NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are” has explored the genealogy of celebrities like Kim Cattrall and Tim McGraw, but the Rosie O’Donnell episode was one of the most moving and emotional yet. On the episode, which repeated on March 18, O’Donnell explores the ancestry of her mother, who passed away while Rosie was a childhood.
O’Donnell says that after her mother died of cancer, her family never spoke of her again. “One thing about growing up Irish Catholic, we didn’t talk about anything bad that happened, at all,” she says.
Unsurprisingly, her search led her to Ireland. “Imagine if we find out, like, we’re going to Israel! I’m Jewish!” O’Donnell joked on her radio show before embarking on the journey. Her search began with a mysterious photo that hung on the wall of her childhood playroom, of a woman who turned out to be Anne Murtagh, who died due to an oil lamp explosion in 1881.
The infant she was holding when the lamp burst, however, survived, and O’Donnell visited her descendants in New Jersey.
Later O’Donnell traced her family back to the Irish potato famine. During those years, her great-great-grandparents and their children lived in a workhouse in Kildare, Ireland. O’Donnell visited a workhouse similar to the one they would’ve lived in and was surprised by the dank conditions.
A benefactor helped the family get to Canada, and from there, O’Donnell’s ancestors headed to Brooklyn. Watch the full episode below for the emotional conclusion.