Join the dots…

Join the dots…

Each of these celebrities has been linked to the royal family... but perhaps the same could be done for us all!

Andrew Chapman, Editor of Discover Your Ancestors Periodical

Andrew Chapman

Editor of Discover Your Ancestors Periodical

In each annual issue of Discover Your Ancestors we round up recent discoveries in the ancestries of celebrities. These tend to fall into any of three categories.

The first type are those revealing that two different famous people are in fact related to each other (perhaps confirming even more that fame in certain fields is a closed shop!).

Next, that the person is related to royalty – but, as any good genealogist will tell you, we all are if you go back far enough, which usually means to around the time of the 13th century Plantagenets.

Finally, that the celeb in question turns out to have ’umble origins like most of the rest of us do – for a good example of this, see our feature on Ozzy Osbourne’s roots starting on page 10. (Often these are the most interesting!)

So what have we learned over the last year or so?

Johnny Depp

Not so lone rangers
Lone Ranger star Johnny Depp was found to have an ancestor who was a real American freedom fighter. His great-x8-grandmother was Elizabeth Key Grinstead (b1635), who was the first woman of African ancestry in the North American colonies to sue for her freedom from slavery and win. She won her freedom and that of her infant son John Grinstead on July 21, 1656 in the colony of Virginia. She sued based on the fact that her father was an Englishman and that she was a baptized Christian. Based on these two factors, her English attorney and common-law husband William Grinstead argued successfully that she should be freed.

Depp himself believes he has Cherokee or Creek Indian ancestry, although this has not been proven. And in 2011 it was ‘revealed’ that Depp is a 20-times-removed cousin of the Queen…

Meanwhole Depp’s Lone Ranger co-star Armie Hammer is descended from Kanagatucko (d1760), a Cherokee elder known in English as Old Hop or Stalking Turkey – he promoted peace during the Seven Years’ War.

Mick Fleetwood

We also learned in 2013 that Cornish-born drummer Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac is himself descended from a renowned entertainer of the past.

His great-x4-grandmother was one Anne Catley (1745-1789). She was a superstar singer of the 18th century stage, who commanded impressive wages (as much as £5,000 per day in today’s money) and inspired copycat hairstyles among her fans. In her obituary in The Times, she was described as the delight of the British nation. (You can read more about her life in an 1888 biography available free here .)

Oh, and Mick Fleetwood is also related to… royalty. His great-x6-grandfather Edward Lascelles was the great-x9-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales .

In the last issue we reported that George Clooney was related (or half-related) to Abraham Lincoln. Well, genealogist William Addams Reitwiesner has also established that Tom Hanks is also related to the 16th President, namely his third cousin, four times removed. (See if you want to pursue Hanks’s ancestry further for some reason.)

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Quebec connections
Sometimes celebrity connections stir up trouble. Back in 2011 one of the leading lights in American celebrity genealogy, Christopher Child of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, declared that superstar singers Madonna and Lady Gaga are ninth cousins once removed, sharing ancestry via 17th century French farmers in Quebec. However, a website ( specialising in people from the Perche region of France who emigrated to Quebec in the 17th century has since firmly declared this isn’t the case. According to their expert, French genealogist Jean-Francois Loiseau, Madonna is descended from the couple in question (Jean Bessette and Anne Seigneur), but Lady Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) is not. The confusion appears to stem from Mr Child getting a Jacques Pascal Bessette mixed up with Germanotti’s ancestor Jacob Bessette/Bisset. It’s good to know that anyone can fall prey to this kind of genealogical assumption.

Duchess of Cornwall

If you’re interested, the Perche-Quebec website also has genealogies for Angeline Jolie, Hillary Clinton, the Duchess of Cornwall and Jack Kerouac. Clinton and Jolie are also related to each other via those early Canadian roots (ninth cousins twice removed), as are Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Madonna. They were clearly small communities in early Quebec.

Mr Child is also known for linking the ancestries of Tim Robbins and Richard Gere, who are 11th cousins via the Denison family of Connecticut, and those of comedian Ellen DeGeneres and Halle Berry (10th cousins once removed via the Van Swearingen family of Maryland). Oh, and Robbins is a 10th cousin of Diana, Princess of Wales via the Thompson Parke family, and DeGeneres is a 15th cousin of Kate Middleton…

Ellen DeGeneres

Of course, 2013’s royal baby led to yet another flurry of celebrity genealogy. Young Prince George, we learned, is linked to many other celebrity babies: for example, he is 11th cousin to the children of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, 22nd cousin of Uma Thurman’s daughter, 23rd cousin to Beyoncé Knowles’ daughter and 27th cousin to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s daughter! (The list goes on…)

If you’re interested in some less fanciful UK-specific celebrity genealogy, compiled by a serious genealogist, see the ‘Reach for the Stars ’ blog.

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