A Quick, Easy Project with AncestryPress, by Juliana Smith

APress Timeline.bmpThis past Father’s Day, my dad asked for my help with a project on AncestryPress. When we started the project, I noticed something new—the ability to create a three-generation descendant book.

I really like this idea. I have several projects going that include extensive family history research, but they’re not quite ready for primetime. I would like to be able to put together smaller books to give as gifts to family members. These would make great birthday, Christmas, or anniversary gifts, and they can be created relatively quickly.

The descendant format was perfect for the project Dad and I are creating that celebrates our immediate family.

A Little Family History
We want the book to include a little family history, but go heavier on photographs, biographical info, and memories. Since we’re only dealing with twenty people, I was able to manually enter the data into a personal tree on Ancestry within an hour or so, rather than trying to graft a piece off our main family history file. (Personal trees can be created free without a subscription so anyone can create a similar project, regardless of whether they are a paid Ancestry member or a free registered user.)

Once the information was loaded, I selected the Publish and Print option. AncestryPress then created pages for the book using the information I had entered.

The Layout
The layout it created gave me a summary page that listed the descendants of my mom and dad, my sisters and me, and all of our children, along with birth dates and marriage years.

The next page was a timeline of events that occurred during my dad’s life, followed by a family group sheet, a timeline for my mom, and then timelines for everyone else. We decided that one timeline per family was enough, and we coupled it with the family group sheet that was automatically created for each family. We switched it so when you looked at the two pages together, the group sheet would be on the left and the timeline on the right.

I edited the timeline, copying the bars and adding text boxes so that each person in the family was represented. We also edited the historical events at the bottoms, getting rid of those we didn’t like and adding others that we thought were more significant to the family. You can learn more about customizing the timelines in the article I wrote last October, Using AncestryPress. 

Personal Pages
So now we had a customized timeline for the entire family and a family group sheet, after which I added blank pages. I used a wallpaper-type background for the first spread and will be adding family portraits in frames. I have another spread for family vacations and we’ll be adding other photo and memory pages as well.

From there it goes to a family group sheet for siblings and myself, along with each family’s timeline. In between each family, I created more blank pages–one for each child and grandchild. On these we plan to add photos as well as biographical information.

Here are some ideas for text we could add to blank pages to help craft our personal family history: interests, sports and activities, achievements, memories, personal messages, interview questions, and favorites (e.g., movies, books, music, sports teams, etc.)

Personal Background Images
One cool new feature of Ancestry Press is the ability to create custom backgrounds. I mentioned this briefly on the blog last week but you can read a detailed post by Stefanie Condie with some really creative examples on the Ancestry blog. I’ve also posted a sample of this with a timeline I made up. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

As of now, it’s still not possible for two people to edit the project from separate locations. I’m doing most of the assembly while my dad is scanning and sorting photographs and text to use. However, with the share function, I can send him a link to browse the book online and then we discuss what’s there and he can offer suggestions. It’s working out well, and once we get a bit further into the project, we’ll be also sharing it with the rest of the family so that everyone can contribute to their respective family sections.


  • If you’re planning on using a photograph as a background, scan it at a high resolution, especially if you’re choosing the larger book. 
  • Choose a book size carefully. Unfortunately at this time, there is no way to change it once you’ve begun. You can copy pages between projects of the same size, but you won’t be able to copy pages to a project of a different size. 
  • Check out “Manage Pages” in the top tool bar. This tool makes it much easier to delete and rearrange pages. It was also a timesaver when I had to add those blank pages. I added two blank pages side-by-side in one spread. Then when I went to the page manager, I selected “Arrange and Manage Double-page Spreads” and kept duplicating that blank spread. Then I could easily move them to the spaces I needed in between the family group sheet/timeline spreads. 
  • Try out the transparency effect with a photo background spreads. To do this, click on “Edit Background” and then adjust the transparency by moving the bar to the left to lighten the image.
  • I found the grid (click “Show Grid”) useful in lining up photographs across the page from one another. It was also a great help when I was editing the timelines to make sure my text lined up nicely.

What About You?
Dad and I are really enjoying the process of putting together our book. The new descendant format made it quick and easy to create our own masterpiece. Eventually I want to put together a more family-history-oriented book, but for the time being this project is moving quickly and we hope to order within the week.

If someone in your family has a birthday, anniversary, or some other special occasion, an AncestryPress book is a unique gift that they will treasure forever. Click here to start your family masterpiece. 

Have you started an AncestryPress book? Share your experience and tips with us in the Comments section below.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at [email protected], but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

6 thoughts on “A Quick, Easy Project with AncestryPress, by Juliana Smith

  1. Juliana,
    You mention not being able to allow both of you to edit information on the project. Perhaps the thing to do would be to allow one or the other of you to use the same login. I would guess you trust your father or he you, that you could login on one or the other’s username and password. Then both of you could enter information or edit material during the building process of your project. I would not do this with just anyone, but certainly a trusted family member sharing the same login would be a benefit.
    Karen Shear

  2. Dear Sir,

    Why only three generations, I would like to do all of mine. Why did they take the ability out of the home program and attach to the site only? Before I could do it at home and now I have to do it thru the web site and can only do three generations? I don’t understand? I have ten + generations of research and would like to be able to it all, from my own computer at home?


  3. Your comments and suggestions are invaluable. Stephanie Condie’s comments about using photos through AncestryPress, to which you provide a link, are a marvelous expansion. They have given me an additional idea: Make a family history-oriented calendar.

    My elder daughter and her husband have been making “family” calendars as gifts for several years. They select snapshots taken on excursions and elsewhere _ even their backyard. The photos offer a glimpse of the family at various moments without regard to any time sequence or other special significance. The calendars are simple things printed through a commercial service. One photo makes the top page for a given month, and the bottom page is the dates laid out in a grid of squares that permit one to write in brief reminders of what’s to be done on a given date, should one wish to do so.

    It seems to me that your and Stepahnie’s ideas could be applied selectively through AncestryPress capabilities to produce either a typical wall calendar for the 12 months OR a week-based appointment book _ that is, a photo page on one side and the lined layout for appointments on the other. Either format might permit use of the visually interesting layouts you and Stephanie suggest. Image selection could be timeline-based or could be based on significance within a context of family history. Within the pages, one might include timeline-like blurbs referring to past or future aspects of the family’s life. In a type block as part of the photo page, for instance, or perhaps within the end-of-month “extra space” of the date grid. Or atop or at the bottom of the appointments page in a book-styled calendar.

    Since I haven’t done this, someone else will have to determine whether AncestryPress may be used to create calendars. I’m just sharing the concept; y’all will have to do the actual work. *grin* Even if AncestryPress itself can’t be applied in this fashion, the idea of a family history-based calendanr still might have merit.

  4. 3 generations is not enough! I guess I’ll have to create my own book independent of Ancestry Press

  5. Juliana, thanks for giving me inspiration. My in-laws are having an anniversary party shortly and this would be a great gift idea for them. Three generations is also just right for this occasion. And being able to do this without paying a subscription fee is the topping on the cake. I’m ready to begin. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  6. Juliana – This project sounds fantastic, but I’m concerned about publishing birthdates of living people. How do you handle the privacy issues?

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