Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on March 25, 2011 in Who Do You Think You Are?

Actor Steve Buscemi has played plenty of nefarious characters during his career. Now he’s searching through history to discover what kind of characters he has in his own family tree. You’ll learn what he uncovers in tonight’s all-new episode of Who Do You Think You Are? is a sponsor of the show airing Friday nights at 8/7c on NBC. Watch a preview here. And visit Saturday morning for tips for success in your own family genealogy research.

Jeanie Croasmun

Jeanie Croasmun has been working at while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...


  1. Mary

    Tried to go to the web address mentioned above and got this “We’re sorry. The page you tried to access is no longer available.”

    Glad it will be a new show.

    • Jeanie Croasmun

      Hi Mary — I’ve changed the link so you can access the site now to see tips from the previous episodes, too. Hope that helps.

  2. Mary

    You may want to rephrase this so that people don’t think it is permanently gone or give a redirect.

  3. Mary

    Thank you. I was hoping I would catch you before the show aired tonight. Appreciate the response.

  4. Wicked Witch – you really are wicked, in the best way of course.

    The answer from Ancestry would be that it didn’t work EXACTLY as planned the first time around.


  5. BCarol

    Just finished watching the program.

    An interesting take on why certain mental problems run in families. BUT there was also something that wasn’t addressed: the possibility of mercury poisoning and its affect on mental health.

    The high rate of suicide among dentists at one time was discovered to be due to the use of mercury in amalgems. Many dentists suffered from mercury poisoning which can lead to suicidal tendencies.

    That was one angle that I thought could be an explanation for his gr. gr. grandfather, dentist, attempted suicide. Unless they weren’t using mercury in dentistry at that time.

  6. Tom H

    I think this episode was one of the very best so far. Great focus on using the commonly available resources to gather information, and the usual correct methodology. Lots can be found by beginning with the basics.
    And, I really liked Steve’s conclusions. We all should simply realize that “it is what it is” and remember the old saw about “walking in their shoes”. Life was generally more of a struggle than it is today. Thanks to all of our ancestors for persevering.
    Thanks ancestry. This was really a good one.

  7. Mary

    What is remarkable is that his ancestor made a choice to live and because of that choice Steve’s family continued and eventually even became successful. It is well known that many people consider suicide but here is a great example of someone who did not take that route. It isn’t just your own life that is affected. And how important it is to see the family as a whole and not just focus on one person’s tragedy.

    I am very glad that WDYTYA touched on the importance of family history for health issues. This is one of the most remarkable topics of our time. We have a chance to understand the how genetics, environment and health connect in a way that has never been possible. Looking at our family history we try and understand what parts may be heredity and what parts were environmental. Science and history overlap here, through new research with DNA. Did insanity really run in the family or did they live near a mine. In the case of Steve’s family member did the depression cause the desertion or was the poor man ill with tuberculosis. When did he get the tuberculosis and how long had he had it.
    Would like to see more on these health related topics such as gout, diabetes, Parkinsons, Dementia,etc.

  8. Wicked Witch

    OK, Ancestry. Here goes to give you ANOTHER chance to answer the question rather than fobbing-off or just ignoring us it hoping we will go away.

    Rather than trying to explain anything, let’s play Question and Answer time. It will be a bit like an FAQ page – in fact, rather a lot like an FAQ as this is the umpteenth time this has been asked so it fulfills the F for Frequently. Not completely like an FAQ page of course, as on those you do at least stand a chance of receiving a proper answer.

    Let’s see if this bears any fruit.

    Does anyone from Ancestry actually read these blogs after they have set them up?
    Why doesn’t Exact Search work any more?
    Whose decision was it to remove the facility?
    (Or is it the case that the function is broken and nobody knows how to set it up again?)
    Why was the decision made to remove the facility?
    Why are we, who subscribe to Ancestry every year (in my case 10 years at least), being ignored in our questions regarding Exact Search?
    Do you actually care? (I think that the answer to this one is becoming more and more self evident.)

  9. Sharon

    The show started with the 1880 Federal census with 11 year old girl working as a servant. I spent the rest of the hour yelling to the TV, “Find her on the 1870 Federal census.” Did I miss something? It’s not a stone I would have left unturned if I’d been doing the research. I have to see a rerun:)

  10. Mary

    For people who want average people in the shows, they may not be the stars but average people are definately making it onto the shows.
    Also I wasn’t implying that there was insanity in the particular case of of Steve’s family but just mentioning how little they understood about illiness in previous time periods.
    I would like to see Michael J Fox on one of these shows. I believe Parkinsons’s can have environmental causes but in my family we have numerous family members with Parkinsons.

