Ancestry® has uncovered that while many people are curious about their own family stories, half of Americans know more about fictional TV families than their own, according to recent surveys*. In reality, people's own family stories are just as compelling as the fictional ones they love and follow – packed with triumphs, twists, successes, struggles and even scandals.
Forty-three percent said their family story would be a fictional Comedy on TV, followed by a Drama (41%). Speaking of funny TV families everyone loves, Modern Family won the hearts and minds of millions of fans for 11 seasons. Actress Sarah Hyland, who played Haley Dunphy, recently discovered her own family stories are equally as script-worthy – and she’s encouraging everyone to find and share their own.
Alongside her husband, host and TV personality Wells Adams, the couple competed in “2 Lies & A Leaf®” – the Ancestry YouTube series where contestants put their family history knowledge to the test in a “two truths and a lie” style game. Their own family histories are full of interesting stories – complete with mysterious deaths, a haunted hotel, and even parallels to Sarah’s iconic role as Haley Dunphy.
Discoveries in the Episode
1. Bartending Runs in the Family!
As the witty and charming bartender on a beloved reality dating show, it turns out the apple doesn't fall far from the Adams family tree! A 1932 newspaper article revealed that Wells’ great-grandfather, Vicente Maltes, was a bootlegger during the Prohibition Era. After a raid on his home in Chicopee, Massachusetts, authorities found 21 cases of beer and four gallons of spirits.
(Tip: Search for infamous family members in your family tree through newspaper articles – papers would often include stories of people circumventing the law, details on their charges and penalties.)
2. Sarah’s Partygoer, Fashionista Ancestor and Her Studious Sister
Sarah discovered a pair of sisters in her family that mirror the familiar contrast between the on-screen Dunphy sisters – wild child Haley and her more studious, rule-following sister, Alex.
Sarah’s second great-grandmother appeared to be a bit of a party girl, according to a “Society” section feature in the local newspaper. A 1900 U.S. Federal census record revealed Leona Canaday was also into fashion, with her occupation listed as a milliner, or a hat maker.
Leona’s sister, Lucy Hawkins, is listed in census records as a medical doctor and entrepreneur by trade – a trailblazer for women of her time. A newspaper ad for Dr. Lucy Hawkins advertised her wellness center.
(Tip: Census records can be especially useful for building your family tree. If you can find a census record where your oldest known relative appears as a child, their parents will likely be listed, and you can add their parents to your tree.)
3. Wells’ Ties to the American Revolution
Wells learned that one of his ancestors played a role in a major event in American history. On April 19, 1775 after The Lexington Alarm (referring to Paul Revere’s famous ride), Wells’ 6th great-grandfather, Eleazer Coburn, marched in the first battle of the Revolutionary War.
(Tip: As you add each generation in your tree, find out what was happening in the time and place of your ancestor. Adding that historical information will make their story come to life.)
4. Sarah Colorizes Yearbook Photo of Her Grandmother
Using the Ancestry photo colorization tool, Sarah colorized a yearbook photo of her grandmother, Diane Skirvin. The resemblance between the two women is uncanny, accentuated by the newly vibrant black and white photo.
(Tip: The Ancestry colorization tool allows you to colorize and enhance black and white images and easily share with family. Click here to learn how to colorize your family’s photos on the Ancestry mobile app and desktop site.)
5. A Real Life TV Drama: Death-Defying Heroism and A Haunted Hotel
A 1944 obituary on Newspapers.com™ revealed a TV series-worthy tale in Sarah’s family tree. Her second great-granduncle, William B. Skirvin, traveled on top of a freight train and later saved people during the 1900 Galveston hurricane. He later returned to Oklahoma and started multiple businesses, including the 100-year-old Skirvin Hotel, which still operates today. There’s another dramatic plot twist – after a mysterious death at the hotel, it's even rumored to be haunted.
(Tip: An obituary can act like a ‘starter kit’ for family history -- it can include places of birth, marriage, occupation, residence, and family members, and may even suggest a burial site location.)
Survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Ancestry from August 2 to August 12, 2022, with a panel of 2,006 Americans across the general U.S. population.
Survey conducted by Dynata on behalf of Ancestry from September 12 to September 19, 2022, with a panel of 2,123 Americans across the entire US geo.
Survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Ancestry from March 17 to March 22, 2022, with a panel of 2,113 Americans, including 1,911 from top 10 DMAs and 202 from Salt Lake City, UT.