Valerie Bertinelli’s Episode on the U.S. Version of Who Do You Think You Are?

This week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured Valerie Bertinelli, the Hot in Cleveland star. Unlike some of the past episodes with other celebrities, Valerie traced two different branches of her family tree: one on her father’s Italian ancestry and another on her mother’s Colonial American ancestry that was then traced back into England and ended with an ancestor most people have heard of: Edward the First, King of England from 1239 to 1307.

I do have to think the show’s producers ran out of time to provide further generations. Edward the First’s ancestry is well documented: his parents were King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence and their ancestry has been documented further back for several more generations. However, nothing prior to Edward the First was mentioned in the program.

Valerie Bertinelli’s Italian ancestry was perhaps more interesting, where she learned more about her beloved grandmother’s whose early years were not known to the rest of the family. Perhaps even more interesting was the story of her grandmother’s mother, Maria, an incredibly strong woman who overcame great odds. A young widow, she left Italy with her two small children at beginning of Word War I and settled in Pennsylvania. She then married for a second time. The woman escaped being murdered by her second husband, Gregorio, by pretending to be dead after being shot. Her husband then stepped into a second bedroom and committed suicide.

Valerie Bertinelli traveled to Italy where she met Pietro, her third cousin once removed. Pietro knew much more about the family than Valerie’s own father. Pietro also had a letter sent from his father – Valerie’s great uncle – to her grandmother in 1972. In the letter, Valerie’s great uncle expresses the wish that the family in America will come and visit. Valerie was moved that forty-two years late she is fulfilling this wish! Pietro also gave Valerie a postcard written by her great grandmother Maria, which he has held onto all these years because he knew it was of great importance to the family.

Valerie then traveled to London, England, to meet with a British genealogist, Else Churchill. Else is the Genealogist at the Society of Genealogists in London and is well-known to British and American genealogists alike. She has traveled to the United States several times and made presentations at a number of genealogy conferences in the U.S. I have been fortunate enough to know Else casually for many years and am always impressed at her expertise. However, her appearance on Who Do You Think You Are? was brief so we only got a glimpse at her talents.

Else Churchill presented a family tree to Valerie showing her ancestral line back to James Claypoole, a well-known Quaker in 17th century England. Else said that the Claypooles are extremely well documented and that James was a Quaker in London during a pivotal time of English history.

Valerie next visited Friend’s House in London where she learned about the persecution that James faced for being a Quaker in 17th century England. Further documents reveal that James emigrated to Pennsylvania for religious freedom and worked with William Penn in creating one of the first democratic constitutions.

Her next stop was at the College Of Arms in London where she learned that James Claypoole had a coat of arms. It was not a “family coat of arms” as claimed by the American narrator of the program but was a personal coat of arms given only to James Claypoole, not to his descendants. It was interesting to note that the expert at the College Of Arms never said it was a family coat of arms but simply stated it was James Claypoole’s coat of arms. The program’s off-screen narrator, however, did say “family” coat of arms.

The experts at the College of Arms did show that Valerie’s 19-times great grandfather was King Edward the First.

I did again enjoy the format of this week’s show. In the beginning, it looked like Valerie was doing the research herself and was researching online and also visiting locations where her ancestors lived to look at original records. Of course, any experienced genealogist knows that “the path was paved ahead of time” by professional genealogists who had previously done all the research and had submitted the results to the show’s producers. We can assume the pros researched all possible branches of Valerie Bertinelli’s ancestry and then the producers selected the bits that would be most interesting to a television audience.

As the show unfolded, however, Valerie started walking into major repositories in the U.S., Italy, and England where photocopies and even ancestral charts on long rolls of paper had been prepared in advance of her visit. I don’t think that was intended to fool anyone. Even the casual non-genealogist who knows little of research probably realized this was prepared in advance for a celebrity visitor and was not the norm for a private citizen researching a family tree. Indeed, by skipping the research steps required, the producers were able to squeeze more generations into a one-hour program.

I thought the program was well presented.

One question: did anyone else think it was strange that Valerie’s great grandmother Maria supposedly saved her own life by playing dead before her husband turned the gun on himself? If we are to believe the story in the newspapers, as portrayed in the program, the second husband shot twice at his wife who was lying in bed. Apparently he missed both shots. His wife rolled over, fell onto the floor, and pretended to be dead. This was at 5 A.M., a time when he would have been getting up to do chores on his Pennsylvania farm. He then reportedly walked into another bedroom, got into bed, and shot himself.

