Angie Harmon with her daughters (from left: Avery, Finley and Emory).

Angie Harmon with her daughters (from left: Avery, Finley and Emory).

TLC

Angie Harmon, who stars as a police detective on TNT's Rizzoli & Isles, recently did some real-life detective work and made a breakthrough personal discovery.

The Highland Park native conducted a genealogical background check with help from Who Do You Think You Are?, the TV series in which celebrities trace their roots.

Harmon went back more than 200 years into her family history and learned about her great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Michael Harmon, who fought in the Revolutionary War and served under George Washington at Valley Forge.

Harmon says she also learned a few things about herself during the journey of discovery.

The episode premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on TLC.

Harmon talked about her experiences last week by phone from Los Angeles, where she's already filming another season of Rizzoli & Isles.

What compelled you to begin this search into your family history and why at this time?

I've always been curious about where I come from. Why am I the way I am? Why do I think the way I think? Why do I do what I do? I believe a lot of that is in your gene pool. But who was the source exactly? I had no idea.

I have three little girls (ages 11, 9 and 6) and I wanted to be able to give them this information and tell them the stories. So when this opportunity came up, it seemed like the right time.

Tell us a little about Michael Harmon.

My 5X great-grandfather was an incredible person. He came to America from Germany as a young man hoping for a better life. He persevered through a lot of personal hardships, including several years as an indentured servant and then as a soldier during the harsh conditions at Valley Forge.

But he not only survived; he excelled. He wound up becoming a very successful man and had a big family. And I think some of those qualities - his drive, his tenaciousness - were passed down to me.

Going back and seeing what kind of person Michael Harmon was, I was like, "Wow, now I get it. It's literally in my DNA."

Angie Harmon being assisted by  Major Sean Sculley, a professor at the U.S. Military Academy-West  Point.

Angie Harmon being assisted by Major Sean Sculley, a professor at the U.S. Military Academy-West Point.

TLC

What if you had discovered an outlaw, someone disreputable, in your family tree? Would you have been as willing to share that story on TV?

It's the risk that you take, isn't it? There's no telling what you might find. I just kept praying all the way through that I wouldn't be one of those episodes where people uncover villains and criminals. And I was so thrilled and relieved when I found a hero.

After five seasons, Rizzoli & Isles is still one of the top shows on cable. Do you still enjoy working on it?

I love playing Jane Rizzoli. The great thing about this show is it's got a little bit of drama, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of everything. We get to cover the whole spectrum on a daily basis.

We can go from doing a heavy emotional scene to doing something that's just super, super campy and everybody cracking up. I will literally be like, "That had to be too much," but they're like, "No, it works." So it's fun and I'm very grateful for the success of the show.

By David Martindale

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