Modern Software Experience

2010-06-24

Ancestry.com

Twilight film poster

Robert Pattinson related to Count Dracula?

On 2010 Jul 23, Ancestry.com issued a press release titled Ancestry.com discovers Twilight Star Robert Pattinson’s Vampire Past, in which Ancestry.com claims that Robert Pattinson is related to Dracula.

The press release contains the following quote, attributed to Ancestry.com employee Anastasia Tyler: Tracing Pattinson’s family back to Vlad was difficult research, but the pieces that unraveled created the perfect accompaniment to the Twilight Saga. Without any myth or magic, we find royalty and vampires lurking in Pattinson’s life – making his story just as supernatural as the one he’s playing on screen..

Twilight Saga

If you did not know it yet, you probably guessed that Robert Pattinson plays a vampire on screen. He plays Edward Cullen in the film adaptations of the Twilight novels by Stephanie Meyer.

The first two movies, Twilight and The Twilight Saga: New Moon were a success. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the third film in the Twilight series, is scheduled for release on 2010 June 30.

missing genealogy

Upon reading the entire press release it seemed to me that the claimed connection was farfetched at best. I not only tweeted my doubt, but additionally send an email directly to Ancestry.com PR with a single straightforward request: Please provide the genealogy to back up the claim that Robert Pattinson is related to Vlad the Impaler..
Oddly, Ancestry.com had not included that genealogy in their press release. When you've finished reading this article, you will understand why I do not expect anything resembling a real answer to that simple question.

Ancestry.com blog

Just a few hours after I asked that question, Ancestry.com updated their English blog with a post titled Twilight star Robert Pattinson is related to Dracula!:

With the release of the third film in the Twilight saga on the horizon, you can imagine our shock and delight when our researchers made the discovery that heart-throb Robert Pattinson, from our neck of the woods in London, is related to Vlad III Dracula – the man that inspired Bram Stocker’s character Dracula in the literary masterpiece!

It gets better – we established the ancestral link through our Princes William and Harry! Robert is distant cousins with the two Royals on their father’s side, likely through the Pickering family who lived in Yorkshire in the early 1500s, making Vlad a distant uncle of the two princes.

All this coupled with the fact that Twilight author Stephenie Meyer is also a distant cousin to the British princes, meaning she too shares the link to the real life Dracula, makes this one of our most exciting celebrity ancestral finds to date!

Yes, they misspelled Bram Stoker’s name. That blog post includes an diagram that schematically shows the relationships, but it is too small to make out anything but the largest names, and double-clicking it does not bring up a larger image.

The Dracula Connection

Here is a larger more readable version of that diagram, the Dracula Connection as Ancestry.com imagines it:

The Dracula Connection

Dracula

It is widely known that Count Dracula is a fictional character from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, not a real person, so a real-life relationship, even a distant one, with Count Dracula is impossible.

Vlad the Impaler

It is widely believed that Stoker based the character upon Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler, but that belief is doubtful. The reason many people think so is mostly because many Dracula films have made creative use of the tenuous relationship between the Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler.

Stoker decided to use the name Dracula upon reading William Wilkinson’s Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia with Political Observations Relative to Them, but apparently did not take much more than the name. The novel does not use that Vlad was admitted to the Order of the Dragon (Dracul) for his bravery in fighting off the Turks. It does not even use that Vlad impaled his enemies, surely something Stoker would eagerly have used to build the character’s background if he had known about it.

It is believed that Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving (1856-1905) served as Stoker’s real-life inspiration for the character’s appearance and gentlemanly mannerisms. That would make Henry Irving the real-life Dracula, but a relationship to a well-mannered Victorian stage actor is not half as interesting as one to a mediaeval prince infamous for impaling his enemies.

The Ancestry.com press release does not directly claim that Pattinson is related to Count Dracula. The press release claims that Pattinson is related to Vlad III Dracula, who is commonly thought to be the inspiration for Count Dracula. However, the title already speaks of Robert Pattinson’s Vampire Past, and the press release goes on to claim that there are vampires lurking in Pattinson’s life, as if Vlad the Impaler was a real-life undead. The press release most often mentions just Dracula, which is generally understood to refer to Count Dracula, not Vlad the Impaler.

Let’s just say that Ancestry.com took as much poetic license as many film directors did and move on to consider the rest of their claim.

relationship?

