The Social Network star, the daughter of legendary African-American producer Quincy Jones and Jewish actress Peggy Lipton, embarked on a journey to uncover her maternal roots on genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? and her research, which aired in the U.S. on Friday (04May12), took her on a heart-wrenching trip to Eastern Europe.
Jones learned that her grandmother had been born Rita Rosenberg and emigrated with her sister Pearl from Dublin, Ireland to New York in 1926, when they were just teens.
The actress dug deeper into her family’s history and managed to trace her lineage back six generations to Riga, Latvia, where her great, great grandfather Benjamin Benson was born.
But her findings took a dark turn as she discovered that while Benson’s dad had managed to leave the country as a young man to avoid the mandatory 25-year military service, his relatives and subsequent generations of their family had remained in Latvia and they were all slaughtered in 1941.
Jones cried for her long-lost ancestors as Latvian Jewish historian Ilya Lensky told her: “The Jewish community was completely exterminated during the Holocaust, completely. Most of the members of the community were killed on 27 October, 1941. They were taken to a nearby forest and killed there.”
Stunned by the news, the star said, “Even though I know a little bit about the history of World War Two (and the Holocaust), when Ilya told me that they were all killed, I was so shocked. When your family members lived in a town and left a town and then later everybody was taken down, it’s shocking…
“In a way it’s just kind of dumb luck that I’m here. I’m really lucky.”
Jones later found documents showing that Benson had made it to England – but the thought of having lost so many ancestors so brutally weighed heavily on the actress.
Reflecting on her findings, she said, “It’s heavy and it’s a lot but these are things that I wanted to know. I wanted to really have some closure about what happened with our family.
“I’m lucky to be alive. There’s so many ways I could not be here, being a descendant of slaves (on her father’s side) and now on my mum’s side now, knowing, looking at that lopsided family tree… I feel like a miracle.”