  11. Jennifer

    I would really like to join this site but I keep reading all these complaints on how you scammed people. I don’t know what to do. Has anyone on here had any problems? I heard people having a lot of problems with cancelling when they want to.

  12. Janet

    I had never heard of Steve Buscemi so this show was pretty much like having an “average” person to me. His family seemed like they could be the nice family down the block.
    There was a similar story in my family. My great great grandfather died in the Civil War, when I sent for his pension file a large envelope came back,his widow had married another Civil War soldier and when the second husband died she filed for a pension, only to find another widow had filed for the same soldier. It seems the second husband didn’t go home to his wife and children after the war, he went to another state married my great great grandmother had four children and only after he died did anyone find out what was going on.

  13. Jennifer Re:#15

    If Ancestry were scamming everyone they would not have the BBB rating they do.

    Most of those messages are from people who didn’t follow the rules about how to cancel the free trial membership and so they got billed- and then screamed that it was Ancestry’s fault when it was clearly their own stupidity that caused them to be billed.

  14. WickedWitch

    BCarol #12

    It does not work any more…..

    It has fallen off its parameters…

    It has gone to meet its programmer….

    It is an Ex-Exact Search.

  15. Nancy

    Re #7. My husband, a dentist, found the program quite interesting. But he takes exception to your claim about the mercury in amalgems. Silver fillings are half silver, half mercury, and have been used for years. If a person actually were to be poisoned by them (unlikely), they would not become suicidal. They would have brain damage, but not depression. My guess is that Ralph was depressed because of the charges against him, along with a genetic predisposition for depression. Bottom line, he returned to dentistry, and died as a result of an illness which he may have contracted from a patient.

  16. Joan Riddle

    I enjoy these shows even if they are famous the families usually are everyday families. With the hard time to get messages to people many things happened in the early wars that families do not know. Oral histories are not always accurate.

  17. Jo

    @Sharon #13: I missed this last night but am watching it online now. The first thing I did as soon as they were looking at the 1880 census was look up Ralph Montgomery in the NJ State Archives online death index for Camden Co, NJ, and, of course he’s there, he died in 1878.

    And though I like Steve Buscemi as an actor it was maddeningly boring to have him narrate & restate *everything* in the entire episode.

    I think this was an example of bad genealogical research.

  18. BEE

    I’ve watched all of the WDYTYA programs, and have enjoyed the diversity of topics, areas researched, etc. As I watched and listened to Steve ask questions about a possible first family for his ancestor, I wondered how the genealogist knew that the grocer with the same first and middle initials was the same man as the dentist on the previous census, but they probably had the civil war information already researched, and knew the wife’s name to make that connection, but how would someone new to genealogy know this.
    In the years I’ve been working on family trees, I’ve often found someone with the same name and very similar background as the person I’m researching. Explaining that you have to look at more then a name to know it was his ancestor might help people just starting out in genealogy. It’s amazing to see documents attached to someone just because they have the same name, but can’t possibly be the person in question – different race, parents came from different states or countries, siblings don’t match, as well as attaching a woman to a family with her married name when she was a child are just a few examples.

  19. Jeff Record

    Awesome show with regard to Steve Buscemi. Cudos to for showing more of the types of resources available to ALL researchers. It is however curious to me why folks in general don’t just enjoy the unfolding of the story and prefer to pick apart the celebrity, or the methods they used to follow their particular desires in their own research. Nothing is perfect – as evidenced by the humanity of Ralph Montgomery. And who amongst us hasn’t over looked the most obvious of clues in our genealogical pursuits? Just because people are famous doesn’t mean they have any less of a desire to know where they came from, nor make them any different than the rest of us. Steve’s story helped to show this, and that a big part of the whole “story” very much involves the choices our ancestors made to get us this far.

  20. Julie Mutchie

    Why not pick a subcriber and take them on the journey? People are people, it shouldn’t matter
    if they are famous or not.
    I think NBC missed an opportunity here.
    Like the show, just don’t love it.

  21. BCarol

    Nancy #19: Another name for mercury poisoning is Mad Hatters Disease which was named thusly for people in the felt making industry who were exposed to mercury. Indeed, the symptoms include depression, anxiety and irritablity. I would imagine that in the mid 1800s, mercury was handled with less care than it is today. The speculation on the cause for Steve’s grandfather’s depression (and irritability etc. in attacking someone) is just conjecture on my part but an angle that shouldn’t be ignored.

    To #18 Wicked Witch: I have to disagree with your mention that exact search in the old search has been disabled. When I use it, it works just fine.

    To #24 Julie: Ancestry has sponsored ‘regular people searches’ – I know because I was one of their ‘regular people’ researched for Ancestry Magazine. They also are giving away several prizes to regular people for the St. Patrick’s day contest as well as the WDYTYA contest.

