Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers offers us a some advice on creating a family history book through his personal experience with My Canvas.
It has been over two years since I last used ancestry.com’s self-publishing site and I thought I would not only re-visit the site but also relate my experiences of creating memory books for my family.
What was Ancestry Press back in 2007 is now called MyCanvas but from all outward appearance the functionality is the same. In fact, I was pleased to see that the two books I created back in 2007 were still sitting there on the ancestry site, waiting for me to edit or order new copies for family members.
Not Just Books - A Variety of Items
Before I describe the books I created back in 2007, realize that MyCanvas offers more than just books - there are a variety of items including:
• Posters, especially posters displaying family tree charts
• Photo books
• Collage Posters
From Blog Post to Book
In my case, I wanted to turn a long blog post about my cousin Kenneth VonRonn into a memory book. Kenny was killed in Iraq in January 2005 at the age of 20 and I had interviewed his mother in late 2007 to discuss Kenny’s life, death and the impact he had on the family.
The blog post was long enough and had enough photos that it would make a very nice keepsake for my cousin’s family plus if other family members wanted copies, I could always order more in the future. This was one of the most attractive features of MyCanvas for me.
How It Works
The back-end program is Adobe Flash which displays an easy-to-use interface where you can create your project. An added plus is that with your ancestry.com account, you can import data and photos from family trees you’ve already created.
In the case of my story, Kenny’s Choice, I had all the text and photos on my blog post, I just needed a starting point. So I pulled up a book template and then added a military page and I was off and running!
Huge Design Choices
When I first created this book in late 2007, I was amazed at how creative I could get with available layouts, backgrounds and more. But now it is even better! There are close to 5,000 embellishment items when I last checked - when MyCanvas first started I think there were only about 200!
I’d have to say that is one of the biggest issues for me - there are too many choices and it is very easy to get lost in the creative process. You get started and next thing you know it is four or six hours later!
Easy to Use
I found the Editor interface easier to use than many other self-publishing sites. I could copy large blocks of text from one page to another - in fact I could clone an entire page and then change text or item placement.
Importing photos was a snap and one nice feature: you are warned if the photo resolution is too low. This prevents you from creating a book in which the photos will be fuzzy or out-of-focus and your family will be disappointed.
I’ve found that overall self-publishing using various web sites is not a cheap venture - it can be downright expensive. But you are creating a keepsake after all - you are taking years worth of genealogy research that the rest of the family might find boring and turning it into an interesting gift item. It is much easier for the children to become interested in their family history when you present visuals with photos and maps and narratives for them.
The MyCanvas pricing appears to be competitive and in fact between now and February 1, 2010, you can save 15% on orders.
For a program that is simple to use, abundant with creative options, and doesn’t require an ancestry.com subscription, MyCanvas is a great place to turn your genealogy research into keepsakes - or a place to simply try your hand at creativity and practice putting your family stories into print.
[Disclaimer: in early January 2010 I was the guest of ancestry.com for their annual Blogger’s Day event. Please read the full disclaimer here.]
© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee
If you wish to contribute a guest post to The Armchair Genealogist on creating a family history book, submit your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org