Julia Roberts Just Learned Why She Isn’t Julia Roberts

David Shankbone

On January 3, 2023, PBS released the first episode of season 9 of the show “Finding Your Roots.” On the show, celebrities allow genealogists and DNA experts to dig into their family’s history to uncover things like who their ancestors really are and where their family is originally from.

In order to uncover the truth about the past, genealogists look at historical paper documents, and DNA experts use genetic analysis. What they discover is not always what you’d expect. In fact, Julia Roberts discovered a huge secret in her family tree that revealed she’s not even really a Roberts after all.

The show’s host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., sat down with Julia and presented her with a book full of all of the data they had compiled about her family history. 

Julia grew up in Georgia and knew that her mother’s family was originally from Minnesota. She didn’t know where her family was from before Minnesota. Julia discovered that her great-grandmother was born in Sweden in 1884. Her great-great-grandparents were poor during their lives in Sweden, but eventually they moved with their children to the United States to start a new life.

While it was interesting for Julia to learn about her ancestors on her mother’s side, there was something much more interesting that she would soon discover when digging into her father’s ancestors.

Julia’s great-grandfather, John Roberts, grew up in Georgia. His mother, Julia’s great-great-grandmother, was Rhoda Suttle. Rhoda was married to Willis Roberts in the 1850s, but he died in 1864; however, Julia’s great-grandfather, John, wasn’t born until 1878, meaning that Willis was not John’s father. Julia responded to this news by asking, “Am I not a Roberts?”

In order to discover who Julia’s real great-great-grandfather really was, the DNA experts got involved. In the end, the experts found a match – Henry Mitchell Jr. That means that Julia’s rightful last name by birth is actually Mitchell and not Roberts. She responded by asking, “So, we’re Mitchells?”

Upon realizing that she is not really a Roberts after all, Julia said, “Wow. That is crazy.”

With further digging, historical documents revealed that Henry Mitchell was married at the time that John was born, which means that Henry and Rhoda must have had an affair. It’s possible that Rhoda never told John who his father really was. Henry only lived a couple miles away from Rhoda, but Henry’s mother only lived four households from Rhoda.

Julia had trouble processing so much surprising information. She explained, “On the one hand, my mind is blown.” She added, “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 still my family.” She also admitted, “I do prefer the name Roberts.”

Have you ever dug into your family’s history? If so, did you discover anything that surprised you?