Top of the Charts

Top of the Charts

You want a snazzy family tree chart, but all the designs, sizes and prices make your head spin. Don't dismay: We've tested 11 services to show you which ones rise above the rest.

Your genealogy software probably creates all kinds of fancy family tree charts. Just one problem: Your printer can’t handle paper larger than letter- or legalize, so you have to figure out how to tile your printing, then tape together a bunch of pages to make a big chart. Serviceable, but time-consuming and not exactly the most attractive display of family tree glory known to man. So you search online for chart-printing services — and come up with a few dozen companies, hundreds of price points and unlimited design options. What now?

Family Tree Magazine editors found the countless chart-printing choices overwhelming, too. So they asked me to give the services a spin, in order to help you select the right one for your needs and budget. Just like any Joe Schmo, I looked over the options and prices, and placed orders with 11 companies. (They provided complimentary charts for purposes of this evaluation.)

The next step was supplying my family tree information. Commissioning a chart usually involves using your family tree program to export ancestral information as a GEDCOM file, the universal format for genealogy data. You e-mail your GEDCOM and scanned pictures to the service, which designs your chart and lets you look it over before printing and delivering it. If you don’t use genealogy software, most companies can start with printed information and photo — but they may charge more.

In working with these chart printers, I experienced something almost unheard of today: personalized service. All the companies here will work with you to create a chart that far surpasses anything you could produce at home. I’ve divvied these reviews into two categories-heirloom charts suitable for framing and giant banners ideal for displaying at family reunions-so you can make apples-to-apples comparisons. (Companies that make both kinds of charts are noted.) Each type can incorporate family photos and artistic designs.

So read these reviews and start navigating charted territory: They’ll tell you each company’s strengths, the types of charts it offers, its price ranges and the details you’ll need to provide.

Heirloom Charts

Need a meaningful gift? Want to honor your ancestors or find a beautiful way to sum up your research efforts? These decorative charts incorporate photos, pretty fonts, and artistic borders, backgrounds and graphics into presentations you can proudly display in your living room.

Ancestor Circles

Owner Kathleen Wagner types your family information into a circular chart, managing to fit dates and places of birth and death for generations. The charts, available in two sizes, are printed on heavyweight paper, and they make great wedding or baby gifts.

Bottom line: Decorative and functional, these compact charts pack in a lot of data.

Design options: Heraldic lion, floral, balloons, baby boy or girl (each with space for a photo), photo frames (with spaces for four pictures — attach them to the finished chart, or have Wagner print them on for $1 each)

Prices: $20 for a letter-size chart; $30 for an 11×17-inch chart

Submission instructions: Mail or e-mail a GEDCOM file, printed chart or summary of names, dates and places.

Contact:2455 Third St., Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221, <www.ancestor-circles.com>
 

AncesTree

AncesTree displays three to five generations of your family tree, mounted beneath clear acrylic on a 13×20-inch walnut plaque. Each picture label can include first and last names, plus birth and death years. Unlike most of the services here, AncesTree scans and enhances your photos (they’re returned unharmed). Though I e-mailed images I’d touched up, AncesTree’s Lara Spina did a great job improving them, and converted the mismatched sepia tones to black and white for my four generation chart. That work and the plaque account for AncesTree’s higher prices.

Bottom line: This eye-catching photo plaque makes a handsome wall hanging.

Design options: Sky, parchment, gray granite, custom

Prices: $90 to $259 (custom chart prices vary)

Submission instructions: Call or fill out the online form to request an ordering kit.

Contact: (800) 337-8987, <www.ancestree.com>
 
 
 

The Chartists

Paul Latimer has developed a novel way to create a highly customizable family tree chart: Instead of sending a GEDCOM file, you complete an online form. Shipped from England, the chart will arrive in a few days.

