14 Celebs Who Unexpectedly Learned Their Family’s Secret

It would seem that we know even the smallest details about celebrities’ lives, and it’s difficult to find anything new in their biography. But sometimes even the stars themselves are unaware that there are stories in their past that could easily be the subject of a book or a film. All you have to do is study the ancestral lore and family documents.

Julia Roberts should have had a completely different surname.

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It turns out that the actress’s supposed great-great-grandfather died 10 years before the birth of her great-grandfather, which means the latter should not have carried this surname. The boy’s father was actually Henry McDonald Mitchell, who lived next door to the Roberts family.

Mitchell was married and had six legitimate children, which must have been what prevented him from legally marrying Rhoda Suttle Roberts, the star’s great-great-grandmother. Julia was seriously shocked by the story but admitted that she still prefers to be called Roberts rather than Mitchell.

One of Edward Norton’s ancestors turns out to be Pocahontas.

There was a legend in the actor’s family that one of his ancestors belonged to the indigenous peoples of North America. Recent research has revealed that this person was the renowned Pocahontas. The daughter of a Powhatan chief married John Rolfe in 1614 and bore him a son, Thomas. The only son of Pocahontas and John happens to be Norton’s distant relative. Pocahontas herself turns out to be Edward’s 12th great-grandmother.

Hilary Swank’s roots are in Nebraska.

2014 saw the release of the film The Homesman, where the actress plays a farmer from Nebraska who is forced to make the arduous journey across the wilderness to Iowa. A few years later, Hilary’s father revealed that there was a tragic episode in their family history reminiscent of one scene from the film. Their ancestors were also farmers living in Nebraska. During a skirmish with invaders, one of Swank’s ancestors was killed, but because he had been leaning against a rock, his body didn’t fall. The frightened aggressors decided it was not a mortal man but an evil spirit and fled.

Tom Hanks once portrayed a cousin of his on screen.

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When the actor accepted the role of the famous TV presenter Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, he had no idea they were distant relatives. Ancestry, a genealogy research company, has revealed that the presenter and the actor share a common ancestor, Johannes Mefford. The man emigrated from Germany to the US in the 18th century.

Anthony Wong met his brothers when he was in his 50s.

The actor’s father and his mother split up when the boy was just four years old. At first, the parents kept in touch, but after a while, they lost contact. For years, Wong tried to find any traces of his father, but he only knew his name. He shared his story with journalists and with the help of social media, Wong was able to find his father’s second family. It turned out that Wong has two half-brothers who weren’t even aware of Anthony’s existence. When they met, they immediately found common ground and liked each other very much.

If Danny Trejo had known about his roots, his youth would have been very different.

The actor had a difficult childhood and hardly knew his mother. Trejo grew up surrounded by bitter men; his father was a construction worker who hated his job, and his uncle was involved in illegal activities. As a result, the boy felt he didn’t have many choices in life — either break your back working at the despised construction site or make easy money on the streets.

As a result, Trejo spent most of his youth in prison. He only recently learned that his ancestors were quite wealthy and law-abiding citizens. His great-grandfather, on his father’s side, was able to emigrate to the US from Mexico, where he worked on a farm initially but later managed to get ahead and ended up buying a shop and a house. Meanwhile, his mother’s ancestors were wealthy landowners in Mexico. Trejo wishes he had known about this when he was growing up, as it might have given him strength and served as a great source of inspiration.

Sarah Jessica Parker’s and Claire Danes’ ancestors were the infamous Salem witches.

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Both actresses only recently discovered that in the 17th century, women in their lineage were accused of witchcraft. Parker’s 10th great-grandmother got lucky, her case was closed before the verdict, and as a result, the woman lived to be 82 years old. Margaret Scott, Danes’ ancestor, suffered an unenviable fate. She was found guilty of witchcraft and was one of the last victims of the Salem Witch Trials.

Joe Manganiello has recently found out he has no Italian roots.

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True Blood and Magic Mike star has always believed his father’s ancestors came from Italy. But a recent DNA test revealed that the actor and his father have no Italian roots. In fact, his great-grandfather was William Henry Cutler, who was black, and his great-grandmother, Nellie Alton, was white; they got married in 1887. It was quite a bold move for those times. Also, William’s distant ancestor, Plato Turner, was brought to the US but later became a free man. Manganiello said he was happy to finally know the truth about his ancestors, and it has helped him see many things differently.

Kevin Bacon and his wife are actually distant relatives.

When Bacon and his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, decided to look into their genealogical ancestry, they didn’t think the research would bring them many surprises. It turned out that Bacon’s ancestors hail from the city of Bristol, UK, and trace their ancestry back to King Edward I of England. Also, Bacon and Sedgwick are 9th cousins, something their families were previously unaware of.

There’s a story behind the actor Christopher Meloni’s last name.

It turns out that the actor’s great-grandfather was an orphan. His parents abandoned him as a baby, giving him to an orphanage where the boy was named Enrico Meloni. Most likely, the surname, which translates from Italian as “melon,” was given to him as a bit of a joke and characterized his appearance in infancy. When he grew up, Enrico decided to seek a better life overseas and left Italy for Boston in the late 19th century.

Amy Schumer’s ancestors were kidnapped by the Mohawk people.

In the 18th century, the actress’s family lived in Massachusetts. It was there that her 8th great-grandfather’s relatives suffered misfortune. His sister and two brothers were kidnapped by Native Americans of the Mohawk tribe. The girl, Sarah, was 14, and the boys, John and Zachariah, were 12 and 7. Sarah was eventually ransomed and ended up in a monastery in Montreal, while John and Zachariah stayed with the tribe.

A few years later, there was an attempt to retrieve the boys, but the chief said that the tribe had accepted them as their own, and it was up to them to decide whether they wanted to leave their new family. Despite persistent persuasion, the young men chose to stay with the Mohawk people and, as a result, became the most prosperous people in the land.

Kathryn Hahn may have distant relatives in Germany.

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The actress’s 3rd great-grandfather was called Wilhelm, and he worked as a baker in Cologne. He had a wife, Katerina, and five children. Anton Ternes and his 17-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, lived not too far from Wilhelm. Judging by the circumstances, Wilhelm and Elisabeth had an affair, as they both suddenly left their loved ones and went to America.

Seven years later, Wilhelm and Elizabeth —who was then going by the name of Eliza— were living on a farm in Wisconsin and raising their son, Kathryn Hahn’s ancestor. No one knows whether Wilhelm regretted that he had left his family behind across the ocean, but none of his friends were aware of the existence of Katerina or his older children. It seems that the runaway lovers decided to start a whole new life, leaving the past behind.

Téa Leoni was able to find her biological grandmother.


Téa Leoni’s mother was adopted at a young age, and the actress struggled for a long time to help her mother in her search for her biological parents. As a result, Leoni turned to the program Finding Your Roots for help. Using DNA analysis, the show’s staff was able to find Téa’s real grandmother and arranged for the three women to meet.

Neil Patrick Harris’ ancestors came to America even before the passengers of the Mayflower.

As it turns out, the actor’s paternal ancestors are of English descent. His distant ancestor William Ferrar arrived in Virginia in 1618 aboard the ship Neptune. During their sea voyage, the future colonists had to endure a lot of adversity, but they were able to establish a settlement two years before the famous ship Mayflower docked at the American shores.

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