Introductory Ancestral Author Plus Tutorial


This tutorial will help you get started with Ancestral Author Plus (AA), the desktop software application that creates genealogical documents from GEDCOM files. No prerequisite knowledge is required, except for a basic understanding of what a GEDCOM file is, and what a genealogical descendant report is.  You can download a PDF version of this tutorial here.

Ancestral Author Plus Main Window

First, let's get familiar with the Ancestral Author main window, shown below:

Ancestral Author Plus Starter Screen

Ancestral Author Plus Main Window

On the right you'll notice a bunch of labeled buttons. These are items that can be placed into your genealogy document:

  • Title Page - usually goes first in your document,

  • Table of Contents - usually goes towards the front of your document,

  • Index - index of names, usually goes toward the end of your document,

  • etc

To place any of these items in your document, use your left mouse button to select the document item, then drag it to the screen on the left, and release the left mouse button. This will insert the item into your document.

This is how you build the document, adding one document item at a time, until you have the full document layout. We'll go through this in more detail later. But before we do that, let's look more closely at the AA main screen.

Registering Ancestral Author Plus

Press the Register button to enter the user name and serial number that comes when you purchase Ancestral Author Plus. You don't need to do this to use AA, but it prevents a watermark from appearing across the pages of the genealogy document. You can still read the document when the watermark is present, but it looks a lot better without it.

Script Files

Script files save the layout of the document in a file on your computer. Next time you want to work on that document, open the script file, and you can continue where you left off.

To save a script file, select the Script menu item, then select Save As:

Script 'Save As' Menu Item

Script 'Save As' Menu Item

Put the script file somewhere that you can remember, preferably in your Documents folder. Once you have saved your script file, you'll notice that the name of the file is shown at the bottom of the screen. AA automatically gives your output document the same name as the script file (with a different extension). This name is displayed on the top of the screen. The picture below shows these names underlined in red:

File Names

Output Document File Name On Top, Script File Name On Bottom

Output Document

The Document menu item allows you to change the name of your genealogy document, and to view it (assuming you've already created it):

Document Menu Item

Document Menu Item

Notice that the Document menu item has a Help selection. All menu items have help, as do all of the screens in AA.


Help Menu Item

Help Menu Item

The Help menu item includes a quick start tutorial, somewhat less detailed than this one. It also has a menu item (Contents) that brings up the full AA help document, including a basic Getting Started overview of Ancestral Author Plus. The Quick Start Tutorial and the Getting Started section are both highly recommended for new users. They give a basic overview of Ancestral Author Plus.

The AA help document is organized in a hierarchy. When you select the Help->Contents menu item, you'll see the help document shown below:

Help 'Contents' Screen

Help 'Contents' Screen

To see the hierarchical layout of the help document, click the tiny + next to the Ancestral Author book icon on the left, circled in red above. This will show the various chapters and sections in the help document. The picture below shows two of the tiny + icons expanded. The GEDCOM Drag And Drop topic is selected for display:

Drag And Drop Help Screen

Viewing Sections in the Help Hierarchy

Format and Phrases Menu Items

These menus are used to control the appearance of your genealogy document. More details about them are reserved for another tutorial. If you are interested, you can always select the Format->Help or Phrases->Help menu items.

Creating a Descendant Report With a Name Index

The remainder of this tutorial will step through the process of creating a descendant report, showing the progeny of a particular individual. The document will include a title page, a table of contents, the descendant report with source citations in footnotes, and a name index.

The process of creating this document includes:

  • dragging the document items from the right panel to the left panel,
  • selecting the desired options that control the appearance of the document, and
  • pressing the Create ODT or Create PDF button to create the document.

We'll add the document items one at a time in the following sections. You don't need to add the items in order. If you wanted, you could add the last item first (say the Index). Whenever you add an item, you get to choose where it will go in the document.

