WDYTYA – 3×02 – Marisa Tomei – The Nitpicker’s Version

Mostly ignoring Twitter for an hour, I finally got to watch Marisa Tomei’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? I preferred watching the week before with the company of other genealogists at RootsTech, and also because it was devoid of spoilers online. I didn’t ignore Twitter as much as I should have.

For the first episode, I expect the extra long introduction to all the celebrities and sound bites about what they’re going to find, but was it necessary to include the two minute introduction for the second episode? Don’t they have a lot of family history to uncover?

Starting In Brooklyn

Marisa said that her father built up a large tree for his side of the family, but I guess nobody worked on her mother’s side before. Parents Gary and Addie, and brother Adam met her and shared some family photos. The big mystery of the family was Marisa’s great-grandfather, Leopoldo Bianchi, who was murdered in 1910. Family lore said that he probably cheated on his wife, but they weren’t completely sure.

This episode jumped quickly to Ancestry.com, where Addie had put the family tree data into their web site. Why did she do that? Probably because there wasn’t a single bit of information on the site relevant to the episode. Is it really necessary to use the site in every episode? They insert a bit of genealogy reality, how about the reality that not everything is online and not everything is on Ancestry? They get enough commercials in between.

The family clearly knew quite a bit about their ancestors and the towns where they came from. And what kind of computer was she using? It looked like a convertible laptop.

Marisa then had a talk alone with her brother. While they took the time to show more about how close the siblings were, was that scene really necessary? They didn’t really say any more about the family history and there was no great sharing scene at the end between them. It felt like they were filling time because they didn’t have enough content for the episode. I find that hard to believe.

Off To Italy

The second episode of the season and it almost immediately flew off to Europe once the story was established, just like the previous episode. We must have more America-centered episodes coming later. Marisa headed to Italy, to Cecina in Tuscany, where Leopoldo lived. She also wanted to know about Leopoldo’s wife and her family.

She began her search at the Cecina Municipal Cemetery archives, meeting with a guide, Fabio De Segni. Fabio was speaking English, but they had captions for him. He stayed with Marisa for quite a while in this episode. The cemetery caretaker, Loris Gagliardi, was waiting for them.

Allowing her to “do the research” herself, Marisa asked for information about Leopoldo’s death in 1910. When it wasn’t found, Loris suggested looking in 1911, finding a record. The scene seemed a little confusing, obviously editing whatever attempt at searching in 1910 yielded, then cutting straight to finding the 1911 record, which was most likely waiting for Marisa and the cameras to arrive. However, I did like that it showed good genealogy methodology, to begin looking in the year when you think the event happened, then to check surrounding years if it isn’t found. Not every family story is going to have a perfect memory. Even some documents won’t always have the correct information and a wider berth must be given to the search.

Fabio helped with the translation of the document, then handed her a translation of the entire document. She was most shocked to read that he died of an illness, but also that he was transported to Cecina, because she thought he had been killed there.

I also noticed in the scene that she had a notebook. I didn’t see her writing in it at any time during the episode, but it’s likely she was keeping some notes. It’s always good to see the celebrities taking enough interesting in recording the information for themselves.

Marisa took a walk alone out to the gravesite of Leopoldo and his wife, Adelaide.

Travel By Boat

Knowing where different family members came from, they headed to Elba, a small island 12 miles off the coast, where Adelaide Canovaro was from.

They went to the Parish Church of Rio nell’Elba to find some records on Adelaide’s family. Father Leonardo Biancalania, the parish priest, arrived with a stack of large books. While they captioned some of Marisa’s English while in the church, they did not caption his Italian at all. Kind of an oversight there.

Apparently, Father Leonardo told Marisa that the books were all the Canovaro family, according to what she said. Maybe what he actually told her was that he found the Canovaro family in each of the books. Marisa and Fabio next flipped through baptism registries. Closing the first book after finding Adelaide’s record, they went on to the next in 1855 for Arturo. Switching to the chart view, they traced straight back ten generations to Alesandro Canovaro born in 1641.

A Long Line Of Only Children?

What about all of those men’s siblings, wives, other children? There must have been at least dozens of other people they could have found in those records. Every wife brought a different surname into her ancestry and every sibling brought more cousins to her family. Are people not interested enough in finding their more distant living relatives to search sideways? And of course, one rule of genealogy is to search the siblings because sometimes you can find information on them but not your ancestors, so the only way to learn more and go back further is to research sideways. Knowing there are good genealogists behind the research in the show, I can only assume that they did branch out to each sibling and each spouse, also looking for more interesting stories for the episode. I know that some people really just want to know one line of their family and would be thrilled to find them back to 1641, but I want to know all of my family lines going back.

After they finished with the stack of books, Marisa wondered why they left, or why Adelaide left the island, or was she the one who had “broken the whole lineage” and left the island. I guess she wasn’t thinking of the dozens or hundreds of other people that descended from that same person from 1641. Was the island full of his descendents or did some of the others leave? This is the trouble with WDYTYA going straight back. Even the celebrities don’t realize how many more relatives they could have just gained knowing ten generations of ancestors in a single line.

Pictures of the car driving during her voiceover suggested it was the only car in the city; there was not another one to be seen.

Fabio suggested checking the Elba Historical Municipal Archive, so they met with historian Dr. Gloria Peria. Again, Gloria spoke in Italian and there were no captions. Fabio translated for Marisa, but they could have captioned the Italian. First, they looked at the marriage certificate for Leopoldo Bianchi and Maria Canovaro, with the name Adelaide in parentheses. Marisa did say earlier that Leopoldo’s first name was actually Francisco, so neither went by their given first names.


