February 03, 2012 07:02 PM by Candace Young
Tonight on NBC‘s Who Do You Think You Are? actor Martin Sheen embarks on a journey into the past to learn more about both sides of his family. Keep reading to find out the family connection he reveals that he never could have imagined…
Best known for acting in films such as, “Apocalypse Now,” Martin Sheen is also an activist. He was born Ramon Estevez. His actor son, Emilio carries on that last name today. Martin has less information about his father’s side of the family in Spain than he does about his mother’s side of the family in Ireland. He’s especially intrigued about her brother, Michael, who was active in the civil war in Ireland.
Sheen heads to Dublin to begin his search. At the military archives he finds paperwork actually filled out by his Uncle Michael. He is fascinated to read a letter describing how he was captured, burned down a prison, cut down telegraph poles, and was arrested while fighting against the Anglo-Irish treaty signed in 1922. Martin is stunned to learn that his uncle was on the opposite side of the strife from what he believed. A historian explains to him how men like his uncle in the IRA were activists who committed their lives to their cause.
Martin is able to relate to his uncle’s activism and decides to visit one of the prisons Michael was held in. Words like ‘draconian’ and ‘iconic’ are tossed around. After standing in a jail cell, Martin likes to think he would have been as committed as his uncle was in fighting for his beliefs. He’s very proud of him.
Madrid, Spain is the next destination on Martin’s journey as he turns to exploring the Estevez side of the family. He meets up with his sister, Carmen, and they look through old photographs. She tells him how one uncle, Matias, was marked as a communist and forbidden from traveling. He’s stunned to find out Matias also went through a civil war.
When he visits with a historian, he learns that Matias, aka, El Rato (the mouse), led a gang that fought against the rebels in the Spanish Civil War. He was arrested and charged by fascists who weren’t even a legitimate government. He was condemned to life imprisonment. Martin learns that the prison was a place of terror where they died from starvation and lack of sanitation – San Cristobel in Pamplona. The good news is that he was released after four years, though still lived under surveillance.
Martin visits San Cristobel to understand what Matias went through in the concentration camp. He is taken to see the worst of the cells, which is small, dungeon-like and would have been crammed with prisoners. Martin notes that Matias outlived all the fascists.
Next, Martin takes his father, Francisco’s, birth certificate to see what he can find out about his family. He learns his grandparents’ names and is able to go back three more generations. He finds out that his great great great great grandfather, Don Diego Suarez, fathered half a dozen children with his mistress, Maria, and not his wife.
Upon further investigation, Sheen learns that Don Diego was a judge and went after a young woman, Antonia Perreira, who had an affair with a man who was ‘untouchable’, possibly a priest. She became pregnant and sought an abortion, which was the alleged crime. Martin notes how hypocritical it seems, considering Don Diego’s own affair. It turns out that Antonia went on to have a family, and one of her descendants wound up married to one of Don Diego’s descendants! Martin is shocked to realize that his fourth grandfather pursued prosecution of his fourth grandmother – and they are connected on his family tree!
Martin goes off to meet his sister Carmen at the place their father was raised. He tells her that he’s been inspired to continue his activism by learning about his like-minded ancestors. He also shares the shocking tale of Don Diego and Antonia Perreira. Astonished, Sheen concludes that it all sounds over-the-top, but it actually happened.
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Photo credit: FayesVision/WENN.com, PNP/WENN.com