Matrix projection models are a central tool in many areas of population biology. In most applications, one starts from the projection matrix to quantify the asymptotic growth rate of the population (the dominant eigenvalue), the stable stage distribution, and the reproductive values (the dominant right and left eigenvectors, respectively). Any primitive projection matrix also has an associated ergodic Markov chain that contains information about the genealogy of the population. In this paper, we show that these facts can be used to specify any matrix population model as a triple consisting of the ergodic Markov matrix, the dominant eigenvalue and one of the corresponding eigenvectors. This decomposition of the projection matrix separates properties associated with lineages from those associated with individuals. It also clarifies the relationships between many quantities commonly used to describe such models, including the relationship between eigenvalue sensitivities and elasticities. We illustrate the utility of such a decomposition by introducing a new method for aggregating classes in a matrix population models to produce a simpler model with a smaller number of classes. Unlike the standard method, our method has the advantage of preserving reproductive values and elasticities. It also has conceptually satisfying properties such as commuting with changes of units.