The next document was another variation of the marriage certificate, which also showed an immigration date, that they moved to Cecina six years after they were married, seven months before he died. Marisa began to piece together the timeline. This is another example of a tool used in genealogy, but she probably didn’t even realize it. Sometimes when putting together a story, or trying to break through a brick wall, if you gather the information into a timeline, you may find that you’ve overlooked something.

An article in the local newspaper in 1911 reported that Leopoldo was killed by Terzilio Lazzereschi in Castiglioncello. They never showed her being given a translation, but considering all the later translations she was given, I think they gave her one and it hit the cutting room floor. The article confirmed that Leopoldo was shot and it wasn’t an illness as the cemetery record stated, which she never believed.

Back To The Mainland

Going to Castiglioncello, Marisa said that Fabio stayed in Elba to look for more information. They make it sound like the research wasn’t done in advance of the filming and he had to find something new. Do they ever find something new while the celebrity is filming? Has any celebrity ever asked a question that they didn’t previously research and they rushed to find it? Or was it just a bad segue, leaving a way to bring him back into the episode later?

In the voiceover, Marisa mentioned that Gloria suggested who she should meet with next, so the experts are guiding the celebrities to the next step. How much is really done in person, we can’t tell from the episode. The voiceovers could have been added months later.

Let’s Meet In A Cafe

The first season had a lot of meetings in coffee shops and restaurants, as if no one had offices and libraries or archives weren’t good enough. There was a significant restaurant meeting for Steve Buscemi also. Steven Hughes, a local expert, met with her in the same cafe where the altercation took place 100 years earlier that ended with the death of her great-grandfather.

Reading another newspaper article about the incident, I loved hearing her frustration at “reasons that are still unknown”. I think every genealogist knows feeling that at some point.

Adding the interview where Marisa told the story about her cousin screaming out “murder in the family” in a dream when they visited the city before just made it all the more unusual.

Almost To The Trial

Heading north to Lucca, where Lazzereschi was indicted, she wanted to know more details of the trial. Meeting with Dr. Francesco Tamburini, he had more documents from the court records. Finding that he was acquitted of shooting someone in the back of the head, I thought it was funny that Francesco compared the lawyers to OJ’s “Dream Team”. She read that he was finally found guilty of carrying a weapon and served only 38 days.

The commercial break cliffhanger sounded like they were about to learn that he would finally be punished for something. It was a letdown, to find he was just insistent about getting his money back. He then disappeared from the records.

Fabio Is Back

Marisa met with Fabio again, at another cafe. He revealed that an 83 year old relative of Marisa’s, Rosetta Vanucci, the daughter of Leopoldo’s sister who remembered Adelaide, was not well enough to meet with her, but sent a letter. Rosetta’s letter filled in the details of how Adelaide remarried and how Marisa’s grandfather ended up in America. I imagine that they had planned to have her come on screen, just as some other episodes have had a surprise distant cousin for the celebrity to meet, but it just didn’t work out.

In this scene, we could see Marisa’s notebook was labeled June 2011, so we appear to have a filming date.

Back Home To Share The Story

Back in New York, Marisa shared the details she learned with her mother. At the beginning, it seemed like there was going to be something more about sharing with her brother, but he was not seen again.

Marisa was surprised to see the relief from her mother upon learning that Leopoldo was not killed because of something he did wrong.

“It’s the things we carry with us from our family’s legacy, our family’s history, even the secrets, that we don’t know that we’re carrying.” – Marisa

“I think all of this absorbs into us and influences our behavior in some mystical way, some spiritual way, affects the generations even to come.” – Addie


This particular episode was one that did not involve using Ancestry at all and so it was forced into the beginning by placing the Bianchi family tree on the site. I know that Ancestry is the sponsor, and that certainly shows in the commercials, but can’t they give it a rest for even one episode? They also had to forcibly insert it into Kim Cattrall’s episode, which was actually filmed by the BBC. They did have multiple commercials, which also perpetuate myths, that I am going to nitpick this time too.

The first commercial I noted was where a woman says she was the family detective. She wasn’t. All she did was click on a leaf on the web site. That is not detective work. It’s not even genealogy research. If she had found the record herself, that would be the detective work.

In another commercial, a man said his ancestor was born on the boat on the way to America. Finding the census showing that he was born in Poland proves nothing. The census is one of the most used genealogy records as well as one of the most likely to be incorrect. By finding that record, he didn’t disprove a family story. Just as this exact episode showed us. If they had stopped at the cemetery where the record said he died from an illness, then there would have been no episode. Ancestry, stop teaching bad research in your commercials while your TV show is actually teaching good techniques.


This episode reminded me a little about Kim Cattrall’s episode, where she basically just researched a single person in her ancestry. So it was a little surprising that I didn’t see anyone complain about that. Once we’ve finished name collecting, we like to switch to story collecting, so stopping and spending a lot of time researching one person isn’t unusual. I suppose one reason “the crowd” preferred this episode is because there were lots of documents involved including newspaper articles and court records, whereas Kim’s episode was more about finding people who knew him. I liked both.

“And now I have much more of a connection to him. I can feel his presence. He’s alive in my heart and in my mind’s eye and in my family again.”

That is exactly what genealogy is good for. Just because someone is no longer alive doesn’t mean that they weren’t important. By researching them, we remember them again, even if we never got to know them personally.

This is the second article in the Who Do You Think You Are? Nitpicker’s Version for Season 3.

  1.  Martin Sheen

The URL for this article is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2012/02/24/wdytya-3×02-nitpickers/.

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