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10 Things You Didn't Know About Josh Groban's Family Tree

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Last week, Josh Groban made a guest appearance on The Office as Walter Bernard, Jr., the younger and apparently more successful brother of Ed Helms's Andy Bernard. As a genealogist, seeing him with this television family naturally made me curious about his real life family, so I decided to take a peek into his past. Here are ten discoveries that emerged from my research:

  • If you were to Google your way around the Internet, you'd probably be left with the impression that Josh is half-Jewish (from Russia and Poland) and half-Norwegian, and you wouldn't be too far off. He's actually 5/8 Jewish and 1/8 Norwegian.
  • The remaining quarter of his family tree has been in America for quite some time, so as you might expect, is adorned with a combination of names that are primarily English and German in origin (e.g., Leonard, Wrightsman, Moorman, Zimmerman, etc.). Among the states that can claim a piece of his past are California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas and Pennsylvania.
  • I would imagine that there were more than a few twisted tongues when his Blumberg great-grandfather married his Brunsberg great-grandmother slightly over a century ago.
  • Josh may have inherited at least some of his musical talent. According to an oral history with a relative of his, his grandmother Evy could play piano at the age of three and went to Juilliard. And during a recent visit with this same grandmother, he learned that her father was a tenor. Afterward, he tweeted, "She sent me on my way with a book of Yiddish theater songs. Score!!"
  • When Josh was born, his immigrant Groban great-grandfather was still alive. This branch of his family hails from Berdychiv in present-day Ukraine, and the naturalization record of one family member notes that he had legally changed his name from Grabanski to Groban.
  • Sadly, another immigrant ancestor of Josh's - a great-great-grandfather and rabbi named Abe Levin - died from third degree burns when his "clothing caught from (a) grate fire."
  • The occupations of Josh's forebears run the gamut from salesman of theatrical films to maid in a sanitarium. One of them owned a cigar store and, as can be seen from this article, had the misfortune of being robbed in 1903.

2011-10-17-1903mncigarstorerobberyblumbergjos.jpg

Chronicling America, The Minneapolis Journal, July 6, 1903

  • In several interviews, Josh has claimed that he has roots in Toten, Norway and visited there with his family. He's absolutely right as his Brunsberg branch leads back to Østre Toten, Oppland. In fact, it takes a little doing, but if you search the digital archive from the National Archives of Norway (if only more countries had such valuable resources online!), you can find this 1852 birth record of Theolina, Josh's future great-great-grandmother and one of several generations in the same family to emigrate to America:

2011-10-17-1852birththeolinenielstoten.jpg

  • As this letter to the editor by Theolina's then 13-year-old daughter, Julia (Josh's great-grandmother), shows, she was nickled and dimed by a clever friend when she was only four years old.

2011-10-17-1901juliabrunsbergmakatodimeart.jpg

Chronicling America, The Minneapolis Journal, April 6, 1901

  • Josh's middle name of Winslow was the maiden name of one of his great-grandmothers, and winds back in time to the earliest days of colonial America. Though it would require extensive research to be absolutely certain, the consensus is that it leads back to John Winslow who was not on the Mayflower himself, but had both a brother and wife who were. And through the wife at least, Josh is a Mayflower descendant.

So Josh has a combination of Jewish, Norwegian and Mayflower roots, making him, of course, quintessentially American.