• Dr. Adina

#BravoGenealogy Blog Series: Vicki Gunvalson

Updated: Aug 20, 2018

My last entry focused on the hardworking and always entertaining Sonja Morgan from the Real Housewives of New York City aka #RHONY. This week, we’re moving from east coast to west coast in honor of the new season of the Real Housewives of Orange County (#RHOC). Let’s whoop it up! Yes, who better to learn more about than the OG of the OC herself, Vicki Gunvalson!


What We Know

A good deal of background information was readily available online. Victoria “Vicki” Lynn (Steinmetz) Gunvalson was born on March 27, 1962, in Chicago. She grew up in the suburb of Mount Prospect and attended Fremd High School in Palatine.

Vicki's freshman year picture at Fremd High School.

Vicki is the daughter of William and Joanne (Closset) Steinmetz and one of five children, including two adopted older sisters. From her first husband, Michael J. Wolfsmith, she has son, Michael, and daughter, Briana, both who regularly make appearances on the show. She’s also Nana to Briana’s two children with Ryan Culberson, Troy and Owen, who currently live in North Carolina.


She has German, Scandinavian, Scottish, and possibly French ancestry.

Vicki appears to be 2/3 German, her family hailing from various areas in modern day Germany, such as Saxony and Berlin, as well as 17th century Switzerland. Yet, all her self-labeled German family members did not always lives within Prussian/German borders. On her death record, Vicki’s 2nd great-grandmother, Ellen (Mordhorst) Fee, and her father John (Vicki’s 3rd-great grandfather), were from Marne, Denmark, and Vicki’s 3rd-great-grandmother (name unknown) was also listed from Denmark. The 1880 census listed her family from Holstein, which today, is the state where Marne is located. Even though most censuses listed the family from Germany, the 1920 census listed Ellen's parents from Denmark and speaking Danish. Looking at the history of the region, the Duchy of Holstein was subject to two so-called Schleswig Wars in the mid-19th century between Denmark, Prussia, and Austria, which would determine the fate of Holstein. In 1864, Prussia annexed Holstein, just a few years after Ellen’s birth. Although it’s possible that Vicki has ancestors through that line that were Scandinavian, rather than German as a result of migration, Holstein had been mostly populated by ethnic Germans for centuries. Despite this unknown, through her paternal grandmother, she is definitely ¼ Scandinavian.


Information found in the death index for Vicki's 2nd great-grandmother.

Her family are all fairly recent immigrants.

Most of Vicki’s family immigrated to the United States in the 19th century from Prussia/Germany, with her 2nd great-grandfather, William Fee, immigrating from England during this period. Most recently, Vicki’s paternal grandmother, Virginia (Hockstad) Steinmetz, immigrated from Norway in 1905. Virginia’s family immigrated with her as well, which included her parents and Vicki’s great-grandparents, John (Johan) Mathais and Dagmar (Eriksen) Hockstad, and great-aunt, Alphid.

Ship manifest that includes Vicki's grandmother, Virginia, great-grandparents, and great-aunt from Norway.

Naturalization papers for Vicki's great-grandfather.

Every branch of her family seems to have settled in the Midwest.

Although mostly centered in Illinois where Vicki grew up, some of Vicki’s ancestors initially settled in other areas of the Midwest. Based on unverified information added into a site called Find A Grave, Vicki’s 2nd great-grandmother, Mary (Jacob/Jacobs) Hunsinger, lived in Ohio most, if not her whole life; records prove she married Vicki's 2nd great-grandfather in Ohio and birthed several children in the Buckeye state, including Vicki's great-grandmother, Minnie (Hunsinger) Steinmetz. Mary’s likely father, John/Johan Jacob, also enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War while a resident of Ohio. Mary's husband and Vicki's 2nd great-grandfather, Jacob Hunsinger, died in Missouri, although he was interred back in Ohio. The Steinmetz family, including Vicki’s great-grandfather Albert, may have also lived in Wisconsin before heading to Illinois.

Jacob Hunsinger's death certificate.

Her daughter isn’t the only one who fell for a military man.

Speaking of the military, Vicki’s daughter, Briana, isn’t the only one who married into the military when she eloped with Ryan Culberson who formerly served in the Marine Corps. Vicki’s mother, Joanne, married her father, William, in 1951, and the following year, enlisted in the Navy and served about two years during the Korean War.


She wasn’t the first business owner in her family, nor was she the first woman to work outside the home.

Vicki is well known for being a boss in every sense of the word, but particularly as owner of her own insurance company, Coto Insurance and Financial Services. She may have inherited this drive, first from her great-grandfather, Albert Closset, who was listed as a proprietor in a foundry (a workshop for metal casting) in the 1910 census; although by the 1920 census, he seemed to have left his role as owner and was employed as an electrotyper.


As for the women in Vicki’s family, her great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Olker) Stiller was a tailoress according to the 1900 census before she married. Additionally, when Vicki’s likely 3rd great-grandfather, John Jacob, died in 1894, her 3rd great-grandmother, Theresa (Eichenlaub) Jacob who had previously “kept house” appears to have taken over his position as a grocer, also according to the 1900 census. Not to mention, this census noted that she had 13 children(!), 10 who were still alive, and two who lived with her as adults.

The 1900 census that includes Vicki's likely 3rd great-grandmother as a grocer and number of children.

Enjoy learning about Vicki Gunvalson's family history? Genealogy is not just for Bravolebrities! Contact me at adina@myfamilygenie.com, and I can do the same for you!

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