SALT LAKE CITY — Patricia Heaton is descended from a criminal.
As part of a DNA/family history reveal, the Emmy Award-winning actress who starred on "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Middle" learned that one of her Irish ancestors made several appearances in petty sessions court for random crimes in the 1860s, including trespassing, "removing materials" (or "stealing," Heaton surmised) and for "having his horse found wandering."
Instead of frowning upon the news of a genealogical black mark in her family tree, Heaton embraced it.
"I'm so excited to have a criminal in my background," Heaton said. "It gives me some street cred."
Her only concern was the possibility of finding out that her British husband was a third cousin. Fortunately, that wasn't the case.
"With this research, who knows? I said to my husband before I came, 'We might find out we're third cousins,'" Heaton said with a laugh. "'So just be ready for that.'"
Heaton's DNA reveal was one of many humorous yet heartwarming moments during her RootsTech keynote address Thursday in the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Heaton began her remarks with a show-and-tell of her family.
With black-and-white photos appearing on a large screen, Heaton spoke of her mother, one of 15 children. Her father was a notable sportswriter for a Cleveland newspaper. Her grandmother was named Catholic Mother of the Year in 1946.
"She and my grandfather received medals from the pope. We have the picture," Heaton said. "We have a very big Catholic tradition in our family."
Heaton described her long journey from college to establishing a career in Hollywood. During that "character-building" experience in which she worked multiple jobs, she often relied on the continued support of her family for the strength to keep going. It was great to know they were there for her, Heaton said.
"You need that support. You need to know your roots are there. You need to know that no matter whether you succeed or fail, they're always there for you," Heaton said. "That's what was really important for me to keep going. It was about 13 years after college before I started making my living as an actor, so I needed that family support."
What really changed Heaton's career was having her four sons. She doesn't remember very much about "Everybody Loves Raymond" because she was either "birthing or nursing or you know, just running around," she said.
"When I watch episodes now, I don't know how they are going to end," Heaton said. "I can't remember."
Even so, what means the most to Heaton is that the two longest-running shows she has been part of — "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Middle" — are both about family.
"That has meant so much to me because I feel like we need to represent what's important about family in our entertainment culture," Heaton said.
The actress said she and her husband are grateful they reached the point in their lives and careers when the realized their children were their top priority. Heaton's husband, David Hunt, left his acting career because he missed the children.
"We realized that was what was the most meaningful to us," Heaton said, prompting applause from the audience.
Following her remarks, Heaton did a short Q-and-A session with RootsTech emcee Jason Hewlett, followed by the DNA reveal, which was a highlight for the audience.
"If there were any pole dancers, we can leave those out of the reveal," Heaton said. "But if I'm related to George Washington, please tell everybody."
The DNA test revealed that Heaton is mostly Irish, with smaller percentages of English and German ancestry. As part of the presentation, Heaton also learned about three ancestral families that immigrated from Europe to America. The actress couldn't contain her excitement as she learned about each family's journey.2 comments on this story
"I got to enjoy this wonderful reveal that FamilySearch did for me, and gosh, I teared up immediately just starting to see the names written in these old, old ledgers, and the ships' passengers list. To see what people went through, the struggles, surviving the potato famine in Ireland and coming from Germany, it just was so mind-blowing in a way to actually put names to people. … So it was just so exciting and there's something just inexplicable about learning where you came from. It gives you a sense of place, it sort of solidifies you. You feel more grounded when you get that information. I'm not sure why that happens. But I think it happens to everybody who gets to do this.
"I can't wait to get home on the computer and keep digging," Heaton said
RootsTech continues until Saturday. Saroo Brierley, international best-selling author and subject of the film "Lion," will be the keynote speaker at RootsTech on Friday. For more information, visit RootsTech.org.