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Joe Manganiello says ‘Finding Your Roots’ changed his life: ‘I never knew what I was’

"It's opened up this whole world," Manganiello tells TODAY.com.
Joe Manganiello
Joe ManganielloAndrew H Walker / Variety via Getty Images

Joe Manganiello says his headline-making "Finding Your Roots" experience was the start of his genealogy investigation, not the end.

"It's opened up this whole world," he tells TODAY.com. “I’ve hired several historians to continue the work. I continued taking genetic tests. I made my Ancestry.com and fleshed out the entire family tree. I started writing messages to people who were connected to me. I've found very, very close family members."

The episode, which aired on PBS, featured discoveries from both his mother and father's sides of the family. Manganiello learned that his maternal great-grandmother, Terviz “Rose” Darakijan, an Armenian genocide survivor, became pregnant by a German soldier while in a refugee camp. On his other side of the family, Manganiello learned his paternal grandfather was of African descent, and that his last name shouldn't actually be Manganiello.

Joe Manganiello  Deal Or No Deal Island - Season 1
Joe Manganiello Patrick Ecclesine / NBC via Getty

In the episode, Manganiello told host Henry Louis Gates he felt newly grounded by what he learned. “If I’m a tree, the tree has roots for the first time. It’s not gonna blow away. I know what it is and I know who the people were that were involved, and I know where I came from,” he says. “It’s really about understanding what I am a part of instead of wondering.”

To continue his ancestry work, Manganiello worked with a German historian to "run down some loose ends" related to Carl Wilhelm Beutinger, his great-grandfather. They uncovered a "handwritten family tree" that brought his German lineage back to his 11th great-grandfather.

"I learned I had ancestors who fought Napoleon," he adds.

Manganiello was able to solve mysteries the show brought up. "I've found, without a doubt, who my biological grandfather was, because on the episode there was some question. Now I know," he says.

Currently, he's investigating Plato Turner, his fifth great-grandfather who was born in Africa and forced into slavery, with the help of a colonial American historian. Turner eventually became a free man and served in the Revolutionary War. "We're almost there. I can probably pinpoint where in Africa he came from," he says.

Manganiello says the work has added to his identity and understanding of himself. "I never knew what I was. I don't look like anybody in my family tree," he says.

He continues, "I didn't understand the ramifications of being a descendant of the Armenian genocide. There's a real conversation about generational trauma and how that plays out."

While the episode was about new parts of his identity, he still celebrates what he always knew he was: Italian. The actor recently became an Italian citizen and plans to move to Italy one day. "I feel like I'm at home there. That's the majority of my identity. But physically, I look like all the Germans," he says.

Manganiello, known for his work in "True Blood" and the "Magic Mike" movie series, recently became the host of "Deal or No Deal Island."

A longtime fan of reality competition shows, he nearly went on "Survivor," but had to turn it down because it clashed with his acting roles. Still, he's open to being in a reality show, not only hosting it, as he's doing for "Deal or No Deal Island."

"I love 'The Traitors.' I watched the show and I go, 'I guess I could be on 'Traitors.' They say Sicilians are great liars," he says.