Title Page

The title page is the front cover of your document. You don't need to put a title page on your document, but it makes for a better appearance. Ancestral Author Plus allows you to put three things on the title page:

  1. the title of your document,
  2. an image, perhaps a coat of arms, or some graphic that represents the contents of your document, and
  3. a byline, identifying the author, perhaps the date the document was created, or any other identifying text.

Only the title is required. The picture and byline are optional.

Note that if you want different items on your title page (maybe you want two pictures instead of one), you can always edit these into the document after you've created it - assuming you are generating open document text (ODT), vs. portable document format (PDF). The ODT document can be edited in any way you want with LibreOffice (or OpenOffice).

Once you drag the Title Page button into the Document Layout panel on the left, AA will show the Title Page dialog (shown below). All three options have been supplied in the example dialog below. Regarding the image - AA provides a small set of images that you can use if you don't have one of your own. Simply click on the browse button (with the three small dots) to the right of the image field, then choose the image that you want. If you have your own, then select it instead (you will have to navigate through the file system to find it).

Title Page Dialog

Title Page Dialog

Note the forward slashes '/' in the text. These mark new lines. So the title will look like this:

Descendants of Seth Wheelock
Charlton, Massachusetts

Also, note the Help button. This will bring up detailed help about the title page.

When you are satisfied with the title, image, and byline fields of the title page, press OK to accept these values, and dismiss the title page dialog.

Table Of Contents Dialog

Table Of Contents Dialog

By default, headings in the table of contents are hyperlinked to the associated section in the document. This can be disabled by unchecking the Create Hyperlinks checkbox.

Note the reminder in blue at the bottom, above the buttons. Open Document Text (ODT) documents do not have their table of contents (TOC) or their name indexes filled in until when you first view them in LibreOffice or OpenOffice. You have to select the following menu item in LibreOffice or OpenOffice to make them visible:

Tools->Update->Update All

This will expand the TOC and the name index. For large documents, this may take a while, up to a half minute. During this 'expansion/update' process, LibreOffice is scanning the entire document, looking for headings that should go into the table of contents, and looking for names that should be indexed. If you decide to add additional sections to your document in LibreOffice (or OpenOffice), say another chapter at the beginning that gives credit to those who helped with your genealogical research - then you will have to run the update again. This is because the page numbers in the name index will have changed, and the table of contents will now have a new section.

Descendant Report

In most circumstances, a descendant report will be preceded by a heading, something like: "Descendants of Seth Wheelock (about 1752 - 1806)". So the first step is to add a heading to the document, positioned after the table of contents. Drag the Heading button onto the layout panel on the left. When you release the mouse button, you'll see this dialog:

Heading Dialog

Heading Document Item Dialog

You can choose between three levels of headings. Level 1 headings force a page break, so that the heading will always appear at the top of a new page. We are using a level 1 heading here, because we want the descendant report to start on a brand new page. Otherwise, it would appear on the same page as the table of contents.

Next, we drag the Descendant Report button onto the document layout panel, positioned after the heading we just added. This will bring up the descendant report dialog:

Empty Descendant Report Dialog

Empty Descendant Report Dialog

There is one essential piece of information that must be supplied for a descendant report, namely the GEDCOM file that contains the genealogical information. The rest is optional.

We strongly recommend using the browse button (three small dots) to select your GEDCOM file. This is far preferable to typing it in, much less prone to error.

The Root individual is the first person in the descendant report. Everyone else in the report is a descendant of that person. By default, AA will choose the person with the most progeny, so you can leave this blank if you want.

However, we are going to select a specific person from the GEDCOM file. Again, rather than typing in the name of the person, it is far preferable to select the person from the GEDCOM using the button with the three small dots to the right of the Root Individual field. This will invoke the GEDCOM Browser, that allows you to view people in your GEDCOM file.

After selecting a GEDCOM file, press the GEDCOM browse button (to the right of the Root Individual) to select a person from the GEDCOM file. Once pressed, AA will have to read in your GEDCOM file. This may take a few seconds if it's a large GEDCOM. You will then see the AA GEDCOM Browser:

Gedcom Browser

Gedcom Browser Opens on the Person With The Most Progeny

Note that the window is divided into a left panel, for typing names, dates, and other search criteria, and a right panel, for viewing the selected person.

