WDYTYA – 3×01 – Martin Sheen – The Nitpicker’s Version

Season three of Who Do You Think You Are? began during RootsTech 2012. While I watched with a big crowd last year, this year I was the bridge between a group who wanted to watch and play the drinking game and someone who knew which hotel bar to use for it. Watching at the Peery Hotel bar was one of the highlights of the conference. I had to re-watch the show in its entirety to catch the whole thing, but it was worth it.

I wonder why they picked Martin Sheen first. This episode had a very long introduction to the season, so was Martin Sheen’s episode already the shortest or did they have to cut it more?

The voiceovers talk about Martin discovering information about two ancestors, but neither was an ancestor. The first two people researched were his uncles. Kind of a lax definition of “ancestor”.

Family Visit

“Ramon Estevez”, aka Martin Sheen, stopped in to see son, Emilio. They didn’t discuss genealogy, except that Emilio was carrying on a family tradition of having a vineyard, and the bottle he held featured a picture taken by Martin in Spain. They never again mention how the vineyard is a family tradition during the course of the show. Having a vineyard in my own family history, that would have been interesting to me.

Right To Ireland

After a lengthy introduction from Martin about his activism, he went right to Ancestry.com and found a death record for his uncle, Michael Phelan, his mother’s sister. He immediately crossed the ocean to Dublin, Ireland, visiting the military archives, to learn about Michael’s possible involvement in the civil war.

Explaining the history is especially helpful for Americans who know nothing of Irish history and the civil war that began in 1922. It’s sad the amount of history I didn’t learn in public school. Some genealogists study history in college, but I was still in computer programming back then. Even if I went back to learn history, I’d focus on Eastern Europe anyway and still need these bits to have any clue.

Martin thought his uncle was supporting the opposite side during the civil war, but he admitted that he really didn’t know. They showed a picture of Michael, but only a deleted scene revealed where the picture came from: a cousin of his. (I believe it was Michael’s daughter.)

At The Pearse Centre, he met with Dr. Edward Madigan to consult about the number of times Michael was imprisoned, according to a letter in his military file, and his commitment to his cause of Ireland’s freedom.

Prison #1 – Kilmainham Jail

Visiting one of the many prisons where Michael spent some time, Dr. William Murphy pointed out that Michael was held “as far as we know” in a certain cell. Sounds like their records weren’t kept well, or weren’t complete. They didn’t explain why it was a “best guess”. If they weren’t completely sure, how did they guess at all?

On To Spain – Family Visit #2

Headed to his father’s side of the family in Spain, he visited his sister, Carmen, in Madrid. She brought out a few old family photos.

Explaining the family tree by the chart, they jump over to their father’s youngest brother, Matias. Another thing they didn’t explain is the surnames, how they are all listed as “Estevez Martinez”. The children used both the father’s then then mother’s surnames. Was this common only in Spain or elsewhere too?

It turned out that Matias was involved in the civil war in Spain, so this gave us another civil war history lesson, with Spain’s civil war beginning in 1936.

Civil War #2

At Biblioteca Nacional de España, Martin met with historian Dr. Alejandro Quiroga. At the very beginning of the civil war, Matias faced a military tribunal, where he was sentenced to life in prison. Another book showed a list of prisoners in alphabetical and numerical order. There were two Estévez Martinezes: Constante and Matias. Looking back at the family tree chart, there was no Constante shown in the list of Matias’s siblings. I hope they looked into who that was, or are those two names very common? (I think Martinez probably is.) Martin asked and Alex confirmed that 611 was his prison number. How did they manage to number everyone alphabetically? I think the question and answer were misunderstood or something got spliced oddly in editing.

A third book revealed that Matias was sentenced in September 1936, to be released in 1966, and was released in 1940.

Martin took a train to Pamplona to see the second prison where Matias served, but they didn’t mention why he didn’t visit the first. Was it out of the way? Not very interesting? No longer standing?

He met with Dr. Julius Ruiz, a Spanish civil war historian, at Los Fuertes de San Cristóbal for a tour.

To Tui, Galicia, Spain

They didn’t explain why Martin was suddenly in Tui, but he met with genealogist Matthew Hovious at the Archivo Histórico Diocesano with his father’s birth certificate, sent to him by Carmen. I couldn’t see clearly if his father was born in Tui, but obviously more research had been done there, thus forwarding the story.

Matthew read the names of both parents, then the maternal grandmother; the grandfather was unknown. They were able to trace back a few more generations but did they ever find the name of Dolores’s father? Of course, when drawing these charts, they often just show the minimum amount of information, so there is that possibility.

