Tom Hanks' Squirrelly Past: Celeb Family Secrets

Digging in the Pasts of Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Other Newsmakers


June 20, 2006 —  If you thought Tom Hanks' squirrelly past was limited to co-starring with a house-wrecking hound in "Turner & Hooch," you haven't seen the critters that have crawled up his family tree.

It seems that the multiple Oscar-winning actor may have gotten his droll humor from his grandfather Clarence Frager, who listed his occupation as "squirrel inspector" on his daughter's birth certificate.

Frager got a little more serious when it was time to fill out the 1930 Census. He described his occupation as "rodent control," and we can only imagine that he wasn't talking about rug rats.

Whether or not you're famous, researching family histories will become a lot easier this week, as genealogy Web site celebrates the completion of the first searchable database of Census records, a vast agglomeration of government documents from 1790 to 1930 that paint a detailed picture of millions of American families.

"Almost every American has a relative linked to the 1930 Census, and once you make that connection, you open the door to a vast amount of information that tells a story about your past," said president Tim Sullivan.

The 1930 Census is vital to this research because the United States restricts the release of full Census records for 72 years, and it is therefore the most recent one available to the public.

The public gets aggregate figures once a decade, after each new Census is taken. Complete Census information for each person — including the handwritten notes of Census takers who go door-to-door to every household — is not made available for the sake of privacy.

Over the last decade, however, the Web site has been doggedly digitizing all available Census data, a vast job involving 6.6 million hours of labor from handwriting experts, among others — beginning with the first Census of 1790, when the United States' official population was just 3,929,214.

Altogether, has uploaded more than 540 million Census entries. To mark the completion of this vast project, beginning Thursday, the web site is offering a free, three-day trial of the 1930 Census database. Usually, the company charges at annual rates that begin at $155.40, but until July, you can dig for your roots — or anyone else's — at no charge.

Given that Census questions change with the times, you never know what you will find.

In the early 1800s, government bean-counters wanted to know how many slaves you owned. By the middle of the century, they were eager to know whether you were literate, and in later years, what country you emigrated from.

By 1930, they were asking whether you owned a radio.

Of course, not everyone told Census takers the whole truth all the time, and if you check, you might catch your grandparents telling a lie. Abraham Lincoln's wife seemed to age only seven years between the 1850 and 1860 Census.

While there may not be a squirrel inspector in your past, many family trees, once extended and examined, will show your connection to a prominent American.

The Hanks family, for instance, proves to have a presidential tie. The "Forrest Gump" star is a fourth cousin, four generations removed from President Lincoln and his age-conscious first lady.

Here's a look at what Census research says about the families of some other prominent Americans:

George Clooney — The actor's great-great-grandfather — Nicholas Clooney — emigrated from Ireland, according to the 1880 Census. His great-grandfather, Andrew B. Clooney, became a jeweler.