'Breaking Bad' star Bryan Cranston's complicated Dayton family roots uncovered

As we told you before, actor Bryan Cranston's complicated family roots lead through Dayton.

The Breaking Bad star caused a stir when he visited Dayton in July to film an episode of the TLC hit show “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Bryan Cranston at the Dayton National Cemetery. (Source: TLC)

The show that provides celebrities with information about their bloodlines featured Cranston's story Sunday night. If you missed it, watch for the rerun.

Cranston focused his search on his father's side of his family tree.

His dad, Joseph Cranston, abandoned his family when Bryan was just 11.

Little was known about his forebears.

During the episode, Cranston found a clear pattern of his male ancestors abandoning their lots.

"My sympathies lie more with the women in the family," he said during the episode. "These women have put up with behavior that is less than honorable and how they have survived and endured."


The search for answers started in Chicago, where the actor's father Joseph Cranston was born. He took Bryan Cranston to Springfield, Ill, and Montreal, Canada before ending up in Dayton. In Dayton, he learned information about Joseph Henry Cranston, Bryan Cranston's great-great grandfather, his father's namesake.

Here are a few highlights related to Dayton:

Link to Dayton

Joseph Henry Cranston was born in Armagh, Ireland, in about 1826, according to information the show uncovered for the actor on Ancestry.com.

Joseph Cranston entered the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton on Sept. 1. 1883, listing his social condition as "single" even though he apparently never divorced his wife, Sarah McLeod, Bryan Cranston's great-great grandmother.

Breaking Bad’s Cranston filmed show at Dayton VA, airs Sunday←

Joseph Cranston met his end in Dayton March of 1889 of poisoning (more info on that coming).

Joseph Henry Cranston's tombstone at Dayton National Cemetery. Screen grab by Amelia Robinson)

"He died with 25 cents in his pocket," Cranston said of his great-great-grandfather on the show. "That's a sad case. He seems to have died penniless and without family."

A "dissipated" man

A carpenter by trade, Joseph was already absent from his family by the time Cranston's great-grandfather Daniel James Cranston was baptized at about 5 months old in Montreal on Feb. 24, 1849.

As I mentioned, Cranston's own father also was named Joseph Cranston and absent from his family.

"You have no idea the significance of that. There's been a pattern of absenteeism by certain male members of my family," Bryan Cranston says on the episode.

Daniel Cranston was placed in a home for the destitute while his mother Sarah worked as a servant.

"The mother obliged to go to work as her husband is a dissipated man," a document presented to Cranston in Canada read.

Janice Harvey, Canadian social historian at Dawson College, told Cranston that "dissipated" was a catchall word in the 19th century.

"It implies that he is drinking, that he is probably immoral," she said. "The mother on the other hand has gone to work."

Cranston discovered that his great-great grandfather fought with the Union during the American Civil War, serving with the 23rd of Illinois, the 39th of Illinois and the 26th of Pennsylvania.

"He's enlisted three times," Cranston said. "Some people were meant to be certain things, and it seems like he was meant to be a solider... He was away playing soldier. "

Joseph Cranston enlisted three times during the Civil War. (Screen shot of "Who Do You Think You Are?" by Amelia Robinson)

Cranston there is glory and honor in his great-great grandfather's military service, but the family's true heroes were the women who stay despite dire situations.

Death in Dayton

Bryan Cranston looking at a document with Tessa Laman, a visual information specialist at the Dayton VA Medical Center. (Source: TLC)

While in Dayton, Bryan Cranston met Tessa Laman, a visual information specialist at the Dayton VA Medial Center.

She showed him a musty Saturday March 2, 1889 newspaper article from the "Dayton Daily Democrat" account of Joseph's death.

It says Joseph and another man "Blew out the gas, and Slept the Sleep That Knows No Waking."

Joseph and the other man, like him a 60-year-old Soldier Home resident, rented a room at the Union House on Second Street after a night of drinking that Thursday.

The pair asked to be allowed to sleep late. The landlord discovered them dead after calling them to dinner at 11 p.m. the next day. The room was full of gas and the men were in a "lifeless condition."

Dayton Daily Democrat newspaper article on Joseph Cranston's death. (Source: screen grab by Amelia Robinson)

Joseph, listed in the article as J. H. Cranston, died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas heater.

Cranston says his family's history teaches him how not to be.

"We go through life learning from our parents," he said. "In the best of circumstances, they teach you how to be a whole human being. In the worse of circumstances, they can also teach you what not to do. In many regards that's what I've learned from my family — how not to live."

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