The Ancestry.com press release tries to establish a relation between Robert Pattinson and Vlad the Impaler on the basis of two other relationships. Those two relations are that Robert Pattinson is distant cousins with Prince William and Prince Harry on their father’s side and that Vlad the Impaler is a distant uncle of Prince William and Prince Harry.

two relationships

Superficially, the press release seems to claims that Robert Pattinson is related to the two British princes and that the princes are related to Vlad to the Impaler. But even if that were true, it would merely mean that the two princes can count both Robert Pattinson and Vlad the Impaler as their relations - it still would not imply that Robert Pattinson is related to Vlad the Impaler.

no direct relationships

A careful reading of the press release makes it clear that Ancestry.com did not find a direct relationship between Robert Pattinson and the two British princes, nor a direct relationship between the two princes and Vlad the Impaler.

Here is the full text of the paragraph the preceding quotes were taken from:

Family history experts at Ancestry.com discovered that Pattinson’s and Dracula’s family trees connect through none other than the British royal line: Pattinson is distant cousins with Prince William and Prince Harry on their father’s side, likely through the Pickering family who lived in Yorkshire, England, in the early 1500s. Vlad the Impaler is a distant uncle of Prince William and Prince Harry.

Robert Pattinson - princes

The press release claims that Pattinson is distant cousins with Prince William and Prince Harry on their father’s side. In other words: Robert Pattinson and the British princes share a common ancestor. They are not directly related, but merely distant cousins.

princes - Vlad the Impaler

The press release does not refer to Vlad the Impaler as a distant ancestor of Prince William and Prince Harry but as a distant uncle of Prince William and Prince Harry. Both King George VI and Vlad III Dracula are descendants of Vlad the Devil (the father of Vlad the Impaler). In other words; the princes have an ancestor in common with Vlad the Impaler. They are not directly related, but merely distant cousins.
The Family Forest contains that relationship, but that is not an Ancestry.com product. It is up to Ancestry.com to include a sourced genealogy to demonstrate the relationship and convince the skeptics.

distant cousin of distant cousin

According to Ancestry.com’s own press release, the princes do not have a direct relationship with Robert Pattinson, nor a direct relationship with Vlad the Impaler. In both cases, they are merely distant cousins, people that share a distant ancestor in common.

The distant relationship with Vlad the Impaler is through King George VI (1895-1952), while the distant relationship with Robert Pattinson is through his Queen Consort, Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002).

According to the press release, the princes have one ancestor in common with Robert Pattinson, and another ancestor in common with Vlad the Impaler. That does not establish any blood relationship, not even a distant cousins one, between Robert Pattinson and Vlad the Impaler. Ancestry.com failed to show any blood relationship at all.

princely relation

That Ancestry tries to pass of a distant cousin of a distant cousin as a blood relationship would be more than bad enough already, but their press release is worse than that.

The press release does not simply claim that Pattinson is distant cousins with Prince William and Prince Harry on their father’s side, but that Pattinson is distant cousins with Prince William and Prince Harry on their father’s side, likely through the Pickering family who lived in Yorkshire, England, in the early 1500s. (my emphasis).

I emphasised this all-important clause; Ancestry is not really sure of a relationship between Robert Pattinson and the two British princes! Ancestry.com’s family history experts believe that it is likely that Robert Pattinson and the princes have a common mediaeval ancestor somewhere in the Pickering family of Yorkshire. They do not present any genealogy. They did not investigate the possibility to eventually provide documented proof of the relationship. They merely decided to claim that such a relationship is likely, without presenting anything even vaguely resembling the merest shadow of a proof.

Apparently, Ancestry.com’s ostensible family history experts do not even grasp the basics of genealogy.

Ancestry claim

So, to summarise, Ancestry.com claims that Robert Pattinson is likely a distant cousin of the two British princes, that the princes are distant cousins of Vlad the Impaler, and then boldly concludes that they just proved a blood relationship between Robert Pattinson and Dracula. Apparently, Ancestry.com’s ostensible family history experts do not even grasp the basics of genealogy.

additional claim

Ancestry.com’s twisted notion of what constitutes genealogical research makes it hard to take any additional claim seriously, but I’ll mention it for completeness’ sake. The same press release claims that Twilight author Stephanie Meyer is a distant relative of the British princes too, and therefore related to Dracula as well.

You are related to Dracula!

The following reasoning constitutes press-release worthy proof by Ancestry.com research standards:

If you are reading this, you are probably of European descent, and therefore likely to be a descendant of Carolus the Great (Charlemagne). That makes you a distant relation of Prince William and Prince Harry. They in turn are distant relations of Vlad the Impaler. Therefore, you are related to Dracula. You have vampires in your past and royalty lurking in your life.

press release

The whole press release strikes me as a deliberate and rather cynical abuse of the press, which is likely to trust Ancestry.com’s family history experts, and run the story that Robert Patterson is related to Dracula without asking any independent experts for their opinion.

