Joe Manganiello discovers a surprising truth from his family's past in the latest episode of “Finding Your Roots,” which aired on Feb. 7.
While researching the actor's family tree, the show's team quickly realizes that his DNA doesn't match up with his paternal grandfather's.
This leaves the team to wonder: Who is his real grandfather?
While chatting with the show's host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., the 46-year-old says his father Charles Manganiello wasn't surprised to hear the news since he always had a strained relationship with the man whom he believed to be his father, Emilio Manganiello.
The team then sets out to discover the true identity of Charles' father.
DNA evidence points them to Manganiello's paternal great-grandparents: William Henry Cutler and Nellie Alton, who lived in Massachusetts. The couple had five sons and two daughters, so now the question becomes: Which one of them was Charles' father? Or, as host Gates puts it, "One of those dudes is your grandfather."
Ultimately, it was impossible to determine which of the Cutler brothers was the right Cutler brother. Along the way, the team narrowed the pool down to three of Henry and Nellie's sons using birth and death records. "There was not enough evidence to determine which is our man, but there is no doubt that Joe descends from one of the three," Gates said.
But the team learned something interesting about the Cutler brothers' race. While looking at historical records that contain information about their race, the "Finding Your Roots" teams ascertains that William H. Cutler and Nellie Cutler's sons were "light skinned African American men," as Gates puts it.
"That means, (Joe), that you would, under the one drop rule, be an African American," Gates explains.
"Boy, that's really interesting," Manganiello says.
After some further digging, the team learns that Manganiello's ancestry is 7 percent Sub-Saharan African and 98 percent European. His paternal grandfather was roughly 30 percent Sub-Saharan African.
The team determines that William H. Cutler and Nellie Cutler were an interracial couple.
"Had Emilio been your great-grandfather, would be be walking you up your Italian, Sicilian branches of your tree. But Emilio's not. So we'll be walking you up your African American branch," he says.
William H. Cutler and Nellie Alton got married in 1887 at a time when mixed race marriages were frowned upon. William Cutler was an African-American man and Nellie Cutler was a white woman, Gates says.
Gates spoke to several of Nellie Cutler's descendants, who all said that her parents disowned her for marrying a Black man.
"That's guts," Manganiello says about Nellie Cutler's strong convictions. “That’s incredible.”
Looking further back on this branch of Manganiello's family, the team finds a man named Plato Turner, his fifth great grandfather. Turner was born in Africa and forced into slavery, but eventually became a free man and served in the Revolutionary War.
While hearing about the unexpected part of his family tree, Manganiello says he feels astonished.
"For me to be sitting here today, it's like threading a needle with a bow and arrow at a hundred yards three times. It's impossible," he says.
While reflecting on the experience, Manganiello says he feels comfort learning about his ancestors.
"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."
"'This is one of the great gifts of my life," he said.