Two questions:

(1.) Who gets into bed at 5 A.M. to commit suicide?

(2.) As an experienced farmer who probably is experienced at slaughtering livestock to feed his family, isn’t it a bit strange that he fired shots, saw his wife fall out of bed, and then walked out of the room without checking the body? He didn’t even look to see if there was blood! We can assume there was no blood as the woman reportedly was uninjured.

Let me play Devil’s Advocate: Isn’t it possible that Maria walked into the second bedroom where Gregorio was sleeping and shot him as he slept? Then she could have made up the story about him firing shots first.

I think that is an interesting speculation but, of course, there is no way we will ever know. The investigating officers and other officials obviously thought that Maria was the victim, not the perpetrator. Perhaps they had additional evidence that was not mentioned in the program. In any case, it doesn’t change the facts of Valerie Bertinelli’s family tree.

Next week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? will feature Kelsey Grammer, an American actor, voice actor, comedian, producer, director, writer and singer. Grammer is known for his two-decade portrayal of psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on the NBC sitcoms Cheers and Frasier.

Kelsey Grammer’s episode will be on TLC on Wednesday, August 20 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Check your local listings for the time and channel near you.

27 Comments

Thank you, Dick, for clarifying that the crest was for James Claypool as an individual and not his family’s. I caught that and wondered why it was not clarified in the show. I would love to have seen more of the Italian line, but the English was probably more interesting to the general audience.

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I missed the show tonight, but expect it will be rerun. I was curious about which King the promo hinted at. Thank you for such a wonderfully descriptive account of this episode. Did ancestry more than 10 years ago, Edward I is part of my history, too. Since much of my maternal side arrived in Massachusetts in the early to mid 1600’s and no one left for 200 years, I had little problem in discovering Kings.

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    Sheryl, I am a descendant of Edward I also. Do you know which of his wives was your ancestor? I am descended from his 2nd wife who was the daughter of the king of France. My family surname that my ties evolved from is Ogle. They settled initially in Delaware and eventually ended up in Virginia. I live in West Virginia.

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The coat of arms…I commented on that during the show, thinking that would have been a good opportunity for them to explain the practices and protocol. Very few people will have noted the difference between the narrated term and the wording used by the researcher. The family history and coat of arms sellers will profit greatly from that episode! I did appreciate hearing the guest acknowledge the fact that she had always identified with her Italian heritage, but would now embrace and celebrate her maternal roots as well. Very interesting episode overall.

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Thank you for mentioning the idea that Maria might have shot her husband. That was the first thing I thought of when Valerie read the article. It didn’t quite match up.

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Drdickrich@aol.com August 14, 2014 at 8:41 am

How is ownership of arms enforced? Wouldn’t a complaint need to be initiated by someone who was harmed? Does the College of Arms have any legal jurisdiction outside of Britain? Do they have it there?

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Dick asked “Isn’t it possible that Maria walked into the second bedroom where Gregorio was sleeping and shot him as he slept? Then she could have made up the story about him firing shots first.”

I was thinking the same thing, Dick. I suppose her husband was known for having a suspicious personality and, perhaps, had battered his wife before, so with no witnesses, the authorities took Maria’s word for what happened.

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Regarding Question No. 1, I assumed the husband had been drinking.

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Maria may have killed her husband. But a person who commits suicide is not thinking clearly and he did not realize he missed his target.

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I note that the participants always walk out with only a note book. I hope they get some copies to take home!!

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I’d like to read the whole news article before making any comment, as well as know any family history of alcoholism, abuse, etc. WDYTYA does play a little loose with the whole in-depth story, partly because of time; however, I always finish each episode wishing they’d spend a little more time on each topic they raise. Maybe they can cut out those horrid recaps after the commercials (do they really think we can’t remember where we were before they cut out?) or even better, the hooks before the commercials where they reveal information and kill the drama.

What made me actually yell at the TV last night was when Valerie jumped from her mother saying she THOUGHT her grandmother was from England to hiring a researcher in England. I don’t think any genealogist would have done that expensive step without research and I wish they had made some small comment to indicate that a ton of research went into finding her line through New Jersey until they got to England and then crossed the pond.

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    The “horrid recaps” are done, I believe, because of the length of the commercials. Watching cable TV (especially house hunting shows), the actual “new” content is only about 15 minutes, at that. I had the chance to watch the British version of WDYTYA on Youtube, and I don’t remember getting out of the computer chair for the entire episode — 56 minutes, or so.

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Very interesting about the grandmother!

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I think that we all must remember that this program is entertainment of a large audience and not a classroom.

