Julia Roberts Discovers Her True Family Origins Through DNA
Updated on March 1, 2024
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Julia Roberts Discovers Her True Family Origins Through DNA
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Growing up, Julia Roberts never questioned that she descended from a long line of Roberts men. However, a more thorough exploration of her family tree revealed startling new information about her biological paternal ancestry.

Julia Roberts Discovers Her True Family Origins Through DNA 2

Questioning the Identity of Her Great-Grandfather’s Father

Julia learned that her great-grandfather was a man named John Roberts, who was born in 1878. However, census documents from John’s childhood revealed something suspicious.

“You notice anyone missing? A dad… The dad is missing,” Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains to Julia while showing her her family tree for Ancestry’s Finding Your Roots series.

Further research revealed John’s presumed paternal ancestor, a man named Willis Roberts. Sometime in the 1850s, Rhoda married a man named Willis Roberts. Julia carries Willis’ last name.

However, there was a complication.

“But Willis passed away in 1864, over a decade before Rhoda gave birth to Julia’s great-grandfather, John,” Dr. Henry explained.

This timing meant that Willis Roberts could not possibly be John Roberts’ father. So, who was? To unravel this mystery, Julia’s ancestry team turned to DNA testing.

DNA Testing Reveals the Truth

By comparing Julia’s DNA to that of a relative descended from John Roberts, a genetic match emerged, revealing Julia’s true paternal ancestor.

“Henry MacDonald Mitchell, Jr. You just read the name of your biological great-great-grandfather… You’re Julia Mitchell. You are not a Roberts, biologically,” explained Dr. Henry.

The DNA evidence showed Julia’s ancestry came through the Mitchell family line, not the Roberts line assumed by records.

Evidence pointed to John’s mother, Rhoda Suttle Roberts, keeping Henry Mitchell’s identity as John’s father a secret.

Uncovering Possible Motives

Further investigation suggested why Rhoda might have concealed John’s paternity.

At the time of John’s birth, Henry Mitchell lived just miles away with his wife Sarah and their six children. An even more tantalizing clue came from census records showing Henry’s widowed mother living remarkably close to Rhoda’s household.

Henry’s frequent trips to visit his nearby mother would have provided convenient opportunities for meeting with Rhoda Suttle Roberts.

Living With a Family Secret

Learning such information naturally prompted reflections on what it might have been like for Rhoda to harbor this secret and how many people likely knew the truth.

“Well, everybody near that farm knew because her husband wasn’t there, and she was still having babies,” explained Dr. Henry.

While paper records provide no definitive proof that Rhoda told John who his real father was, geographic proximity suggests it would have been difficult to keep the gossip at bay.

Emotional Whiplash from Discovery

Processing these revelations has understandably stirred conflicting emotions for Julia:

I mean, it’s—on the one hand, truly, my mind is blown. And it is fascinating. And on the other hand, there’s part of me that, when I’m calmer, can still wrap my arms around the idea that, you know, that my family is my family.

Still, Julia insists on her last name, as the family she’s known is the family she recognizes first and foremost.

“I do prefer the name Roberts,” Julia asserted.

A Transformed View of Family

Ultimately, Julia described the experience as “a very unexpected turn.”

DNA testing has allowed her to uncover a previously hidden chapter in her ancestry story, revealing new truths about her origins:

The journey has reshaped Julia’s conception of her extended biological family tree and her connections to past generations. While shaking assumptions we’ve always taken for granted, services like AncestryDNA provide pathways for embracing our fuller histories.

Updated on March 1, 2024
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Updated on March 1, 2024
Joel Hirsch
Joel Hirsch
Content Contributor
Joel Hirsch is a health enthusiast and gym rat with a degree in Health Sciences. He spends his time writing about products that help people reach their health goals.