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Why 14-year-old-girls everywhere are begging for genealogy lessons

Just in time for the release of yet another Twilight movie, Ancestry.com announced an exciting discovery about heartthrob and leading star Robert Pattinson.

Apparently America’s most tweeted vampire is distantly related to Vlad the Impaler, yes, the infamous Romanian Prince who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Meaning Pattison has more than just natural talent for acting sulky, sultry and undead. He does in fact have bloodsucking in his, well, bloodline.

But other than the obvious publicity this announcement gives to the Twilight saga, perhaps it will also act as a catalyst for tweens everywhere to get more involved in genealogy. Along with this revelation came the announcement that the Pattinson-Dracula connection extends to the British royal family as well. Dracula, Prince William and Prince Harry? Be still my heart!

Perhaps it was fate that Pattison accepted a role that runs in the family, or maybe it was just a really lucky break. But either way, we’re hoping this creates even more awareness in a younger generation about the “cool” factor of genealogy.

So what about you? Have you found any startling discoveries in your past that explain some of the life choices you’ve made? Do you think it’s just a coincidence, or do you think it runs in your [enter Dracula cackle] blood?
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Geography Lessons

Want to learn your family history? Get a degree in geography.

Many beginning researchers believe that the most important documents they can find on their family are birth certificates, marriage licenses, and burial records. While all of these are vital, don't overlook another crucial family history document—the hard-to-fold but indispensable map.

When doing family history research, it's important to put your ancestors not only in their place in time, but also in their place in geography. Our ancestors, just like us, were going actual places. If you have never been to those places yourself, looking at a map gives you a better understanding of how your ancestors lived their lives.

If family legend relates the story of Great-Grandpa going to visit Great-Grandma every Friday before they were married, one learns a lot more about their dedication to each other if the two towns are thirty miles apart.

This is the tiny island where my paternal line comes from. Can any of you aspiring cartographers identify it? I'll send a few The Generations Project Season One episodes on DVD to the first person to correctly answer.

In the meantime, start looking around and asking relatives about ancestral locations. You never know what you might learn from looking at a map. Just don't ask me how to get it folded back up correctly when you're done.

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It's a Small World

Have you ever wondered what the degree of separation is between you and the person next to you in line at the grocery store?

Years ago a new family moved in next door to my family. After getting acquainted we made a fun discovery: the father was my mother's fourth cousin (or something like that). We even found his picture in a family history book belonging to my mother. Small world.

And then I remembered an old ancestor of mine—John Lathrop (or Lothrop, or Lothropp, etc.). A member of the English Anglican clergy, he was exiled to America in 1634 because of his independent thinking regarding the doctrine and practices of the Anglican church. After he arrived in the States, he had 5 more children, adding up to a grand total of 13. If you do any research about him, you'll find that he is EVERYBODY's something-great-grandfather. By that logic, I think I'm distantly related to several presidents of the United States, and probably several of you reading this. Hi cousins!

Speaking of being related—last month I ran into a woman at a genealogy conference who had a database that connected people to each other. Her goal was to show people how they were related in order to promote a greater sense of community, commonality, and cooperation.

Would that change your perception of others—knowing that you might be related? For me it kind of brings home the idea of a "human family." If everyone could see how intertwined our common ancestry is, would it really change human interaction? What do you think?
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I Am Green Acres

The saying goes, you never really know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. My grandfather and other ancestors wore work boots and did most of their walking on a dairy farm.

Ah yes, the old farm, where every day was filled with chores, fresh air, and E-I-E-I-O. Or so I thought. A few years back, I traveled to Wheeler Historic Farm in Murray, Utah to get a “grip” on the “udderly” demanding job of my ancestors—a dairy farmer.

The first myth I busted when I walked onto the farm was that of “fresh air.” “Ripe” would be a more accurate descriptor. And just when you got used to the smell, the wind would change direction and bring a whole new array of scents. I learned from my father that this smell was commonly referred to as “the smell of money” on the old farm.

The second thing I noticed was the noise. My old See ‘n Say toy told me that farm animals made noises. What it didn’t warn me about was how startlingly loud and frightening these animal noises could be.

I took a tour of the old farmhouse, barn, and chicken coup, where I learned about the daily life of the farmer, early mornings, backbreaking labor, and the overall lack of hygiene.

Finally, my tour group was led into a warm brick shack with a cement floor. The floor had a trench about 8-inches deep that ran right through the middle of it.

Suddenly, two large sliding doors opened, letting in the natural light. Silhouetted in the light was a man in a grungy baseball cap. Behind him, being led by a leash, was a lumbering black and white spotted cow. Ripples shook through its plump body with each step that it took.

The man in the cap led the cow to a trough, plopped a tin bucket under the udders, positioned a short stool next to the beast, pointed at me and said, “you first.” I nervously sat onto the stool and was soon face-to-gut with what looked like a fat horse. I started to contemplate about my grandfather and wondered how many times he had taken in a similar view.

After some brief instruction, I reached under the cow and began to milk it. After a few tries I heard a long “ting” sound echo from the tin bucket. I immediately felt a sense of family pride and accomplishment. My pride was validated when the man in the ball cap told me that I was “a natural.” I then heard a gurgling sound coming from one of the cow’s four stomachs, shocking me out of my genealogical moment. The cow lifted its tail and I realized what the trench in the floor was for.

So, in the end, I got to connect with my family history in a physical and emotional way, and although I understand the appeal of life on the farm, I prefer the city life.

On an upcoming episode of The Generations Project, college professor, Andrea, retraces her ancestry back to her Irish homeland. While in Ireland, Andrea visits a period-style potato farm to experience, firsthand, what life would have been like for Andrea’s strong-willed great grandmother.

How well do you think you could perform the labors of your ancestors? Did you take over the family business or did you make your own way in the world? Leave us a comment and let us know.

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Make your Photo Family Tree

Have you made your Photo Family Tree yet?

Make yours here.

You can customize it depending on the photos you have available or the family members you'd like to include. I made mine with my parents and grandparents, but you can include your kids, siblings, or even friends if you'd like. Even if you don't have any pictures, you can still make one and include your family names.

This is a great way to get your friends or family who haven't shown much interest in family history, well, interested in family history. I had a great time tracking down my grandparent's photos and designing my Photo Family Tree on The Generations Project website.

Once you've visited The Generations Project and made yours, upload it to your blog or Facebook page and help us get the word out: family history isn't just digging through dusty stacks and microfiche!

And leave a link to your Photo Family Tree in the comments section of this post!

Now get to work, er, play!