Actor Edward Norton found out he has a very famous ancestor — Pocahontas.
On the PBS show “Finding Your Roots,” in which host Henry Louis Gates reveals the genealogy of celebrities, Norton was told Pocahontas is his 12th great-grandmother. The actor was shocked.
“I understand that was family lore,” Gates says. “Well, it is absolutely true.”
Norton, known for films like “American History X” and “Birdman,” asked Gates how he could determine the relation, and the host replied: “Through the paper trail.”
Gates explained that there is a record of Pocahontas and John Rolfe marrying on April 5, 1614, in Jamestown, Virginia. Through other documents, Gates said, Norton’s genealogy could be traced back to them.
“This is about as far back as you can go,” Gates said. To put into perspective just how long ago that was, he added that William Shakespeare died two years after Pocahontas and Rolfe married.
“This just makes you realize what a small piece of the whole human story you are,” Norton said.
Pocahontas, born around 1596, was the daughter of Wahunsenaca, the paramount chief of the Powhatan Chiefdom, which had a population of about 25,000 at its height, according to the National Park Service.
According to the writings of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas saved his life after he had been captured by the Powhatan and was set to be executed. Before he could be killed, in Smith’s telling, Pocahontas placed her head on top of his, preventing his execution. There is, however, some historical debate as to whether this event ever really occurred, the park service notes.
After later being captured by the English, Pocahontas met widower John Rolfe and the two married. In 1614, she converted to Christianity, was baptized “Rebecca,” and the pair had a baby named Thomas. The family moved to England in 1616.
Several other celebrities have found interesting genealogical surprises through “Finding Your Roots.” Christopher Meloni of “Law and Order: SVU” fame found out he was related to Nancy Pelosi. TV personality and producer Andy Cohen is a distant relative of Scarlette Johansson. Glenn Close learned she is related to both Princess Diana and Clint Eastwood. “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King learned about her own family tree in a 2021 episode.
Norton’s episode, which also featured Julia Roberts, kicked off Season 9 of the show on Tuesday.