When Matthew Broderick started his family history journey on Who Do You Think You Are?, he knew one thing for certain about his father’s family: they didn’t talk about the past. His dad’s dad, “Joe the postman,” was ill-tempered and quiet, so noted Matthew’s sister, who also dropped another clue: Joe received money because he got “gassed” while fighting in World War I.
Where would Matthew have to go to learn more?
But 1860 raises a red flag for Matthew: Civil War. Was Robert involved? An index of Connecticut residents who served indicates he was. Further research produces Robert’s enlistment date and a physical description. Muster rolls place Robert at Gettysburg, but it wasn’t Robert’s final battle.
Throughout his search, Matthew locates answers in federal census records and military records, both of which can form the foundation of a family tree. At Ancestry.com, the military collection includes American records, some of which date back as far as the revolution and forward to Vietnam, as well as military records from the UK, Germany, and other countries. Big finds can take place in pension records (look for names of other family members, including widows who may have remarried) and draft and enlistment cards, but conducting a search of the full collection and browsing individual titles may help you turn up even more answers.
With military research, just like any other type of family history research, remember to keep an open mind. Family story change as they get handed down – tales of an ancestor’s heroic battle in North Carolina during the Civil War may have actually played out in North Dakota during a different skirmish entirely. Creating a timeline can help root out the truth: a 9-year-old wouldn’t have fought in the Civil War, but a teenaged sibling may have.
If you missed the Matthew Broderick episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, you can catch it online here starting Saturday morning; you’ll also find a few bonus scenes that didn’t make it air there as well. And be sure to tune in next Friday night to find out just how far back Brooke Shields can trace her family tree.
Here you will find informational, and sometimes fun, posts from the folks behind the scenes here at Ancestry.com. We hope you’ll notice just how passionate we are about family history and about the products we’re building to help connect families over distance and time.Visit Ancestry.com