During an episode of 'Finding Your Roots,' the actress found out about a centuries-old affair involving her great-great-grandfather.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 16, 2023. It has since been updated.
Julia Roberts realized she is not who she thought she was. No, this is not a scene from Eat, Pray, Love. The Oscar-winning actress appeared on PBS' Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on January 11 and was left speechless by a century-old secret. As per PEOPLE, after researching Roberts' family tree, Gates Jr. found out that the man who was supposedly her great-great-grandfather, Willis Roberts, actually died more than a decade before her great-grandfather was born.
Although her great-great-grandmother, Rhoda Suttle Roberts, had been married to Willis since the 1850s, his death in 1864 left a startling gap. "Oh, wait — but am I not a Roberts?" the Notting Hill actress said. Gates Jr. then explained that public databases instead found "a cluster of matches" that traced Roberts, 55, to a man called Henry McDonald Mitchell Jr. "So we're Mitchell's?" Roberts asked. "You're Julia Mitchell", Gates Jr. confirmed as the actress laughed and he then added, "You are not a Roberts, biologically."
But this was not all of it, the historian further added, that Mitchell had been married at the time of his affair with Roberts' great-great-grandmother, Rhoda, and had six of his own children. “And Sarah (Mitchell’s wife) was probably saying, 'Oh, you’re gonna go see your mom. That’s so sweet',” Roberts imagined how the affair might have continued, reported TODAY. “Nobody knew,” Roberts said of the people who lived in the same town at the time. “Well, everybody near that farm knew because her husband wasn’t there, and she was still having babies,” Gates Jr. noted.
Through rigorous research of census data, Gates Jr. also discovered that Mitchell's mother, a widow, lived "just four households" away from Rhoda. "Wow", said Roberts. She was surprised and when Gates Jr. asked how she felt about her newfound ancestry, Roberts added, "On the one hand, truly my mind is blown," Roberts said. "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 my family is my family. And I do prefer the name, Roberts!"
"This was a very unexpected turn," she added as Gates Jr. concluded his findings, telling her that Mitchell Jr. disappeared from the paper trail in the late 1800s. His and Roberts' newfound ancestors, however, can be traced back to 18th-century colonial Virginia.
Roberts' family's secrets are a recent revelation on the show. On January 4, Edward Norton appeared on the PBS show's premiere episode and was told that 17th-century Powhatan woman Pocahontas was his 12th great-grandmother. Gates. Jr. also revealed that Norton's ancestry includes a Civil War soldier who wrote to Abraham Lincoln and a late 19th-century pro-union labor activist and is traced directly back to the earliest days of colonial America in Virginia when Pocahontas married English settler John Rolfe in 1614.
The historian also revealed a surprising fact that Norton and Roberts share a similar enough DNA sequence to determine they share a common ancestor. This was news that amazed both actors, "How come I didn't get the teeth and the smile?" Norton joked.
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