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Thanks for your summary, well done. I’ve enjoyed this series each season, and found the discoveries interesting and entertaining. As for this epi, liked it a lot, I was pleased that Ms Churchill mentioned the term “gateway ancestor” to Ms Bertinelli and explained its meaning, as I ran across that years ago in doing New England research and found that an interesting concept.

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This has reached the Van Halen family: the fact the arms are for the ancestor and not the family. Wolfgang Van Halen, bass player for Van Halen, favorited my tweet and privately thanked me on Twitter for clarifying this out.

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Given what is implied about the husband, I imagine that Maria was probably battered and in fear for her life. Likely the whole community knew the circumstances and were happy to accept Maria’s story, fully realizing that someone was going to die in that household and relieved that it was him rather than the wife and kids.

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I thought she was wonderful, excited, and very receptive of her English side of the family, and very appreciative of the Genealogist who assisted her. Not sure why her mother did not know more about her own background. Beautiful town in Turino and loved the warmth of the Italian relative of hers. Don’t we all wish our research was so easy, and I assume Free for her. John was correct, this is entertainment, not a classroom.

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In “Genealogy of the Claypoole Family…” there is a transcription of the grant of arms by “Robt. Cooke, Clarecieulx Roy Darmes” stating “… and to his posterity … with their due differences …” Although I’m not familiar with the difference between a personal and a family coat of arms, it sounds like his family descendants had the legitimate use of the coat of arms just like a family coat of arms.

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    In the United Kingdom and also in most of western Europe, coats of arms are (almost) always awarded only to the individual, not to his or her descendants. Details may be found at http://www.fleurdelis.com/nofamilycrest.htm and on numerous other web sites.

    I am no expert in Japanese heraldry but have been told that coats of arms in Japan ARE used by the Samurai warrior who received the original grant and by his descendants. If you are descended from a Samurai warrior, you might be able to use his coat of arms. However, Japanese coats of arms do not resemble U.K. and European coats of arms that often have lions, shields, ribbons, and such.

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    The reason why there is no such thing as a “family” coat of arms becomes clear if we look at the history of coats of arms and heraldry.

    The use of arms developed back to the days when knights wore armor with helmets that completely concealed their faces, making it difficult to tell who was who in the midst of a battle. A nobleman’s coat of arms was emblazoned on his shield and the garments which he wore into battle and his crest was attached to the top of his helmet, in order to make it easier for his followers to see him in the middle of chaos. You can imagine the confusion that would have resulted had multiple members of a family all dressed identically to the commander, as no one would be able to distinguish one from the other in order to know who was in charge. In order to serve the purpose, only one man could use those arms at a time.

    The fact that the grant of particular arms was made to an individual “…and his posterity…with their due differences…” does not mean that all of the original grantee’s descendants were given the right to use the arms. That language meant that the arms could be passed down by inheritance, usually from the original grantee to the eldest son, and from the son to his eldest son and so on down the centuries.

    All of the other children would need to apply for their own “differenced” arms. For example, the original grantee’s younger children might be allowed to use a shield showing the original arms on one half, with heraldic symbols that were both different from the original and different from each other filling up the other half of the shield. In other words, no two of them could ever be be exactly alike.

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Sir Norman L. Gray August 24, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Hey Dick: How does a person get a hold of Valerie ? Who does a person write to in order to contact her ?

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I agree with all you found ‘suspicious’ and/or left out. And though I truly enjoy this show, I’d love to see (and have suggested it to Ancestry.com) to provide the same research for some ‘ordinary folk’, rather than just celebrities. My line, for instance, also goes to Edward the 1st…and further, making Valerie and I distant ‘collateral’ cousins, and for an ordinary person to find they are related in some small way to a LIVING celebrity would be a kick to see! As for the Coat of Arms….there is much more to attaining one than meets the average eye and newbie researchers should be made aware by Ancestry.com/FTM, as well as so many other ‘odd’ things to expect and/or look for…(name spellings, relationships on census, estimated or lied about dates, etc.).

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In the heat of the moment and at the height of passions…knowing passion runs both ways, it is not at all curious that a man would shoot twice without a death blow, see his target fall believing she is dead and then in turn kill himself without consideration for the time of day. Do you consider the time of day when someone makes you angry or even care where you are or how you respond. Surely, some of you do, but then you’re most likely not inclined to commit suicide either. Just stating what I think would be obvious. And, I don’t even consider myself as clever as many an author whose clever plots I have encountered in the telling of their tales.

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