With the advent of genealogical DNA kits that can be performed at home, we are easily able to satisfy our curiosities regarding our ethnicities. Celebrities are no exception and are now finding their results to be a hot topic. Just like us, they often are surprised by the report they receive and are left questioning information that they have always believed to be true. The DNA results from some are not only fascinating but, in some cases, have brought public criticism as well.
We will take a closer look at some of the results of celebrities who have been open enough to share their stories with the public. Many have taken it as an opportunity to learn more about themselves and their backgrounds, but some have been shaken with their DNA results.
Jessica Alba first learned of her surprising DNA mix on George Lopez’s late night TV show, which aired December 1, 2009. Known for being a beautiful Latina star, Ms. Alba was visibly shocked to learn that she was mostly of European descent. Mr. Lopez sent her swab sample of saliva to DNA Diagnostics Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Having believed that she was more indigenous than any other group. she exclaimed, “Really? Wow!” upon learning she was only 13 percent indigenous American and 87 percent European.
After absorbing the news, she asked, “That’s crazy… Does Spain count, because Alba comes from Spain…? Is Spain Latina?”
Later, on November 25, 2014, Alba was a guest on Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr. More information was revealed that definitely changed her identity from mostly Mexican Latina to European. Her Mexican heritage had been something that was believed to have come down from her father’s side. They tested her father’s DNA and found that the mitochondrial DNA signature (passed down from mother to child, therefore Jessica would not have this in her results) revealed Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, or Ukraine. Even more interesting was that each one showed Sephardic Jewish ancestry on their maternal lines.
A powerful and popular celebrity, Oprah Winfrey decided to explore her DNA results on the PBS show African American Lives. Having grown up in Mississippi as an African-American, little was known about her exact ethnic roots. She had guessed that she was all African descent and had no European or Native American ancestry. She was only partially correct.
When Winfrey’s results were revealed, it showed that she was, indeed, a majority mixture of African. Three exact results included the Kpelle people, who lived in western Africa in what’s now Liberia; the Bamileke people in Cameroon; and a Bantu-speaking tribe in Zambia. Oprah was also correct that she was 0 percent European. However, the surprise was that she was 8 percent Native American and 3 percent East Asian.
“I’ve got to say, when it happened to me, it was absolutely empowering to know the journey of my entire family,” Winfrey said.
American rapper Snoop Dogg appeared on George Lopez’s late-night show in 2010 with his DNA results being put up against Charles Barkley’s to see who was “blacker.” As it turned out, Barkley (75 percent Sub-Saharan African) was blacker than Snoop Dogg (71 percent Sub-Saharan African). Snoop was taken aback by the results but seemed pleased to find out he was 23 percent Native American. In addition, Snoop’s test revealed that he was actually 6 percent “white” European.
Sometimes DNA testing can turn a well-known person into a laughing stock if they have made differing claims in the past. United States Senator Elizabeth Warren released her results after previously claiming Native American status on federal forms filed by Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she was employed. She also identified herself as a minority in a legal directory for over a decade.
The recent results show that Warren is actually almost completely of European descent, which has made her very unpopular with those in indigenous communities. The report was lead and prepared by Carlos Bustamante, a Stanford geneticist. “While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago,” the report said. Unfortunately for Ms. Warren, this was not what she lead the public to believe her heritage truly was.
Celebrities and well-known people in society are not unlike us. Often they have very little understanding of their genealogy and are relying on family lore and word-of-mouth. Quite often, this information is sketchy, at best, and can lead to disappointment and surprises. With the technology that is readily available to us from such services as Living DNA, ancestryDNA and 23andMe, it is best to check out our claims before sharing them with the public. In the past, all we had to refer to were stories passed down from generation to generation. Today, it can prove to be a public relations nightmare if we attempt to claim these myths when trying to advance in our education and careers. We have the ability to verify the details now and certainly should.