Creating family tree posters from your online tree
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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 (20x16, 24x18 or 24x36) 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.