In more than one place, the press release is dishonest about the nature of the (likely) relationship, starting with Robert Pattinson’s Vampire Past in the title, which incorrectly implies that Robert Pattinson is a descendant of Vlad the Impaler. That suggestion is repeated through Anastasia Tyler’s quote that Without any myth or magic, we find royalty and vampires lurking in Pattinson’s life – making his story just as supernatural as the one he’s playing on screen..

PR campaign

The press release describes Anastasia Tyler as a genealogist at Ancestry.com, but the Ancestry.com blog still lists her function as PR & Events Manager at Ancestry.com. Perhaps she is - apart from her involvement in this dubious press release - an excellent genealogist, but it is customary for press releases to list actual job titles. The deliberate deviation from that practice is remarkable to say the least.

The English Ancestry.com blog post claims that Twilight Star Robert Pattinson is related to Dracula!. That is the title, and the body text of the blog post by PR manager Annabel Bernhardt goes on to repeat that claim.

Mike Ward, the public relations director for Ancestry.com tweeted

2010-06-23 23:57mikeward01Ancestry.com finds Robert Pattinson from Twilight is related to Vlad III Dracula.

Again an utterly unreserved claim that Ancestry found a relationship, not an admission that they tried hard to find one, and when they failed to do so, decided to conjure a likely relationship, added some shockingly shoddy reasoning that belies any knowledge of genealogy they presumably have, and then tried to pass off their fantastical genealogy as unquestionable fact.

If conjuring a likely connection is such difficult research, then why doesn’t the press release include a quote from Ancestry.com’s Chief Genealogist? Why are all the names behind the claims for PR employees? Could it be that this is not bonafide genealogical research, but a less than bonafide PR campaign instead, that no self-respecting genealogist wants to be associated with? The presented reasoning is so fundamentally flawed that it is reasonable to wonder whether Ancestry.com’s PR people bothered to consult any genealogists at all.

Ancestry.com’s claim is nothing more than farfetched sensationalist poppycock.

conclusion

Ancestry.com seems to be claiming that real-life actor Robert Pattinson is related to Count Dracula. They do not base this claim on a real relationship to Victorian actor Sir Henry Irving, but on an ostensible relationship to Vlad the Impaler.

Ancestry.com’s actual claim is that Robert Pattinson is related to Vlad the Impaler. The use of Dracula throughout the press release, generally understood to mean Count Dracula, instead of Vlad III Dracula or the even less confusing Vlad the Impaler, is no attempt to prevent unfortunate misunderstanding of the press release. It sure seems that the Ancestry PR department wants their claim to be misreported.

Ancestry.com makes the claim, but fails to produce even a hint of relationship between Robert Pattinson and Vlad the Impaler. They conjure a likely relationship between Robert Pattinson and the two British princes, but present no hint of proof at all. It matters little, because even if the conjectured relationship were real, the rest of the press release is shockingly sloppy reasoning that belies any grasp of genealogy.

Ancestry.com’s ostensible family history experts reason that because Robert Pattinson is (likely) a distant relation of the two British princes, and the princes are distant cousins of Vlad the Impaler, Robert Pattinson is therefore related to Vlad the Impaler.
Ancestry.com’s claim is nothing more than farfetched sensationalist poppycock.

updates

2010-06-25: Geni.com Profiles of the Day

In response to tweets about Robert Pattinson and Vlad the Impaler, Geni.com made both their Profile of the Day.

2010-06-25: Nick Gombash

Nick Gombash specialises in Hungarian genealogy. He examines an alleged line between Vlad the Devil (the father of Vlad the Impaler) and Elizabeth II, and concludes that it seems possible, but that he isn’t convinced yet.
Ancestry.com PR still has not replied to my request to provide the genealogy behind their claim.

2010-06-26 Family Forest

The Family Forest blog now has a blog post thanking me for pointing out that the Family Forest has a bloodline between Vlad the Devil and the British Royals. They stress that, unlike Ancestry.com’s diagram, the Family Forest shows all generations in between.

2010-06-26 Ancestry contradicts Ancestry

Ancestry contradicts Ancestry.com discusses that Ancestry.co.uk’s press release about the Dracula claim release is not in agreement with Ancestry.com's press release…

2010-07-14

In much the same manner as Ancestry claims that Robert Pattinson is related to Dracula, the satirical blog The Land of the Pigs claims that George W. Bush is a descendant of Pontius Pilate - hat tip to John Newmark of the TransylvanianDutch blog and his Weekly Genealogy Picks.

links

Ancestry claim

Twilight Saga

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