Next week award-winning actor and Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub will receive a family history lesson, from Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the nationally broadcast program, “Finding Your Roots.” The feature airs at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 on PBS. Celebrities on this popular genealogy show learn for the first time about powerful and personal stories of their ancestors.
This time there is a UW-Green Bay tie.
Deb Anderson, UW-Green Bay archivist, was contacted in 2019 to help with a research question and provide copies of original documents on the Shalhoub and Seroogy families. At first this seemed like a run-of-the-mill request for the Archives team. Anderson, a fan of the program, quickly connected that the researcher was actually a member of the production team for the PBS show.
For an archives department, Anderson explained, “this is the holy grail for those who help families with their family history! Helping with research discoveries for ‘Finding Your Roots’ is akin to feelings you might have when meeting a favorite celebrity…or a Green Bay Packers player!”
Anderson explained it was definitely hard to keep the research a secret as required by the show.
Tony Shalhoub’s family tree includes a branch connecting with another well-known Northest Wisconsin family, the Seroogys, of international candy-making fame. Shalhoub’s mother was Helen Seroogy.
The UW-Green Bay Archives provided documents about the family’s immigrant ancestor, Rokus Seroogy, including his 1894 citizenship papers in which he gave up allegiance to the Sultan of Turkey. Other original materials drawn from the holdings of UW-Green Bay’s Archives Department included land records, maps of the family home, probate records, and court case files.
In a recent newspaper interview for the upcoming episode, Shalhoub was surprised by how much he didn’t know about his ancestors. “It is incredibly humbling,” he said in the interview. “It really brings into sharp focus this sort of idea of the randomness of how I and my siblings ended up in the lives that we are in. Certain things have to occur and some tragic things have to occur for me to get to where I am.”
Despite rumors over the years, Shalhoub is not a UW-Green Bay alumnus. The closest the University can come to claiming a tie to the multi-Emmy Award winning actor was that he starred in the
University’s 1973 production of “Captain Jack’s Revenge” when he was a high school senior. More about that production and the late Jack Frisch’s recollection of him, can be found in a this previous post. Said Frisch of the teenager who stepped up to join a college and community cast, “I don’t recall whether I tried to convince him to stay around. I might have. And I should have. But I sure knew I felt it.”
This isn’t the first time the UW-Green Bay Archives team has helped with national television. Previously, research and materials from the Archives Department were seen on the Ken Burns documentary, “The Vietnam War” and C-Span’s Cities Tour program series.