Richard Kind discovers a chilling family secret on 'Finding Your Roots'

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When Richard Kind signed up to learn about his ancestry on the PBS show "Finding Your Roots," never expected to hear that one of his ancestors was murdered.

But that's exactly what host Henry Louis Gates Jr. tells him in the show's latest episode, which aired on Feb. 14 and also featured David Duchovny as a guest.

The 66-year-veteran actor, who is known for starring in hit sitcoms like "Spin City" and "Mad About You," begins the episode by talking about his "stern" paternal grandfather, Alvin Berson ("sometimes horribly stern," Kind says).

Bursin was born in Manhattan in 1901. His parents were from the Pale Of Settlement, a region of czarist Russia where Jews were permitted to live, but also subject to humiliating restrictions and acts of anti-Semitism.

Growing up, Kind says he never understood his paternal grandfather's serious demeanor. By the end of the episode, he gains a new understanding of his grandfather's character, and how a tragedy he experienced at 31 may have informed his outlook.

In 1933, Alvin Berson’s father Hyman Berson was murdered. One of his business partners was accused of committing the crime.

Kind seems bewildered to hear the news. "Well ain't there a skeleton in my closet huh? Wow, I can hear them jingling," he says.

Kind's great-grandfather Hyman Berson, when he came to the U.S., worked as a peddler on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which Gates says was a common occupation for Jewish immigrants at the time. Hyman was one of the few who made a profit, and eventually was able to start his own business — in crayon manufacturing.

"Your great-grandfather went from peddling to running his own company," Gates says. He eventually went on to own a factory and amass a fortune worth the equivalent of $1.7 million today.

Kind is initially amused to hear his family was in the "crayon business," but his reaction is tempered when he learns of Hyman Berson's fate. Hyman Berson died at 55, and death certificate lists "gunshot wounds of neck" as his cause of death.

All of this comes as a surprise to Kind. The actor explains that his grandfather never addressed the tragedy with him.

“Who talks about that?" he says. "My grandfather, no he would never talk about it."

The accused gunman, Simon Stern, also shot Hyman Berson’s nephew Charles, who later died from his wounds. According to records that the show’s researchers dug up, Stern may have killed Kind's great-grandfather in order to cash in on an insurance policy.

But the accused insisted that Hyman Berson was involved in organized crime and was perhaps killed by some enemies. Stern was later acquitted of the crime and no one else was ever charged.

While learning about the tragedy Alvin Berson experienced at such a young age, Kind wonders if it influenced his personality.

“My grandfather was a very moral man ... maybe he really was affected by the death of his dad,” he says.

Gates says this kind of revelation is a rarity for "Finding Your Roots."

“We haven’t had many murdered ancestors sitting in the seat across the table from me. How about that?" he says.

"And let me tell you something, I didn't think I'd be the one," Kind muses.

During the episode, Kind also learns that he descends from a long line of Jewish religious leaders. He says revelation makes him feel "smarter."

Ancestors on both sides of Kind's family tree immigrated to the United States. But one ancestor ended up returning to Poland with his family and was caught in the thick of World War II, living in a ghetto with other Jewish people.

As he hears about the horrors that Jews endured during the Holocaust, Kind says he feels more connected to his ancestors than ever before.

"I hold the Holocaust as the great inhumanity. It's awful. And yet to try and find a personal place other than being a Jew, I never could. (Now) I can," he says.

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