Displaying the family tree

At what point do you decide that the data on your family tree is good enough to be reproduced in printed form? Not just your usual stack of A4 printout, but as a decent quality wallchart?

That has been my dilemma for about the last year, with Dad first dropping hints that it would be good to have, then more recently being rather more definite that he would like to to be able to see the connections between all the ‘new’ family members that I had discovered. Given his poor eyesight and limited use of his computer, the electronic versions that I know and love aren’t that much help.

It seemed a good point to draw the line when I finally married off the last aunt in the Neal family (Alice in Canada). There may still be one or two Cullum relatives not fully accounted for, but that was about it for direct cousins, aunts and uncles.

My short-list of possible producers of suitable wallcharts was very short – Maxbal Genealogy was the only one I’d found. The website is rather old school, and isn’t entirely to my taste but it does work and all the graphics are legible and undistorted (unlike two possible alternative producers I found later). There is perhaps too much choice, so it takes a while to click around the site to find all the possibilities. A Custom Charts – All-in-One seemed to fit the bill here, as I wasn’t after a conventional ancestor/descendants tree, but rather all (great) aunts/uncles and direct cousins to Dad.

Then the fun began. As all text on the tree needed to be a reasonable size (I specified minimum 10 point) so dad had a reasonable chance of reading it without difficulty (or at least no greater difficulty than reading the newspaper), it was obviously going to be quite large. I hoped it would fit their largest standard size of A1 – about £50 if wasn’t just black and white. Their original advice after seeing a pdf file I’d created from Family Tree Maker’s (FTM) relatively basic chart making facility was that it would be about 50% over A1, but they couldn’t give a precise figure (or price) until the data file was processed. (They say they accept just about any file from the main genealogy computer programs, but in fact the standard Gedcom format was what they wanted.)

I would have liked much clearer information on the website about delivery options and costs. Usually I won’t even think about ordering from a firm which doesn’t supply this, as it can increase costs alarmingly. Fortunately Dad was paying! I was also confused by only seeing a PayPal payment option – its a while since I have used this service and had forgotten that it would take a credit/debit card payment without having to set up an account.

Maybe it is down to having some techie knowledge, but what I really found missing was any explanation of how the data file might be processed – turning data into output has all sorts of potential pitfalls as well as possibilities. It wasn’t until the file had been processed and a draft design returned that I could get a feel for what came out of the Gedcom generated by FTM, rather than how the data displayed within FTM itself. But then any changes to the data would have cost extra.

I was keen to reduce the place names from the long details useful in compiling the tree to a simplified form (for example “Norwich St Clements, Norfolk, England” would be better shown as just Norwich),; I had got the ‘wrong’ choice when the person had had more than one occupation in some instances; and the place and date for the occupation was unnecessary (and hadn’t been specifically requested to be output). Fortunately Maxbal then offered the option to truncate place names at the second or third comma, which pretty much did what I wanted, and switching off place and date here was no problem either. Good enough not to waste time and money on any messing about. One change to the default text background colour (a rather horrible green) to a much more readable plain white and we were away.


Dad was delighted with the result. Each branch of the family is in effect in its own horizontal zone of three to five rows – Watts then Neal, Howes and finishing with Cutlock/Cullum. The uninitiated may take a while to get their heads round the structure, but it is neat, clear and pretty compact considering it encompasses about 160 people.

The poster did take a bit longer than expected to arrive. Royal Mail was the original mode mentioned by Maxbal, but Parcelforce was used and it took a three working days to arrive after a despatch date two days later than quoted. If it had been coming to me, that wouldn’t have been any concern at all but it did get a little embarrassing. A second copy for my own use was ordered a short while later, and this arrived much quicker, and by Royal Mail!

As I said on Ancestry’s Facebook page the other day, the chart from Maxbal was perhaps a little expensive (£80), and if you don’t prepare thoroughly beforehand you could get additional design charges. You need to really think through what you want to see on display in print, rather than on screen, though that would apply to any supplier. I had exported the branches of the family I wanted to a new tree in Family Tree Maker and cut out all unneeded individuals, and played around with format in FTM. What I hadn’t spent enough energy on was working out what showed up as the preferred data in the Gedcom file, but that does seem a pain too far.

Conclusion: a great result in the end.

Now I need to work on the missing data on Mum’s side. A first cut done in the same way via a Family Tree Maker export comes up with an even larger number of close relations, some 190 souls, and there are undoubtedly a few still to pin down.

Other suppliers

I have since found the following, who are exhibiting at an upcoming Family History fair (West Midlands area group).

Genealogy Printers Their website has distorted images, and also “invalid characters”, not giving great confidence in their computer design abilities, with the charts look rather basic.

Newtown Design (based Worcester) has rather too basic a website (and I dislike the italics and ancient style of web coding, giving no idea of costs.Could be worth checking out, though.

Ancestry has the MyCanvas service. This was rejected at the outset as being priced in dollars and from what I could see was an all-American production. Not something I even wanted to start exploring.


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