    And to those who think that ancestry is a scam – it is not. I have been using it for fifteen years or thereabouts and I have never been scammed by anyone associated with ancestry. Each year I receive an email telling me that my subscription is up for renewal. If I wished to cancel it, I could. Because of ancestry, I have discovered entire branches of my and my children’s family, have confirmed and debunked family stories, met relatives I didn’t even know I had. Right now I am researching a ‘disappeared’ gr. gr. grandmother and may have found her at the Willard State Hospital in Ovid, NY. Without ancestry I would have never found the possibility of it being her. More research is in store but if I can close the door on that one gr. gr. grandmother I will have completed a life’s work.

  22. Bekko

    @ #25 BCarol

    I’m with Wicked Witch on this. EXACT (old) search has got VERY fuzzy on all the England & Wales BDMs, London Baptisms, Marriages & Burials, etc.

    Ancestry have now redefined the word EXACT to mean anyone one or more of the following adjectives: incorrect, wrong, erroneous, careless, faulty, imperfect, flawed, defective, unsound or unreliable.

  23. BCarol

    Bekko: Maybe I’m kidding myself by denying that the ‘exact’ option on the old search has gotten very fuzzy etc. Can you give me an example? Seriously, I don’t want to be deluding myself that the exact search is working properly. I’ve not had the problems that you mention but maybe I’m missing something. Thanks.

  24. netzband

    The old search still exists–just hard to find. Click on the top tool bar “Search all records” and look in the top right corner of the next screen. There it is, hiding.

  25. Jeff Record

    Please, out of respect for Mr. Buscemi, could we keep the complaining about’s shortcomings to another area or blog? I thought the purpose of these comments was to talk about this particular program, not to listen to individual research issues – Call the help desk, or get over it – Listening to self serving complaints by my fellow researchers is extremely disrespectful to Mr. Buscemi and his desire to discover who he is. Even negative comments regarding the his story or research would be more pertinent and serve a better purpose.

    I would like to think that we as a genealogical research community would want to extend our hospitality, and encourage Steve Buscemi to come along “with us” on further discoveries.

    How disappointed he must be to read the rantings about what someone can or cannot find in the Welsh Marriage Index.

    Perhaps we are not the researchers we wish we were when we cannot accomplish the most mundane task of common civility towards an invited guest such as Mr. Buscemi.

  26. Michael A

    This was certainly the best episode yet.

    FINALLY, someone who isn’t trying to perpetuate a grudge over historical mistreatment of their ancestors or to aggrandize themselves by establishing connections to royalty. Just an average guy with no political agenda, no axe to grind, and no pretentions of grandeur. Like most of us, he simply wanted to explore his ancestry, and was willing to take it as he found it.

    I was also glad that Ancestry gave a nod to the genetic aspect of health problems, a subject that deserves much more attention.

    What about the fate of Ralph’s first family, whom he abandoned in Pennsylvania? Does Steve have any long-lost cousins from that line? How would he feel about pursuing that? When we look into our family histories, we do run the risk of finding something disconcerting, and we have to ask ourselves whether we really want to dig further.

  27. Anna

    The worst part of Ralph’s story was that he left his family but he probably couldn’t have returned without facing punishment.
    I can’t help but compare his life to Doc Holliday, another dentist with tuberculosis who had a difficult life. I wonder also what medications they were given and what the side effects were. Laudanom was a popular medication for the time but I don’t know if they would have used it for consumption.

  28. Bekko Re: # 29

    How odd! Do that same search in NewSearch using the same database and marking “John”, “Smith”, and “1915” as “restrict to exact matches” and you get exactly 400 hits- all named John Smith.

  29. Winlee

    Jennifer #15 you will have to excuse 17’s remarks, they don’t have much of a life except to stick they’re nose into everyones business, on every single blog that anc. runs, their a very busy person with nothing to do. kind of sad.

  30. Re #30 Jeff

    We have tried all of the above, we do not get any response from Ancestry regarding the non-exact ‘exact’ function of the old search.

    I have personally tried the message boards, contacted Ancestry ‘support’ and had no responses. These blog pages used to have really interesting sections on search, the last one was December 8th, looks like the blogs no longer have anything better to do than post inane WDYTYA comments.
    Lets get back to reallity and talk about the important ‘stuff’.

    Re #34 – Winlee

    Andy does stick his nose in, and it helps. Ancestry do not stick their collective noses in and that doesn’t help. From Ancestry subscribers perspective this blog is totally ineffective, it pays lip service to paying customers needs and issues. At least Andy tries to help where he can. Keep poking your nose in Andy.


