March 25, 2011 07:06 PM by Shayla Perry
Who Do You Think You Are? is back with an all new episode! Tonight, Golden Globe winner, Steve Buscemi takes a look into his family’s past in search of “interesting characters” that lived lives much like those the Boardwalk Empire actor has become known for portraying over the years. Will he find what he’s looking for?
Tonight, on an all new episode of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?….
Golden Globe winning actor, writer, and director, Steve Buscemi of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire was born in Brooklyn, New York, and currently lives in the city with his wife and son.
Growing up, Steve lived in a working class Italian neighborhood, and enjoyed acting in super 8 films directed by his father. But even at a young age, Buscemi played the bad guy — something he’s become well known for throughout his Hollywood career.
Intrigued by the complicated stories of people with struggles in their lives, like the characters he plays, Steve Buscemi is searching for these “interesting characters” in his family tree, and begins by traveling to Long Island to ask his mother for some information on her side of the family.
Steve wants to know more about his maternal grandmother, Amanda Van Dine, who took her own life many years ago. With little information on Amanda’s mother, and her parents, Charles and Jane Van Dine, Buscemi begins his journey.
Knowing that his great grandmother, Jane Van Dine, died in 1928, Steve decides to search through the New York City Municipal Archives with a genealogist, and is presented with Jane’s death certificate.
Shockingly, not only does Buscemi learn that Jane died of pneumonia, but on the certificate, he sees her address, which he recognizes as a restaurant that he and his wife often go to — as recently as the previous night!
Jane’s parents were born in the U.S., but her birthplace is not listed.
To find this information, they search Ancestry.com and find that Jane Montgomery did not live with her parents, and that at age 11, she lived in Camden, New Jersey with another family, working as their servant.
Not uncommon at this time (1880), it’s probable that Jane was sent to work for this family because of extreme poverty. In order to get more information on Jane’s life, and where her parents were at this time, he looks for others on Ancestry.com that may be related to Jane’s parents, and finds Julia Vanderhoff and Ralph Montgomery (Jane’s parents) on someone else’s tree.
Buscemi contacts the owner of the family tree to try to get details to fill in the missing pieces. While he waits for a response, he travels to Pennsylvania, where he knows that Ralph Montgomery was born, and meets with an archivist.
Because of a fire in 1880, many of the city’s records were lost, but some tax records and federal Census records are still intact, and Steve is able to find Ralph Montgomery, an unmarried dentist.
In the Census records, Montgomery is found again. His profession is no longer listed, but, what he does find is that 10 years before Jane was born, her father, Ralph, had another wife, Margaret Montgomery, and two sons — Harry and Ralph Montgomery!
With more questions to be answered, Steve seeks to find out what happened to Ralph’s first family by searching newspaper clippings.
After a long search, Buscemi finds Ralph Montgomery’s name in the newspaper, with information on his death. It appears that Montgomery killed himself, and left a note in a corked bottle that read:
“Tired of this world, I take this method to shuffle off the mortal coil, upon this lonely island, below this town. If this be ever found, it will be known that my body is in the Susquehanna River. Weep not for me, my friends, as I have gone to a better world”
But what would make Montgomery want to take his own life? And how did he end up with another family?
Meeting on the shores of the Susquehanna River, Buscemi meets with the archivist and is presented with a document stating that in 1857, Montgomery and a friend brutally beat another man. He was later charged with assault and battery, but the charges were dropped 2 years later.
It appears that this crime led to the destruction of Ralph’s business, which possibly made him consider suicide, write the note, and throw it into the river. But obviously, Montgomery later decided not to kill himself and moved on, disappearing from the area. Once the letter was found, it was published in the newspaper, and Ralph was thought to be dead.
Searching army records on Ancestry.com, Buscemi finds Montgomery listed as a Union soldier in the Civil War.
In Virginia, Steve tries to find out more about Montgomery’s days as a soldier. He learns that Ralph fought in the infamous battle of Fredericksburg, eventually deserted the war, returned two months later, and then deserted once again.
Again, Buscemi searches Ancestry.com, and discovers that Ralph Montgomery’s family thought that he died, and that he never returned to them after leaving the war. Instead, he went to New Jersey and started another family.
In Camden, Steve is presented with Ralph’s death certificate, which states that he was 44 at his death, and a dentist. His last place of residence is in New Jersey, and his cause of death is tuberculosis, which he could have contracted from a patient.
On the back of his death card, it reads: “11th strangers row lot 44,” which means that Montgomery was buried among strangers.
But what happened to the surviving members of his family?
For that, Steve meets with the family member that he didn’t know he had, whom he met on Ancestry.com — his 3rd cousin. He finds that Julia (his great great grandmother) later remarried, and had another child, who also worked with another family as a servant. Eventually, both children were reunited with their mother in Brooklyn.
Steve Buscemi then travels back to Long Island to share everything he’s learned with his mother.
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Photo credit: NBC