First select Printed Charts Centre, read the information, then click the link at the bottom of the page. After registering, you’re ready to start. Choose a chart design, font, color and watermark (a subtle design behind the text). I went for the half-circle Ancestral Arc, and it took just minutes to fill in the blanks for a six-generation pedigree display. Each person has two lines-I filled them with names and birth years and places. Your text adjusts to fit the space, so using abbreviations such as Wm and Elk keeps the type as large as possible. This all takes more time than submitting a GEDCOM, but you can decide exactly what information to include. Latimer says Mac users may have problems using the Printed Charts Centre — if you do, try another Web browser or borrow a PC.

Bottom line: Tons of options result in an attractive chart on fine-quality paper.

Design options: Arc, bow tie, ancestral birth brief, baby and wedding charts; plus a variety of colors and fonts

Price: about $53 including shipping

Submission instructions: Fill out an online form and select design elements.

Contact: +44 (0) 182576-5935, <www.thechartists.co.uk>

First Class GraphicsA Living History

If names and dates printed on parchment don’t excite your relatives, try one of Norbert Hommes’ colorful posters in sizes from 8×10 to 18×24 inches. (Don’t be confused by the “Forever Prints” title on the Web site — you’re in the right place). You can opt for a chart on high-gloss, heavy-weight photographic paper, or on canvas for the appearance of a painting. You also get to choose what information to include (I opted for full names and birth and death dates) as well as the number of photos — First Class Graphics will scan them for you if you want.

Our $95,16×20-inch poster (you can see it on the previous page) shows photos of four generations on a sunlit tree-and-meadow background. I like how the photos’ transparency gives the chart an ethereal feel, but you can choose opaque photos if you prefer not to have flowers peeking through Grandma’s face. The company will include places and marriage information on your chart, too. Innovative designs and special photo effects make First Class Graphics’ posters truly unique and a great way to display your family tree in pictorial form.

Bottom line: These artistic posters are especially nice wall hangings.

Design options: 12 backgrounds with photographs of four to eight generations

Prices: $85 to $250

Submission instructions: Send family photographs of four to eight generations tree information as a text file (RTF); e-mail or mail photos.

 
 

Generation Maps

Kim and Janet Hovorka offer a smorgasbord of decorative charting options. I ordered the Picture Hourglass, a 24×30-inch five-generation photographic family tree. It cost $46.95 — less than other companies’ four-generation photo trees — and includes dates and places of birth, marriage and death, plus a large picture of the first generation.

Click on Decorative Charts, then either select a template or “I want to create my own chart design.” Start with a standard chart and follow the five steps to customize it (use the on-screen links rather than your browser’s Back and Forward buttons). Before the final printing, the company posted the chart online so I could make sure it was just right. Janet Hovorka accommodated all my change — I even decided to touch up the large picture. If you don’t care to work on photos yourself, Generation Maps will scan and edit them for an additional fee.

The company also creates and prints $24.95 working charts, which make handy research references, and banner charts. See the. Web site for details.

Bottom line: Detailed information, photos and a good price made this heirloom chart my favorite.

Design options: Custom, fan, half-circle, hourglass, bow tie, adoption and stepfamily charts with a variety of back-grounds, borders and fonts

Prices: $32.95 to $51.95 (prices vary for custom charts)

Submission instructions: E-mail a GEDCOM file and photos.

Contact: (801) 836-6748, <www.generationmaps.com>
 
 

Keepsake Family Tree by Olsongraphics

This company’s design offerings include sophisticated borders, an artistic tree background and graphics such as flowers and wedding hearts. You can add photos (Keepsake Family Tree will retouch them for you) and other graphics, too.

The six-generation ancestor chart with the Old Wood border on parchment paper is the company’s most popular offering. But I’m especially fond of the colorful Family Immigrant Tree, which costs $75 for the five-generation chart and $85 for the six-generation version. It’s one of the best-looking charts in our roundup and a great way to show off your ethnic heritage. This company also prints banner charts for your family reunion.

Bottom line: You can’t beat this wide assortment of elegant chart options.

