“America’s Sweetheart” actress Julia Roberts learned she might not actually be a Roberts during a wild revelation on Ancestry’s “Finding Your Roots.”
According to a DNA test and extensive research into Roberts’ family tree, historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. explained to Roberts that the man she had always believed to be her great-great-grandfather — Willis Roberts — had actually passed away more than ten years before her great-great-grandmother Rhoda Suttle Roberts gave birth to the son who would become her great grandfather.
“Digging into Georgia’s County archives, we discovered that sometime in the 1850s, Rhoda married a man named Willis Roberts,” Gates explained. “Julia carries Willis’ last name, but Willis passed away in 1864, over a decade before Rhoda gave birth to Julia’s great-grandfather, John, leading to an inescapable conclusion.”
Gates added that while Rhoda kept her married name and gave it to her son — John Pendleton Roberts — Willis Roberts could not have been the father. “Julia, Willis Roberts could not possibly be your great-great-grandfather, he was dead.”
The “Pretty Woman” star was visibly taken aback by the revelation, responding, “But — wait — but am I not a Roberts?”
Gates went on to say that there were no records anywhere that shed light on who might actually have been John’s father, leaving them no recourse but DNA to trace her family history further.
A search cross-referencing Roberts’ DNA and the DNA of one of her father’s first cousins against a publicly available database was what finally gave them a clue: they found “a cluster of matches” that ultimately linked Roberts and her father’s cousin through just one man: Henry McDonald Mitchell Jr.
“So we’re Mitchells?” Roberts asked, laughing.
“You’re Julia Mitchell,” Gates nodded. “You are not a Roberts biologically.”
“I bet nobody knew,” Roberts replied.
“Well, everybody near that farm knew,” Gates pressed, adding, “Because her husband wasn’t there and she was still having babies.”
“Wow,” from Roberts. “Is my head on straight still? Am I facing you?”
Gates went on to explain why Roberts’ great-great-grandmother might have chosen not to tell anyone who John’s birth father was, noting that historian records indicated that Mitchell was married — with children of his own — when John was born.
“Truly my mind is blown,” Roberts responded. “It is fascinating and, on the other hand, there’s, you know, part of me that, you know, that when I’m calmer, you know, can still wrap my arms around the idea that my family is my family.”