If you’re remotely interested in Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers, in the so-to-be-released biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, then it might surprise you to learn that Tom Hanks is part of the extended tree Mister Rogers’ actual family tree. According to Ancestry.com, Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks are sixth cousins, which means, well, they are pretty distantly related. Several corners of the internet have immediately responded with affirmations that this is soooo perfect or that it is cute or amazing. But, it’s not really. This is mostly a publicity stunt for Ancestry.com, and on some level, it’s also antithetical to what Fred Rogers was all about.
This week, Ancestry.com broke the news that after researching “its database of over 20 billion public records,” it was able to construct the family tree of Tom Hanks, and figure out that he is related to Fred Rogers, distantly, as a 6th cousin.
While this information is interesting, it’s also relevant to point out that it’s not like Tom Hanks arrived at this conclusion on his own. He did not get himself an Ancestry.com account for the expressed purpose of researching his family tree. Instead, this happened in reverse. Someone at Ancestry.com clearly decided to figure out if there was a familiar relationship between Hanks and Rogers, and then, worked backward to produce the evidence. This isn’t to say they’re lying; they aren’t, but it also seems fairly obvious this was a publicity stunt which allowed Ancestry to align itself with the renewed interest in Fred Rogers, thanks to the new film. It’s not like Tom Hanks even knew about this until someone ambushed him on the red carpet for the premiere of the new film. (You can watch that reveal below.)
So, despite how contrived all of this is, the real reason you shouldn’t care comes from the philosophy of Fred Rogers specifically. Rogers wasn’t a guy who believed that kindness or unity came from bloodlines; he believed every individual was important, regardless of who they were related to. So, in a sense, saying Tom Hanks is related to Mister Rogers actually has the opposite effect Ancestry intends: It somehow makes Hanks taking on the role feel like accidental nepotism at best or kooky determinist destiny at worst. Somewhere, an astrology person is probably pointing out that Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks have similar rising signs, but I’m way too tired to google that.
The series was called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood not Mister Rogers’ Family. The notion that someone’s worth is connected to where — or to who — they were born is not what Fred Rogers was about. The idea that Hanks and Rogers are distantly related, is simply information. It shouldn’t change how we feel about them.
Because, as Fred Rogers taught us, individuals are what counts. “It’s you I like,” he said. And he didn’t make the decision based on a family tree.