Julia Roberts, the famous Hollywood actress known for her roles in films such as Pretty Woman and Notting Hill, recently got a shock of her life when she found out that she may not be a Roberts after all.
The actress participated in the latest season of Ancestry’s Finding Your Roots, a series that uses advanced DNA analysis and genealogical detective work to guide guests through the branches of their family tree.
In the episode that aired last week, Roberts was taken on a journey of self-discovery as Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the host of the show, revealed new information about her family history:
“The story begins with her great grandfather, John Roberts, and his mother, a woman named Rhoda Suttle,”
The actress admitted to never hearing that name before and joked that ‘subtle’ was not a word that had ever been used to describe her family. (Little bit of word play, for you there)
Dr. Gates then showed her the 1880 census for Douglas County, Georgia, where she was introduced to her great grandfather, John Pendleton Roberts, who at that time was just a toddler and living with his mother, Rhoda Suttle Roberts, and his three brothers.
However, Dr. Gates pointed out that the father was missing from the records. Further investigation revealed that Rhoda had married a man named Willis Roberts in the 1850s, and Julia carries Willis’ last name. But Willis passed away in 1864, over a decade before Rhoda gave birth to Julia’s great grandfather, John.
Speaking to the actress, Dr. Gates explained:
“Willis Roberts could not possibly be your great, great grandfather. He was dead.”
Understandably shocked, Julia asked, “But am I not a Roberts?”…
The answer was not clear, as the scouring of Douglas County records found no record of John’s father. Since the county did not issue birth certificates and marriage certificates did not name parents at the time, the experts turned to DNA testing.
Doctor Gates said:
“Julia and one of her father’s first cousins, a fellow descendant of John Roberts, both agreed to take DNA tests,”
“We then compared their results to people in publicly available databases, searching for matches, hoping to identify John’s father through the DNA of his descendants. In the end, we found a cluster of matches that tie Julia and her cousin to one man.“
That man was Henry MacDonald Mitchell Jr. After reading out the name, Roberts asked, “So we’re Mitchells?” To which Gates replied, “You’re Julia Mitchell.”
The revelation not only shocked the actress, but also led to another discovery that may have uncovered a dark family secret. It was found that when John was two, his biological father, Mr. Mitchell, was living with his wife just a few miles away from Rhoda, and Rhoda lived not far from Mitchell’s widowed mother. This raised suspicions of an extramarital affair between the two.
The actress, although surprised by the turn of events, still prefers to go by the name Roberts.
However, the incident raises important questions about family names and the role they play in our sense of identity.
It also highlights the power of DNA testing and genealogy research in uncovering hidden family secrets and rewriting our understanding of our own family history.
Roberts’ discovery that she may not be a Roberts is a reminder that our family history is often more complex and nuanced than we initially believe and that our identities are not just defined by our names or the stories passed down to us, but also by the biological connections that tie us to our ancestors.