Posted by on March 26, 2010 in Who Do You Think You Are?

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?

  • National Archives, New York City, NY – Matthew starts by reviewing his grandfather Joe’s military records at the National Archives. He discovers his grandfather served in France and was transferred to the medical department. But what did Joe do there?
  • Meuse-Argonne Offensive, near Verdun, France – At the Meuse-Argonne battlefield, Matthew learns his grandfather’s job was to attend to the wounded until stretcher-bearers could arrive. He also discovers that his grandfather received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during service here.
  • Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, near Verdun, France – Row after row of headstones marks the graves of soldiers who died here during World War I, including soldiers who served with Joe. Matthew learns that his grandfather also received a recommendation for a distinguished service cross. His grandfather was a military hero, yet Matthew had never heard this before.
  • Connecticut State Archives, Hartford, CT – But there’s another side to his father’s family that Matthew wants to learn about: Mary, Matthew’s grandmother. At the Connecticut archives, Matthew checks for census records and finds Mary living in an orphanage in 1910. Additional records from the archive note that her father, William, died in a work-related accident in 1908. Following this family further back, Matthew finds William living with his mother and his siblings in 1870 – but where is William’s dad? 1860 doesn’t help (the family can’t be located) but 1850 does. That year William was living with his mother and Robert, his father.

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.

  • Battlefield near Atlanta, GA – Matthew discovers that it was at the Battle of Peachtree Creek where his great-great-grandfather met his fate courtesy of a musket ball on July 23, 1864. At a nearby rail yard, Matthew sees where fallen Union soldiers were temporarily buried before re-interment a few years later in a national cemetery.
  • Marietta National Cemetery, near Atlanta, GA – Matthew visits the grave of his great-great-grandfather. Although soldiers buried in this cemetery had been meticulously documented, until this search, the remains under this simple monument had not been linked to a specific soldier.

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, 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.


  1. The episode about Mathew Brodericks ancestors is the best one so far. It was very fascinating. I can’t wait until next week to hear about Brooke Shields. Her Ancestors are related to mine with the Burr Family.

    Thank you,

    JT Jr

  2. Charlotte

    I found that I have ancestors that fought in the civil war and the revolution. The biggest surprise betwwn 3 searching the goss family we have Mary Queen of Scots, Henry VIII and a few Scot rulers. I really like discoveries. My father and I gave our DNA to the National Georgraphic Genome Project.

  3. judy cronan

    We enjoyed the episode mainly because Matthew’s family is from Connecticut {we live in CT}. So the local aspect was fascinating. My family lived in the Derby-Ansonia area also. He might have also looked at pension records and also Ansonia area newspapers for info regarding family- they might have included a photo. Interesting also the orphanage his grandmother lived in–The episode did not go deep but pulled up tons of info which was available. Found myself rooting for him and telling him how to get more info.

  4. Robert Martindale

    It was interesting to watch the program on Matthew Broderick’s ancestry, especially since his family shares my name. Keep digging, Matthew. It sounds like you’ve just scratched the surface on what you might be able to retrieve about your history. Best of luck!

  5. Z is fraudulently billing credit cards. See ripoff report. The company is being reported to the FTC.

  6. raymond reid

    disappointed that after recieving information about this series that we cant veiw it in the uk on the nbc web site which is the norm with most streaming websites in other countries.Would have liked to veiw it a we are on our fifth series of this program in the uk and it has always been very good

  7. Bobbi

    These shows are interesting, and I readily admit that I enjoy them. But it is important for us to notice how the tedious research is already completed for these folks.
    Cases in point with Matthew Broderick: He arrives at the cemetery where his great grandfather is buried as an unknown soldier, then is presented with documents that indicate where the grave of his great grandfather is located.
    He shows up at library and archives and is quickly presented with the documents that contain his family history.
    I argue that while this is interesting and, certainly commercial for, it is not a realistic representation of the work that is actually involved with doing this kind of research. This kind of investigation is time consuming and expensive!
    So, let’s get real here.
    One last issue: What I’m curious to know is how/why these particular celebrities were selected for this program?

  8. Dee Jordan

    I enjoyed this episode the most. They just keep getting better! I’m curious if Matthew’s Civil War relative’s grave will receive a tombstone with his name on it? That would truly be a great ending to his relatives Civil War service.

  9. lisa

    I’m just worried about the fraudulent credit card charges. i was a member of for a short time but it took so long to correct my account billing practices. so if anyone can reassure me on this i would appreciate it.

