Your genealogy can offer a fascinating new perspective on family history. Famous people seem to agree, and the rise of reality television means fans can discover new information about their favorite stars alongside them.
Celebrities on Finding Your Roots can trace their lineage back generations with the help of host Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Revelations from Finding Your Roots range from the random, like Tina Fey's distant connection to Ben Franklin, to the horrible, like Ben Affleck's relatives owning slaves. Similarly, celebrities on Who Do You Think You Are? also uncover new branches of their family trees. The show followed Susan Sarandon as she discovered her grandmother's scandalous past, and connected Sarah Jessica Parker to a colonial tragedy. And then there's Brooke Shields – a dive into her family's past revealed a surprising royal pedigree.
From shocking secrets to funny coincidences, here are the most jaw-dropping celebrity revelations from Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots.
Sarah Jessica Parker starred as a witch in Hocus Pocus, but it turns out she has real-life witchy ancestry. On Who Do You Think You Are?, Parker discovered her 10th great-grandma was condemned as a witch at the Salem Witch Trials. This 17th-century woman, Esther Elwell, was rumored to have been spotted with ghostly figures, pressing down on a woman who later died. Thankfully, Elwell didn't go to trial because prosecution for witchcraft had been outlawed shortly before the accusations against her came to light.
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Comedian Larry David scored an Emmy for playing politician Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live, but it turns out the two are actually kin. On Finding Your Roots, it was revealed that David is distantly related to Senator Sanders. Their looks and behavioral patterns must run in the family.
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On the show African American Lives, talk show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey discovered the story of an extraordinary ancestor named Constantine Winfrey. In 1876, he challenged a white man to a bet, saying he'd pick 5,000 pounds of cotton over 10 years in exchange for 80 acres of land. Constantine won and got the land. In 1906, when people were threatening to tear down the local African American school, Constantine saved it by moving it onto that land.
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On one episode of Finding Your Roots, actor Ben Affleck discoverd his ancestors were slave owners in the American South. The episode in question, however, didn't include those details, thanks to Affleck's influence. PBS stopped producing the show for a time as a result of the scandal, and Affleck apologized on Facebook:
"I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery. It is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don't like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country's history is being talked about."
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