DeGeneres was born on on January 26, 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, to Elizabeth Jane (née Pfeffer, born 1930), a speech therapist, and Elliott Everett DeGeneres (c.1925–2018), an insurance agent. She has one brother, Vance, a musician and producer. She is of French, English, German, and Irish descent. She was raised as a Christian Scientist. In 1973, her parents filed for separation and were divorced the following year. Shortly after, Ellen’s mother married Roy Gruessendorf, a salesman. Betty Jane and Ellen moved with Gruessendorf from the New Orleans area to Atlanta, Texas. Vance stayed with his father.
When she was 15 or 16 years old, she was molested by her stepfather. DeGeneres graduated from Atlanta High School in May 1976, after completing her first years of high school at Grace King High School in Metairie, Louisiana. She moved back to New Orleans to attend the University of New Orleans, where she majored in communication studies. After one semester, she left school to do clerical work in a law firm with a cousin, Laura Gillen. Her early jobs included working at J. C. Penney, and being a waitress at TGI Fridays and another restaurant, a house painter, a hostess, and a bartender. She relates much of her childhood and career experiences in her comedic work.