It was so surprising that host Henry Louis Gates Jr. had to call Manganiello with the news so he wouldn’t find out first during taping.
“My family and I had a betting pool of what it is, like what’s so bad that you can’t announce it on the episode?” Manganiello told a TV critics meeting Thursday.
Gates informed Manganiello that the man the family believed to be the actor’s paternal grandfather really wasn’t.
“My grandfather was a black man of mixed race,” said Manganiello, who is white. “That was fascinating.”
As a result, Gates told him, “You are zero percent genetically related to anyone named Manganiello in the world.”
Gates didn’t stop there. The show’s research traced back to the actor’s fifth great-grandfather who was a slave who became free before slavery was abolished in Massachusetts, where Manganiello’s father was born outside of Boston. His father’s family came from Italy.
Manganiello found out his distant relative joined the Continental Army and fought alongside other Blacks for the colonies against the British in units that were non-segregated.
“None of us would have guessed that if we’d had 10 years of guessing,” the actor said. “If Manganiello’s not my last name, what is?”
Another mystery from his mother’s side was solved, too.
Manganiello’s maternal great-grandmother was a survivor of the Armenian genocide during World War I in which her husband and seven of her children were killed. She was shot, but played dead and escaped with an eighth child, who later drowned while they traversed the Euphrates River.
Manganiello was told his great-grandmother was incarcerated and met a German officer stationed at the camp. He said she became pregnant by the officer, who later returned to Germany without her. The actor’s aunt had a picture of the man, which later got lost.
“We had nothing to connect us being German other than this,” he said.
The show’s researchers found that the actor’s mother and aunt were the children of the half-German baby.
“That was a really profound moment for me,” he said.
Gates said it took nearly a year to uncover the ancestry in part because the Turkish government doesn’t give researchers access to vital records and population documents dating to the Ottoman Empire.
Manganiello was filming in Europe last year, and the locals mistook him as being German.
“To think that I don’t look like the other people in m family is because I look like the Germans, OK, now that makes sense,” he said. “It’s really wild what we uncovered.”
The 45-year-old actor known for “True Blood” and “Magic Mike” was born and raised in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He is married to Colombian-born actor Sofía Vergara.
The new season of “Finding Your Roots” begins Jan. 3. Among those featured are Oscar winners Viola Davis and Julia Roberts, as well as Carol Burnett, political activist Angela Davis and actor Danny Trejo.
By Beth Harris