CELEBRITY GENEALOGY

5 Things You Didn’t Know about Amanda Gorman’s Roots

Megan Smolenyak

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Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II

We were riveted. Even those who don’t “get” poetry understood on Inauguration Day because Amanda Gorman spoke for all of us. This self-described “skinny Black girl descended from slaves” made us gape at our screens in silence as she led us up “The Hill We Climb.”

Like the countless others ambushed by her presence and immense talent, I had to know more about Amanda Gorman, so contributed to her inaugural Google spike. But as a genealogist, I kept going and dug deeper — four to six generations on every branch of her family tree to be exact. As a result of that sleuthing, here are a handful of discoveries about her ancestry.

1. It Could Have Been Bean

If not for a quirk, Amanda Gorman could have been Amanda Bean. We tend to assume that surnames are passed from father to son down through the generations, but while that’s a handy first guess, many families have plenty of exceptions to this pattern, and Ms. Gorman’s is one of them. One of her ancestors used both his biological father and stepfather’s surnames over the course of his lifetime. His children went with Gorman, the name of his stepfather, thereby derailing Bean as the name that would have otherwise been hers.

Other surnames that adorn her family tree include Alexander, Bowles, Brown, Carter, Ellison, Gaffney, Harmon, Heath, Hopkins, Hunter, Jackson, James, Kirkwood, Knighton, Lester, Pettigrew, Shoals, Smith, Totten, Walker, Wicks, Willis, and Woods, so if you share any of these in your pedigree, there’s at least a whisper of a chance that you’re a cousin.

And one of Ms. Gorman’s third great-grandmothers — born about a century and a half before her standout descendant — was also named Amanda, so whether intentional or not, there’s a subtle echo of family history in her first name.

2. Location and Migration

Clarksville, Texas and Holly Springs, Mississippi have the loudest bragging rights for Ms. Gorman as they’re the towns that hold the largest chunks of her history. Holly Springs gets an assist from the Tula vicinity of Lafayette County in Mississippi, and a number of other places in Texas contributed to her family tree. Due to the Great Migration, the more recent past…

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Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (www.MeganSmolenyak.com)