Leonardo DiCaprio Family History
Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio was born on November 11th, 1974 to George DiCaprio and Irmelin Indenbirken in Los Angeles. His parents named him Leonardo because his pregnant mother first felt him kick while she was looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Uffizi museum in Florence.
Leo later described his parents as “bohemian in every sense of the word.” They had divorced when he was one year old but lived in adjoining homes during his early years. DiCaprio’s father lived with his girlfriend Peggy and her son Adam with whom Leo developed a close bond. However, the neighborhood in Los Angeles in which Leo grew up was one plagued with prostitution, crime and violence.
He started out an acting career while still in junior high school, appearing in commercials and doing the odd bit part. But he struggled to get any foothold in the profession. He remained jobless for more than a year although he had had a hundred auditions. Following this lack of success he was about to give up, but his father persuaded him to persevere.
Success did come. He first made an impression in film in 1993 in This Boy’s Life with Robert de Niro when he was nineteen. He then achieved international stardom with the star-crossed romances Romeo and Juliet in 1996 and Titanic in 1997.
His boyish charm radiated in these movies. Later he took on more adult roles, such as Howard Hughes in The Aviator in 2004 and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013. He finally won the cherished Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant in 2015.
Leo has not married nor has any known children. The newspapers have touted him as Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor and have followed his love life with interest. According to industry gossip he prefers partners who are twenty-five or younger.
The name Leonardo DiCaprio screams out Italian. And it is true on his father’s side. Here he is descended from an Italian immigrant to New York in the 1880’s. But his blue eyes, fair hair, and a middle name of Wilhelm suggest some different origin. His mother Irmelin was from Germany, with her mother Helene being born in Russia; while his paternal grandmother Olga was also German.
Many Italian Americans entering show business Americanized their names in order to give themselves a wider acceptability. Not so Leo. Early in his career an agent suggested the name of Lenny Williams from his middle name of Wilhelm. Leo declined.
His Italianness did not hurt him in his career. He was in an early movie with the actor Robert De Niro. And the Italian American director Martin Scorsese later took him under his wing.
The Italian Side
The “o” ending in the DiCaprio surname would indicate a southern Italian origin (as opposed to the “i” ending more seen in the north). In fact the DiCaprio name seems to have had its origin in the region of Campania in SW Italy which includes the city of Naples.
Its root is the Latin caprae meaning “goats.” Maybe early DiCaprios were goatherds. The Latin caprae was also the root for Capri, the name of the famous island off the coast from Naples.
Italy. DiCaprio is not a common name, even in Campania. Leo’s ancestors were farmers there. As DiCaprios they could trace four generations back from Salvatore DiCaprio the emigrant to Francesco DiCaprio in the mid-18th century. Their hometown was Alife north of Naples, known as citta di cipolla or the “city of the onion.”
Salvatore DiCaprio. Salvatore, the forebear of the DiCaprios in America, was the son of Biago and Maria DiCaprio from Alife. His father Biago died in 1879. In 1882, at the age of sixteen, he left their home to seek his fortune in New York. He started out life as a street sweeper. Ten years later he married Rosina Cassella in New York, also from his hometown of Alife.
Salvatore did well in New York, possibly by serving the resident Italian population there. By 1930 he was running his own real estate and insurance business and was the proud owner of a brownstone on East 44th Street. He moved to Long Island sometime around 1950 and died there in 1966 at the grand age of one hundred.
George Leon DiCaprio. Salvatore and Rosina had four sons, the third of them being George Leon who was born in 1902. He married Olga Jacobs, an immigrant from Germany, sometime in the 1930’s, In the 1940 census he was recorded as a book-keeper and living in Queens. Their one son George Paul was born during the war in 1943,
George Paul DiCaprio. George Paul attended City College in New York and afterwards married and headed west to Los Angeles in 1968. There he struggled to make a living. He found work as an installer of fireproof roofing before setting out on his own with the launch of a waterbed business.
