Kevin Belton is a familiar face to most Justin-Siena High School students, especially those studying a foreign language. The Spanish teacher, who lives in Napa, has worked at the high school for the past six years.
But these days, Belton’s being recognized by a whole new audience — and on national TV no less.
The teacher and his daughter are appearing in an Ancestry.com television commercial airing on various networks across the United States.
Being asked to participate in the commercial “was a fun idea,” Belton said. However, he didn’t exactly know what he was getting into at first, he admitted. “It was very secretive in the beginning.”
It was his adult daughter, Margaret Belton, an actor and member of a band in San Francisco, who first caught the attention of scouts looking to make a commercial for the genealogical resource website.
After seeing Margaret sing at a concert, a member of a production company asked Belton if she and her father might be available for a vaguely described film project.
“They asked us many questions about our family, and then explained that they were asking different individuals who seemed interesting and assertive enough to perform,” Kevin Belton said. “Very little information was given to us as they wanted to get as much of a spontaneous response as possible.”
Acting and singing come naturally to Kevin Belton. He used to direct theater at summer camps and various high schools. He also performs with an Irish band on St. Patrick’s Day.
In early in 2012, the father and daughter traveled to a home near Moraga for their “interview” with a film crew. Little did they know how personal their roles would be.
Seating the two on a couch, the crew opened a laptop to display the Ancestry.com website and started filming.
“There was nothing scripted,” Belton said. “They pulled up this page with our family name on it and up popped a picture of my grandpa,” he said. The site was able to document how his grandfather emigrated from England to the U.S. in the early 1900s, including a photo of the ship he traveled on, a copy of the ship’s roster with his name, and even a census page with family names on it.
Belton said he knew how his grandfather had arrived in the U.S. but some of the photos and other documentation Ancestry.com provided was new to him.
“I had tried to find records before but it wasn’t always easy to do,” Belton said. As a research tool, the genealogical website is “pretty awesome.”
“For my daughter, it was cool,” he said. “This is another generation learning about the past. They haven’t known these people.”
Several months later, the finished commercial began to air on national TV channels. That’s when friends and family started to call and say they’d seen the commercial.
“I get two to three calls a week,” he said.
An aunt living in another state also saw the commercial and had no idea Belton had been interviewed for the TV spot. “She was ecstatic when she saw her dad’s picture on this commercial,” said Belton. “She called up crying.”
Belton, who said he was paid less than $1,000 for his participation, added it’s fun to be recognized, especially working at a school. “The kids get a real charge out of it. They put a lot of importance to seeing someone on TV.”
Besides his daughter, one of Belton’s sons is also in the entertainment industry and has appeared in a number of commercials.
“We’ve always gathered together to watch (his) commercials like it’s a big event, so it’s kind of fun to be pulled into one myself,” Belton said.