To search for the person we want, type the first and last name into the search fields at the top of the left panel. Leave the dates blank. Then press the Find button. The browser will then look something like this:

GEDCOM Browser

All People with the Name Seth Wheelock

After pressing the Find button, the left panel is filled with a list of people named Seth Wheelock. There are quite a few of them. We can find Seth more quickly if we know his birth date. To sort all individuals by birth, click the Birth column header, underlined in red above. Now scan forward to find the Seth Wheelock born on the expected date. In this case, it's the second person in the list. Double click on the second Seth to display him in the right panel. By double clicking on the second Seth, he becomes the selected individual, appearing at the top of the browse dialog, and in the right panel. The browser dialog will then look like below:

Browser Dialog

Seth Wheelock Has Been Selected

At this point, we can press OK in the lower right to make Seth the root of our descendant report.

There is a lot more to know about the browser dialog. If you are interested, press the Help button.

After pressing the OK button in the browser dialog, the information about Seth will fill the Root Individual fields, as shown below:

Descendant Report Dialog

Descendant Report Dialog With Seth Wheelock As Root Of Descendant Report

Next we want to choose specific options for the descendant report. To do so, push the Options button highlighted in red above.

There are a variety of options to choose from. We won't discuss all of them here (read the Help). Instead, to illustrate how it is done, we'll choose one option - enabling generation headings. This option will place a heading in the document everytime a new generation is encountered, such as:

Generation Number 1


Generation Number 2



Press the Options button, and select the Output tab (highlighted in red below).

Descendant Report Options

Output Options, Showing How to Enable Generation Headings

Check the Include Generation Headings checkbox highlighted in yellow above. We'll leave the other settings the same. Click OK, then click OK again to dismiss the Descendant Report Dialog. At this point the main AA window will look like this:

Document Layout

Document Layout So Far, With Title Page, TOC, and Descendant Report

Modifying Document Items

The layout panel on the left shows a title page, following by a table of contents, followed by a heading, and the descendant report for Seth Wheelock.

To modify any of these document items, double click on the one you want to change. This will invoke the same dialog that was originally shown for each of these document items. For example, double clicking on the heading document item, highlighted in yellow above, would display the dialog shown below, giving you a chance to modify the heading:

Heading Document Item

Heading Document Item

Also, you can rearrange the document items by dragging them into a new position. You can delete a document item by selecting it, and pressing the keyboard delete button. Alternatively, you can select it, press the right mouse button, and select either Delete or Modify from the popup menu:

Popup Menu

Right Click To Bring Up Delete/Modify Menu For Selected Document Item

Adding Source Citations

There are two ways to display source citations. The first is as a separate chapter at the end of the document that lists all the sources referenced in the text. The second is a list of footnotes at the bottom of each page that lists all source citations on the page.

The board of certified genealogists recommends footnote style sources. They are easier to read because you only have to scan to the bottom of the page to see the source, rather than flipping pages to the end of the document. So we'll choose footnotes over end notes.

To select footnote style sources, press the Options button on the bottom of the AA window, underlined in red above, then select the Citations tab:

Citations Tab

Selecting Footnote Style Source Citations

Check the box labeled Include Source Citations, then choose select the Footnotes citation style underneath (as shown above). Finally, press OK to accept your choices, and to dismiss the global options dialog.

Creating a Name Index

Like descendant reports, a name index is created in two steps. First, add a Level 1 heading to provide a heading, and to force the name index to start on a new page. Then add the index, which will display the dialog shown below:

Name Index Dialog

Choosing a 2 Column Index

You have a choice between a one or two column index. The latter is more space efficient, so we'll choose that. Also, you have a choice to enable links from the page numbers in the index back to the page on which that person appears. Unfortunately, the Open Document Text format does not allow links in the index, so this option pertains to PDF output only. Links will show up in blue - so in rare circumstances you might not want the blue in the PDF document. You can disable the links by unchecking the Enable Index Links (PDF Only).