But he also started to make a name for himself as one of the leading figures in the underground comic scene of the 1970’s and 1980’s – as a writer, editor and distributor. He knew many of the people in the California counterculture at that time. As such, he was a big influence on his son Leo’s life and played a major role in shaping his early career.
The German Side
The German side came from his mother and, before that, from his paternal grandmother.
Grandmother Olga. In 1923 Germany was ruined and suffering from hyper-inflation. The 19 year old Olga Jakubowsky left her home in Braunschweig and departed for New York that year. The following year her parents Paul and Bertha joined her. They all stayed initially with Paul’s brother Karl in Queens. Seeking to assimilate, they changed their names from Jakubowsky to Jacobs soon after their arrival.
In 1928, while living in Queens, Olga apparently had a daughter Margaret with Charles Rawson. Margaret took the Rawson name. Later Olga married George Leon DiCaprio and their son George Paul was born in 1943. Two years later both her parents died in Queens. Olga lived on until 1984.
Mother Irmelin. Irmelin Indenbirken had been born in Germany in an air raid shelter in 1945 during an allied bombing raid on the Ruhr coal fields. Her father Wilhelm had been a coal miner there; while her mother Helene had recently escaped the war in Russia.
In 1955, at the age of ten, Irmelin came with her parents to America, settling in New York. Later Irmelin met George Paul DiCaprio at college. They married in 1968 and moved out to Los Angeles. Their son Leo was born in 1974.
In 1985 when Leo was eleven, Irmelin’s parents returned to Germany, making their home in the small German town of Oer-Erkenschwick in North-Rhine Westphalia. Leo remained close to these German grandparents, especially to his grandmother (Oma Helene as he called her), and spent many summers with them during his teens and twenties.
In 2004 Leo and his then girlfriend Gisele Bündchen (later to be married to the footballer Tom Brady) were to be seen in Cologne with Oma Helene visiting a local chocolate museum. Helene died four years later in 2008.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Family Tree
- Leo’s Paternal Line
- Salvatore DiCaprio from Campania in Italy (1866-1966) came to New York in 1882 and married Rosina Cassella (1875-1941) in 1893
- – Baggio (Bernard) DiCaprio (1895-1973) m. Josephine
- – Arthur DiCaprio (1898-1976) m. Mary Lobrico
- – Mary DiCaprio (1899-1941)
- – George Leon DiCaprio (1902-1965)
- – Benjamin DiCaprio (1907-2002) m. Margaret Kuhn
- George Leon DiCaprio from New York City m. Olga Jacobs (1904-1984) who had come to New York from Germany in 1923
- – George Paul DiCaprio (b. 1943)
- George Paul DiCaprio m. Irmelin Indenbirken (b. 1945) from Germany in New York in 1968, divorced in 1975; rem. Peggy Farrar in 1995
- – Leonardo (Leo) DiCaprio (b. 1974)
- Leo’s Maternal Lines
- Grandmother – Olga Jakubowsky/Jacobs.
- Paul Jakubowsky from Braunschweig in Germany (1874-1944) m. Bertha Ludwig (1878-1945) in 1904 and followed their daughter Olga to New York in 1924
- – Olga Jacobs (1904-1984)
- Olga Jacobs m. George Leon DiCaprio in New York in the 1930’s
- – Margaret Rawson (1928-2007) with Charles Rawson
- – George Paul DiCaprio (b. 1943)
- Mother – Irmelin Indenbirken.
- Wilhelm Indenbirken m. Adelheid Grachowski in North-Rhine Westphalia
- – Wilhelm Indenbirken (1913-1995)
- Wilhelm Indenbirken m. Yelena (Helene) Smirnova (1915-2008) from Russia. They emigrated to New York in 1955 but returned to Germany in 1985.
- – Irmelin Indenbirken (b. 1945 in Germany) m. George Paul DiCaprio in New York in 1968
- – plus two other children
Click here for return to front page