  31. long time user

    Well, I actually took a look at WDYTYA on Steve Buscemi via the internet. I think it wasn’t too bad. Fairly intelligent and no gushing, thank goodness. Steve is not an “average” person, being a well known character actor but he seemed more average than other actors who have been on the show. I don’t usually watch the program on Fridays but have seen a few episodes at the begining of last season.

    I too have some guys in my ancestry who have led strange lives with two families. Can’t find divorce records for them. So I think they just separated, agreeably or not. Usually they said they were “widowed” but I find some who actually admit to being divorced, a daring thing for some times in history.

  32. Mary

    Many of us are just not having the problems with the searches that you seem to be having. It sounds like you may have gotten stuck in a rut of trying to search just one way. Ancestry gives you many options.

  33. Pat Secord

    #40 re: #34 – I agree! I always enjoy reading Andy’s comments and/or answers. They’re helpful and concise. If he bothers you so much, skip it and move on.

  34. WickedWitch

    (I have been away on a short holiday.)

    So to answer everyone who has put on a comment in the last few days.

    1 The issue with the Exact Search is a genuine problem which only occurred towards the last quarter of 2010. Prior to that, if you put a name in for an Exact Search return, you only got results with that name as the principal person.

    2 Some searches do SEEM to work on an exact match. For example, if you look for John Smith on a census, you will get returns for John Smith as the principal person. However, if you look for John Smith in a data set such as London Marriages, you will get results for anything with the name John and Smith in it – ie the groom, the bride, and/or either parent. Therefore someone called Henry Smith JONES son of Albert JONES who married Sarah Ann BLACK daughter of Elton JOHN, would come back as a match for John SMITH.

    3 I do not like putting things on totally disconnected blogs. However, neither do I like being fobbed off by Ancestry or ignored. I pay my subscriptions, and have for about 10 years. The least I deserve is the courtesy of a proper answer. I have emailed Ancestry, emailed individuals at Ancestry, and the best I have had is a reply with a hyperlink to the FAQ pages.

    4 I am not “stuck in a rut” with the type of searches I do. Exact Search is only one of the searches that I use. It is (was) particularly valuable with some kinds of search. As stated previously, it depends on which kind of data set you are searching as to which kind of problems you have.

    5 Pat Secord #40 and Deb H #41 – 100% agreement with you. I don’t always agree with what Andy Hatchett says, but I will defend his right to say it, and his intent always seems to me to be helpful.

    6 Ancestry may be US based, but it sells itself as International. There is no point in having international records that cannot be effectively searched. The same problems from English records also apply to other countries’ records. Try searching on

    This is the Australian Deaths’ Index. Put in Mary Smith, and see what you get back and how exact they are. The more data sets added, the more the problem has the potential to grow.

    I fully intend to continue inputting this complaint on to every blog that comes on Ancestry. The only exception since I made this decision is the one opened on Elizabeth Taylor and that was simply because it would have been totally disrespectful of me to do it there. I will continue to make such exceptions, but consider every run-of-the-mill blog fair-game.

    Anyone who has a problem with this stance, please feel free to complain to Ancestry.

  35. WickedWitch

    Oops, should have been #41 and 42 I pointed out, and since I was so long inputting mine, #43 can have a tick of agreement as well.

  36. myretta

    I enjoy your show, but why don’t you get more people interested by offering someone a chance to win a free family search.

  37. Wicked Witch – thank you so much for posting such a detailed note. Until Ancestry do respond I’ll be with you on the search hijack. Oh, and thanks for the ‘tick’. 🙂


  38. Sherry

    I agree with the witch, exact search is not working the way it use to (in old search as I do not use new search). I took a six month vacation from the family tree and rejoined a month ago. What happened?

    I am also laughing out loud. I was looking for a particular individual in the UK and found that ancestry has indexed some of the 1st Bat. South Wales Borderers (RGA12/567) with the surname of Reynolds, all born about the same time – the head had 96 children!! There must have been some drinking involved 🙂

    Please keep up the good work with the search issue as it was such a useful tool.

  39. Sherry

    Incidentally, someone tried to correct this error (post #48) in 2005……..six years later not yet corrected. I had to pay additional monies to findmypast in order to find my guy. This is such an obvious error and should have been taken care of at that time.

    This occurs in the 1891 England Census (RGA12/567).

    If someone is listening……please correct so others down the road can find their MIA’s who happened to be listed in the barracks (?) at that time.

    Many thanks.

  40. Has anyone else seen the response from Tana on another blog (Family Treemaker Questions and Answers)? Worth checking out, she suggests posting on the messageboards to get the ‘exact’ problem resolved.


Comments are closed.