However, they did show her name as Dolores Martinez, and her mother as Carmen Martinez, whereas so many others in the charts had two surnames. So maybe they didn’t find her father’s name, and perhaps there were two generations of unknown or unspecified fathers. And then finally, at the top of the chart, each person again only had one surname. So were they skipping listing the names or was that not the custom to use both parents’ names at different times in history?

They did point out that Paula’s marriage record stated that she was the natural daughter of Don Diego Francisco Suarez and Maria Gonzalez, which specified that her parents were not married, as opposed to listing her as the legitimate daughter if they were. This part they explained clearly, but they had more to say about it. The show likes to skip those smaller details if it doesn’t specifically relate to the rest of the story.


Another record from the 1740s showed that Diego was married to another woman, Manuela de Alfaya. They found that Diego and Maria had six children together. In 1777, at the first confirmation ceremony after Diego’s death, Maria had all of her children confirmed.

Martin asked how Diego became a Don, but again, what that title meant was not explained. I realize they don’t have time to explain everything, but if it leads to the next part of the story, I think it could use up a few seconds. Not everyone knows what that means and it was highlighted.


In La Coruña, at Archivo Del Reino, historian Edward Behrend-Martínez shared the only document they found about Don Diego Suarez, where Diego prosecuted a young woman, Antonia Pereira, for having an abortion.

A fancy scroll was unrolled with the family chart. Martin read first on the side of his grandmother, then he went slowly, one name after another on his grandfather’s side, until he reached the name Antonia Pereira. They must have filled out the entire family tree to find that connection. I can only wonder if the same researcher found that connection and how elated they could have been to find such a convergence of history.

Sharing With The Family

Meeting Martin in Parderrubias, sister Carmen and son Ramon learned the story details. I thought they had mentioned that town name earlier, but I couldn’t easily find it. I think it was mentioned while he was in Tui.


“If you’d written a novel with all these truths in it, they’d say ‘Ah, it’s a bit over the top.’ It actually happened.”

I thought this was a good episode. Instead of being completely guided, each historian and genealogist telling him what to do next, only a few did and often guided by Martin’s questions. Some previous episodes felt like the celebrity had to be told every step to take, but this did not, even though Martin needed guidance and translations in Spain.

With both parents immigrants to America, he immediately crossed the ocean, skipping over his parents to their brothers, then going back farther on the Spanish side. He mentioned that his mother died when he was 11; did they not find much about her? Obviously the show has to be focused where the interesting stories are, but I would have found a vineyard to be interesting enough to mention. Is it just me?

And I’ve finished with time to spare before the next episode. My Twitter feed is already running with spoilers from the Eastern and Central time zones.

4 thoughts on “WDYTYA – 3×01 – Martin Sheen – The Nitpicker’s Version”

  1. ..”I couldn’t see clearly if his father was born in Tui”..
    ..”I thought they had mentioned that town name, Parderrubias, earlier”..

    Indeed, Parderrubias, a litttle hamlet at Salceda de Caselas council – http://tinyurl.com/6m4hqsl – , at the Tui outskirts, in the very south of this very old Galician realm and Kingdom, is the place where Francisco Estévez Martínez, Ramón Estevez/Martin Sheen father, was born and breed.

    ..”A third book revealed that Matias was sentenced in September 1936, to be released in 1966, and was released in 1940″..

    Right. Matias Estevez was released from the Pamplona’s San Cristobal jail in 1940 (where he previosly has arrived from the San Simon Island concentration camp, – http://tinyurl.com/6wzv5ze – , located at the Vigo Bay, not far away of his Parderrubias hometown, where he was confined in 1936) , but he remained in house arrest until 1969.

    I hope to have been useful with these small clarifications to what has been a really good television historical research episode. Regards.

    1. Thanks for the details. I know that some people do the research along with the show (especially when they’re searching through records on Ancestry). I just analyze what I see on screen, though I do make a few exceptions occasionally.

  2. Thank you for this frank analysis. While there was interesting information presented because of the research into Martin Sheen’s family, I was disappointed that so many gaps were left in the process. I was also left with questions regarding his direct line individuals. The activism angle served well for the stories they opted to share, but I would like to have learned more about his U.S. relations before hopping the ocean. Still, interesting and worth watching.

    1. Joleen, your comments are true of every episode. They always leave gaps and skip around the family looking for the best story for TV.

      For genealogists, we love the hunt, and finding any ancestor is a good story to us.

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