Like tables of contents, the name index must be expanded before you will see it in LibreOffice or OpenOffice. To do this, select Tools->Update->Update All menu item. If you make any changes to your document, you should rerun this menu item, otherwise the page numbers in the table of contents and/or index might be incorrect.

Press OK to accept these changes and dismiss the dialog.

Creating the Document

We are now ready to create the document. The AA window should look something like this:

AA Main Window

AA Plus Main Window Showing All Document Items

For good measure, select the Script->Save menu item to save the script in the previously designated file, in this case - Tutorial.xml.

To create the document, press the Create ODT button highlighted in yellow above. This will create a document viewable and editable with LibreOffice or OpenOffice. To work correctly, you must have LibreOffice or OpenOffice installed on your computer.

If the document is more than a thousand pages or so, it can take a sizable fraction of a minute to create. Once created, AA will ask if you want to view it:

View Dialog

After Pressing the 'Create ODT' Button, AA Asks If You Want To View the Document

Press Yes to view the document. If the document is large, it may take a little while to load into LibreOffice or OpenOffice. This one is only about 15 pages long - it takes approximately 3 seconds to load into LibreOffice.

As you scroll through the document, you'll notice that the table of contents and the name index appear to be empty. Below the table of contents is a bright red reminder to update it:

To make the table of contents (TOC) and name index visible, select LibreOffice or OpenOffice menu item 'Tools/Update/Update All' then delete this paragraph. If you prefer not to see this hint, select Ancestral Author Plus menu item "Script/Preferences/Disable 'Table Of Contents' Hint".

At first, it’s easy to overlook this step, so AA reminds you at every opportunity.

Spell Checking

One of the great advantages of ODT format (vs. PDF) is that the document can be spell checked in LibreOffice or OpenOffice. By default, misspelled words are highlighted in red. By selecting some text, then selecting the menu item:


it is quite easy to correct words that have been misspelled. Of course, it is a good idea to correct these misspellings in your GEDCOM too, otherwise you'll have to do these corrections every time you create a new document.

Creating a PDF In LibreOffice

After spelling corrections, and whatever other changes are desired, you can create a PDF by selecting LibreOffice menu item:

File->Export As->Export Directly As PDF

This will prompt for a PDF file name, and create the PDF. If you want more control over the options, such as password protecting the PDF, or preventing readers from printing it, choose the following LibreOffice menu item:

File->Export As->Export As PDF

This will bring up a dialog that gives many more options for creating the PDF.

An example of a PDF created this way is shown here. A few edits were done before creating this PDF:

  • some spelling corrections were made,
  • the spacing on the title page was adjusted,
  • a few quotations were indented, and
  • successive identical footnotes were replaced with Ibid.

Note that it is necessary to rerun the Update menu item after making these edits. This will ensure that the table of contents and index refer to the correct page numbers.

Creating a PDF Directly From Ancestral Author Plus

There are a few advantages to creating a PDF directly from Ancestral Author Plus, without going through LibreOffice or OpenOffice:

  • it is much simpler, just press the Create PDF button,
  • you don't need to install LibreOffice or OpenOffice, and
  • PDF name indexes can be linked back to the page on which that person appears, making it much easier to find the page.

Of course, the negative is that you can't easily edit the PDF file, and there is no automatic spell checking.

Here is an example of the PDF file that is created by pushing the Create PDF button.


This concludes the introductory tutorial. We have gone over the basic concepts, shown how to use AA help, and created a simple genealogical descendant report. Other topics, such as:

  • importing images and creating image galleries,
  • importing formatted text,
  • selecting fonts, margins, and page numbering schemes,
  • changing the phrases used in the output text, and
  • changing the ordering of information in the report

will be covered in separate application notes.