Design options: Ancestor, descendant, all-in-one (showing all your relatives, not just. ancestors), wall charts, custom

Prices: $30 to $85 (custom prices vary)

Submission instructions: E-mail a GEDCOM file, photos and other information as needed.

Contact: (888) 759-4228 (toll-free), <www.keepsakefamilytree.com>

Pictorial Genealogy

If you want a photographic family tree suitable for framing, Jack and Patt Ricketts of Pictorial Genealogy do a fine job. Typical projects include a four-generation ancestry tree with photos, and a descendant chart showing parents, their children and the children’s spouses. You can choose from various sizes; the 13×19-inch chart is the most popular.

After I ordered a four-generation photographic chart, Pictorial Genealogy verified some questionable GEDCOM information with me, and added County to my ancestors’ county names. Patt Ricketts also touched up a couple of photos and rounded their corners. The nicely laid-out charts are printed in archival ink on glossy, archival photo paper, and the print quality is superb. Each person’s label has dates and places of birth, marriage and death, as well as the burial place-from a genealogist’s perspective, it’s nice to see so much information on a chart.

Bottom line: These beautiful charts really highlight your photos and they’re an excellent value.

Design options: Ancestry, descendant, marriage, military, grandchildren, immediate family

Prices: $100 for a standard four-generation photo chart if you supply a GEDCOM and TIFF photos that don’t require editing; about $400 if your chart requires data entry and scanning

Submission instructions: E-mail a GEDCOM file and photos saved as TIFF files, or mail family data and photos.

Contact: (310) 379-8221, <www.picgene.com>
 
 

Reflections Artistry

I had nine generations to display in one tree, and Reflections Artistry’s 24×34-inch chart handled the challenge beautifully: It included my ancestors’ full names, years of birth and death, and birthplaces printed in an elegant font. Before printing it, the company sent my nine-generation chart as a PDF so I could double-check everything. Reflections Artistry also offers a plan for those empty family tree branches you hope to one day fill in: Have the company professionally frame your chart, and you can get an updated version reprinted anytime for a nominal fee.

Bottom line: Display several generations on a sophisticated fan chart.

Design options: Five, seven and nine-generation fan charts

Prices: $30 to $40

Submission instructions: E-mail a GEDCOM file.

Contact: (888) 690-0237 (toll-free), <reflectionsartistry.com>
 
 

Banner Charts

These days, a family reunion isn’t a family reunion without a giant wall chart to show your relatives where they sprouted from the old tree-and everyone loves a wall chart with pictures. (We wanted you to see the detail on the charts here, so we’ve zoomed in on a section of each in addition to showing the whole banner.) In general, these products are more utilitarian than the heirloom charts we reviewed. But as you’ll see, they still come with special flourishes.

fampres

A chart from Hans-Juürgen Walter’s team at this German company will be a real conversation piece for your next family reunion — and a treasured keepsake. A typical chart shows 250 people in 15 generations and measures 50×42 inches, but you can get charts up to 500 feet long to cover all your extended relatives.

Careful attention to design sets fam-pres charts apart from other banners. Artistic flourishes and playful adornments abound. The decorative chart, which I chose, puts each portrait in a fancy frame hanging from a wooden ledge, with hearts to link spouses and broken hearts to separate divorced couples. No space is wasted: Occupations, places of residence and other details from your GEDCOM file — everything but the notes — fill the space around the tree. You can add a group photo, too.

The company standardizes your photos heights (which means you don’t need to resize them) and uses the multimedia links in your GEDCOM to place pictures with the right names. Charts come on a variety of papers or canvas, with high-resolution (720 dpi) printing that makes for crisp text and clear pictures.

I ordered an all-in-one chart, covering 112 people — 4l of them pictured — in five generations, which cost $143.38. (Reducing the portrait height from 1½ inches to 1 inch slashes the price by 60 percent.) Before printing, fampres e-mailed me the chart as a PDF file so I could preview and proofread it. The resulting tree handled potential complications, such as a marriage between second cousins, with aplomb.

