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‘Finding Your Roots’ Has Given Celebrities Some Shocking Revelations About Their Lineage

Photo Credit: 1. Kevin Winter / Getty Images 2. Pablo Cuadra / WireImage / Getty Images
Photo Credit: 1. Kevin Winter / Getty Images 2. Pablo Cuadra / WireImage / Getty Images

Several big-name celebrities have appeared on the PBS series, Finding Your Roots (2012-present), among them actors Edward Norton and Bob Odenkirk. The former discovered he’s directly related to the 17th-century Powhatan woman Pocahontas, while Odenkirk learned about a special royal connection in his lineage: King Charles III.

Edward Norton’s connection to Pocahontas

Painting of Pocahontas
Pocahontas. (Photo Credit: Three Lions / Getty Images)

Finding Your Roots is a PBS genealogical history series that debuted on March 25, 2012. It’s hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an American literary critic, professor and historian, who welcomes celebrities onto the show and presents them with a “book of life.” This features information collected by professional genealogists, which helps the show’s guests learn about their ancestors.

Academy Award-nominated actor Edward Norton was one of the guests to appear in the premiere for the ninth season of the program, which aired on January 3, 2023. Preparing himself for the moment, Norton looked into his lineage, yet he was still shocked at what he learned.

Sitting down with Gates, Norton discovered he had ancestral roots leading to Pocahontas. “I understand that was family lore,” Gates said. “Well, it is absolutely true.” There were murmurs that Norton’s family was related to Pocahontas, but these were typically dismissed as legend.

At first, Norton was unable to believe the truth and asked Gates how he knew this information. “You have a direct paper trail, no doubt about it, connection to your 12th great-grandmother and great-grandfather, John Rolfe and Pocahontas.” The historian then explained how Pocahontas and John Rolfe married on April 5, 1614, in Jamestown, Virginia, with the former dying three years later in Gravesend, England. Rolfe passed in March 1622.

“Makes you realize what a small piece of the whole human story you are,” Norton expressed as he came to accept that he truly is related to Pocahontas. He also understood that this was likely the end for genealogical discovery in his lineage. “This is about as far back as you can go, unless you’re a Viking,” he said.

That isn’t the only shocking thing about Edward Norton’s lineage

Edward Norton sitting in front of a microphone
Edward Norton, February 2014. (Photo Credit: Ian Gavan / Getty Images)

This wasn’t the only revelation about Norton’s ancestral lineage. Gates informed the actor that his ancestors include a 19th-century pro-union labor activist and an American Civil War soldier who wrote to US President Abraham Lincoln.

It was also revealed that his third great-grandfather, John Winstead, was a slave owner. As it turns out, Norton had discovered this information while doing his own research prior to his appearance on Finding Your Roots. He’d looked into census data for North Carolina that dated back to 1850, which showed his ancestor held “seven human beings in bondage” – a 55-year-old man, a 37-year-old woman and five young children

Gates asked Norton what it was like discovering this about his family, to which the actor explained how it didn’t sit well with him. “The short answer is these things are uncomfortable. And you should be uncomfortable with them.”

He continued, “It’s not a judgment on you in your own life, but it’s a judgment on the history of this country and it needs to be acknowledged first and foremost, and then it needs to be contended with.”

Bob Odenkirk has a connection to the British Royal Family

Then-Prince Charles sitting in a throne
Then-Prince Charles, 2022. (Photo Credit: Alastair Grant – WPA Pool / Getty Images)

Gates is known for presenting jaw-dropping familial connections on Finding Your Roots, and the one he informed Bob Odenkirk about certainly left the Better Call Saul (2015-22) actor shocked. As his father had left his family when Odenkirk was just 15 years old, he knew very little about that side of his family, meaning the news given to him by Gates was completely new to him.

On the January 30, 2024 episode of the long-running series, Gates informed Odenkirk that he is the 11th cousin of King Charles III, the current ruling monarch of Britain, thanks to familial ties on his father’s side.

The connection comes from the actor’s fifth great-grandfather, Friedrich Carl Steinholz. He was born out of wedlock to the Duke of Plön in 1755, who was related to Europe’s royal families through intermarriage, meaning that, while he disavows the monarchy, Odenkirk has royal blood running through his veins.

‘I’m an American. I’m not a monarchist’

Bob Odenkirk standing on a red carpet
Bob Odenkirk, 2013. (Photo Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Before the big reveal, Gates discussed a broader link to Europe’s aristocracy with Odenkirk, to which the actor responded, “That is wild. Like I’m a part of history that I didn’t think I was any part of. I’m an American. I’m not a monarchist. I don’t believe in that. You know, I feel like it’s a little twisted.

He continued, “I understand why society built itself around monarchs and leaders, and they passed them down through generations. I understand that goes through every society, every civilization. But I think that we’ve gotten to a better place with democracy and we should keep going down that road.”

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Upon hearing the news, Odenkirk said, “Well, maybe I’ll change my mind. Oh, that is crazy. I never even thought about that! Of course, that’s true, right?” In response, Gates teased that the actor hadn’t “been royalty more than five minutes” before trashing his own family.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!