your son’s book to your brother’s book, click the “Manage Pages” icon in the top toolbar, select the pages you want to copy, click the “Copy to a Project” button and select your brother’s book from your list of projects.

    To rename a project, just go to the My Projects page and click the “Rename” link under the project.

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