Bottom line: Attractive and highly detailed, each chart is a sight to behold and an excellent value.

Design options: Ancestor, descendant, all-in-one; decorative or standard design

Prices: Approximately $10 to $15 per square foot

Submission instructions: E-mail a GEDCOM file and photos.

Contact: +49 (98)31 613-9946, <www.fampres.com >
 
 

Genealogy Printers

You might have the everyday genealogy software Ron O’Neill uses to design charts — but it’d take you a whole lot of practice with Family Tree Maker <www.familytreemaker.com> or Genbox Family History <www.genbox.com> to get as good a result as his. I requested an all-in-one chart including 112 people and 41 pictures in five generations. Thinking I’d give O’Neill a head start, I submitted a chart I’d already created — but instead, he started from scratch with my data file and came up with a much better design.

Genealogy Printers e-mailed me a Web link showing the whole chart and a close-up of part of it, along with a quoted price of $70 (which included air-mail shipping). I approved the design, and my chart arrived in the mail six days later. The 19×101-inch banner is printed on matte paper, which is slightly heavier than regular typing paper. Even though the chart isn’t on photo paper, the pictures turned out quite well. Dates and places of birth, marriage, death and burial accompany each relative, with blue borders indicating males and red borders for females.

Bottom line: Here’s a simple way to get a large color chart at a surprisingly low price.

Design options: All-in-one, pedigree, descendant; backgrounds in a variety of colors or with a tiled image

Prices: About $45 for a 500-or-fewer-name chart, plus $5.50 per option (such as extra information and a colored back-ground); about $90 plus options for a chart showing up to 1,500-names

Submission instructions: E-mail a GEDCOM file, a data file from almost any genealogy program or a file with a family tree chart you designed, plus photos.

Contact: +00 (44) 19 0283-6284, <familytreeprinter.com>

OnePage Genealogy

Students at Provo, Utah-based Brigham Young University created this nifty service, which prints a chart you design using special software downloaded from the site. OnePage Genealogy’s remarkable feat is to get so many family members onto a single sheet of paper, making this chart a useful research aid. My tree has hundreds of names in 10 generations — including dates and places of birth, marriage and death — on a 3×4-foot chart. The program automatically adjusts the text size to fit as much information as possible, and you can pack in even more detail by decreasing the font size and supersizing the chart’s square footage from the default 3×4 feet to the maximum 3½×6 feet.

Bottom line: This design-it-yourself option squeezes lots of names on a compact chart for a bargain price.

Design options: Pedigree, timeline

Price: $19.95

Submission instructions: Create a GEDCOM file, download OnePage Genealogy software and use it to design a chart, and place your order online

Contact: roots@roots.cs.byu.edu, < roots.cs.byu.edu/pedigree>
 
 

Take 10

Follow these tips to get the best possible family tree chart:

1. Proofread to ensure sure names, dates and places are complete and correct.

2. Decide whether to include county names and which format you’ll use. Will it be Hamilton County or Hamilton Co.? Be consistent.

3. For a timeless look, spell out state names or use abbreviations rather than two-letter postal codes (Minn., not MN, for Minnesota). Find the short forms at <www.infoplease.com/ipaIAO110468.html>.

4. If you have only baptism or burial information, and the chart doesn’t show baptisms and burials, add that data to the birth and death fields with before or bef.

5. Submit a GEDCOM file with only the names you want on the chart.

6. Scan photos at the optimal resolution: 300 dpi (dots per inch) if the final size won’t change, 150 dpi if the photos will be reduced by half, and 600 to 1,200 dpi if they’ll be enlarged.

7. If you want photos on your chart, put links to them in your GEDCOM file. (See the August 2005 Family Tree Magazine for help with this.)

8. Ensure your photos get matched to the right people by naming each digital picture with that relative’s name and birth year, such as Smith-john-1885.jpg.

9. Touch up and crop your photos if the chart printer doesn’t provide this service.

10. Keep the background graphics simple so your chart is easy to read.

From the April 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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