Family Ancestry of Famous Names Today
A number of our readers have asked that we give some ancestry and family history of famous people of today. So this is what we have done in this section of the website.
A few factors guiding our choice of people:
- that the person chosen is alive at the time of writing.
- that he or she is well-known in the English-speaking world, or at least in some part of it. As such, information about him or her is usually part of the public record.
- that their surname will usually be one of the thousand and more surnames covered in this website.
- and, perhaps most important, that their family history should have something of interest for our readers and might give us some insight into that person and what perhaps made him or her famous.
Here follows a list of some 90 famous people in the English-speaking world today. They are a fairly diverse group of people. You will note the large number of singers, actors and sporting people in the list. But politicians and business entrepreneurs are also well represented.
Click on any name of interest to you from the list below:
Which Famous Person Has Generated the Most Interest?
Of this list, these were the ten most clicked-on names in first half 2023, with their top ten ranking also shown for 2022:
- Tyson Fury (3)
- Taylor Swift (10)
- Joe Biden (18)
- Elon Musk (1)
- Boris Johnson (2)
- Brad Pitt (8)
- Michael Jordan (9)
- Denzel Washington (4)
- Beyonce Knowles (-)
- Justin Trudeau (16)
Tyson Fury, Joe Biden and Taylor Swift have been risers; while Elon Musk and Boris Johnson have gone down.
The three who have dropped out of the top ten in 2023 have been Lindsey Graham, Lewis Hamilton, and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
And What Made Them Famous?
There are 90 famous people here – in all different roles and activities. Is there some common thread between them? Something that they have and that we the unfamous don’t have?
Factors. We considered a number of different factors as to why people might be famous:
- Family support
- Dealing with adversity
- Right place, right time
- and Luck!
So we looked at everyone of our famous people and put them into one of these seven categories. Some might have fit into more than one category, but we could only choose one. Obviously there was an element of subjectivity in this. Even so, the exercise may give us some insight into what factors were important.
The following was our tally in percentage terms for the famous 80:
- Family (10%)
- Family support (22%)
- Talent (16%)
- Perseverance (10%)
- Dealing with adversity (20%)
- Right place, right time (12%)
- and Luck (10%)
Family (10%). Being in the right family is probably not as important as it once was. The right family counts for a lot less today than it did 100 years and more ago when elite families held sway – the aristocracy in England or the 400 in New York for instance.
Would George W. Bush have been the 43rd President of the United States if George Bush had not been the 41st President? Similarly with Justin Trudeau in Canada and his father Pierre. Anderson Cooper and his Vanderbilt mother and ancestors may be more debatable.
Family Support (22%). This means the support from parents or from their closest. It comes out highest in our list of factors, although only just.
The list includes the likes of Jamie Dimon the banker and Malcolm Gladwell the writer. They have each credited their parents with enabling them to take the next leap forward. Jamie Dimon had also a business mentor in Sandy Weill and Malcolm Gladwell might see the Washington Post as his writing mentor.
Tiger Woods would credit his father, Keanu Reeves his step-father. Beyonce achieved fame initially in Houston with the girl-group Destiny’s Child which her father Mathew Knowles had created. And the singers Celine Dion in Montreal and Mary Black in Dublin had husbands who nurtured their careers.
Then we have the larger-than-life careers of Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch was the successor to his father Keith’s media empire in Australia, which he took over unexpectedly when he was at Oxford and just twenty-one. Donald Trump was the second but favored son of his father Fred and his real estate business. He started working for his father when he was twenty-two years old.
Talent (16%). Pure talent must come into the equation, particularly in sports. Among those we have included here are Michael Jordan and LeBron James in basketball, Tom Brady in football, Ian Thorpe in swimming, and Lewis Hamilton in motor-racing.
However, talent is not enough. Each one of those who succeeded must have had perseverance in order to get to the top. There were probably as many equally talented people around at their time, but they lacked that perseverance and never realized their potential.
Perseverance (10%). We have perseverance as a separate category, where perseverance rather than talent has been the more important factor for them to succeed.
A prime example is Joe Biden – a young Senator in 1972, the US Vice-President in 2012, and the US President in 2020 – a fifty-year career in perseverance.
For the actor Morgan Freeman success did not come until he was fifty and the film Driving Miss Daisy became a big hit. We have also included here – because of the longevity of their careers – the journalist Bob Woodward and the fashion editor Anna Wintour.
The Irish talk-show host Graham Norton spent eight years in London as an unemployed actor, working those long, difficult years as a barman and waiter. Then, in his mid-thirties, he was discovered and his career took off.
Dealing with Adversity (20%). Some were born with a silver spoon, some were helped along the way. But others were not.
In fact, if you looked at their life when they were twenty, you would think that it had failure written all over it. And yet the reverse happened.
An abusive father would be one bad situation. That was the case with the actor Tom Cruise who was split from his father in Canada at twelve; or master chef Gordon Ramsay who left his Somerset home at sixteen; or businessman Elon Musk who fled South Africa for America at the age of eighteen.
The same could be said for the singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen who was left by his parents at twenty when they departed for California. And another singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell found herself broke, pregnant and alone in Toronto at twenty-one.
Over in England the comedian and broadcaster Stephen Fry was eighteen when he was expelled from school, failed his exams, and was arrested for stealing a credit card.
In these and other cases, it was seemingly this adversity which provoked the determination and ambition to succeed.
Right Place, Right Time (12%). Some of the famous people might have gone into other categories, but we have put them here as, more importantly, their rise came at the same time as the opportunities in their field became suddenly available to them.
Big Tech was one such place. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were both college drop-outs. But they saw the opportunity and took it. Bill Gates pioneered Microsoft in the early 1980’s and Mark Zuckerberg did the same with Facebook twenty years later. Each in their time changed the face of their industry.
Then there was the British entrepreneur Richard Branson. In the 1970’s and 1980’s he expanded his business empire from records into airlines and railways and sundry other areas. With his showman approach, he was able to appeal to the tastes of the newer younger generation of British consumers that had emerged at that time.
Michael O’Leary started out as an accountant at Ryanair. He became its CEO in 1994 just at the time that low-cost airlines were taking off in Europe. He positioned Ryanair to be the leader in this growing segment of the market.
And Luck (10%). The last category we have is luck.
Would Catherine Zeta Jones have started off on her successful acting journey if her parents had not won £100,000 in a national bingo competition in the early 1980’s? This enabled them to move to a better place in Swansea and to pay for her dance and ballet classes.
Or would Jared Kushner have been so well-known if he had not married the daughter of the man (Donald Trump) who would become the US President in 2016?
Chance has its place.
But luck can also be cruel and can go the other way. Silicon Valley has backed many shaky start-ups in its time. But Elizabeth Holmes got exposed as a fraud and ended up in jail. In Britain Liz Truss lasted for just 44 days as Prime Minister before being booted out of office.
Conclusion. What have we learnt from this? Many factors can play a role, including talent, perseverance and luck.
But the two that stand out, family support and dealing with adversity, give two alternate routes to fame. The first is that you make it with the loving support of your family and friends. The second is the opposite. No loving support is available. Instead, adversity has provoked a very strong determination and ambition to succeed.