  10. Judeen

    I, too, needed to research Civil War records for my ancestors; I had to pay $50.00 for 2 records from the National Archives which took almost three months to receive. I need more military records, but who can afford to pay all the fees and wait for months? I need to travel to German and Russia, but I can’t afford to travel there to experience “where it all started and ended” with my ancestors. But….the program did motivate me to continue my genealogy work, though I’m at a standstill now as I need to research world genealogy records, and the World Deluxe Membership is over $200.00! Ancestry has the “monopoly” on genealogy now, and it needs some good competition out there.

  11. Richard

    Did you notice that the archivist at the Connecticut State Archives brought out hard copies of the 1870 and 1850 census? Normally they make a point at going to for census information. Are these duplicate copies of the census made at the time of the census? Do state archives have duplicate copies of the 1890 census?

  12. Susan D.

    Once again I throughly enjoyed the program. After finding that many of my ancestors fought in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War,I want to do historical research regarding the sacrifices made by the many so we can live in this beautiful America. Looking forward to future shows.

  13. James

    This was the first episode that I have watched and thought it was very good. Of course there were “behind the scenes” activities but Matthew B’s “trip” was interesting to watch. I remember a family trip when I was 7 to Gettysburg (where several ancestors fought). I’ll have to make the trip again.


  14. James W Cummings

    I have more than a few ancestors who were called to serve in the military when necessity arose. My father Donald Ernest Cummings served in the Military Police in the army during the Allied Occupation of Germany (1945-1950) as a Sargent. He had an uncle Charles Cummings who was one of the higher ups (whatever that meant)at the Annapolis Naval Academy during the 30s and 40s. In the Civil War I had a 2nd Great Grandfather Daniel Baxter Cushman who was a private and Sargent in the 21th Wisconsin Infantry,and also the First Veteran Corps from 1862-65 and a 3rd Great Grandfather Samuel R Stevens in the 1st Maine Infantry. In the War of 1812 I recently discovered that my 4th Great Grandfather Eleazer (III) Cummings saw service in the 21st Massachusetts (Maine) Infantry (1813) by examining his estate probate and the Massachusetts pensioners of 1818 (1835) which also covered the pensions granted to survivors of soldiers who died during the war. Eleazer`s son my 3rd Great Grandfather Joseph S Cummings enlisted with Col Sherwin`s Vounteer infantry in 1814. He was 18. There were several others including Ezekiel Croxford , Simeon Stone , Benjamin Dodge and Prentice Clements who were present at the Battle of Hampden, Maine and over a dozen who participated as soldiers during the American Revolution including a coulple of Loyalist soldiers (Rynard Wheeler and George Hartley) both of the King`s American Regiment and several continental soldiers several of whom were in their mid teens these included Sargent Zebedee and Jabez Delano , Stephen and Hosea Washburn, Apollos Cushman, Reuben Knowlton, Reuben and William Ricker, Samuel Stubbs, Capt John Brackett, John Croxford, Benjamin III Goodridge ,Benjamin jr and Benjamin III Swett and Abiel Lovejoy, breifly a private and formerly a Captain during the French and Indian wars. I wonder what Matthew Broderick will discover among his Brodericks and Martindales. His 2nd Great Grandfather Broderick according to the Boston Massachusetts vital records was another James Joseph Broderick who married one Ellen.

  15. Like our previous commentator from the UK, the NBC site does not work in Australia either, which is unfortunate as I have watched with great interest both series, those in England and Australia.
    Having done research for some thirty years it is great for me to see the reaction of these people as they discover their past, this is a palpable feeling that I feel myself, having been there as well. Given the short time frame of the program a bit of a hand in their research being done is probably the only tv way of presenting the facts. As a previous blogger noted, having information presented to oneself as you arrive at a library or a cemetery is a gift to say the least, but don’t forget the time the program has to get their message across. Some bits of research and that last elusive piece of the puzzle have taken for me years to fall into place, but still the program is great. I hope that this program encourages even more people to document their families and their pasts, as I say to people “every family has history and every family has a story” that gives you an insight into yourself and why you are the way that you are, some of this is predestined by your past, those skills and attributes that you might have taken for granted have come from somewhere.

    As time progresses, more and more records will go on-line, never stop looking! The New England Historic Genealogical Society has a wealth of searchable databases, some free, some not, but dont let the cost stop you, other organizations have similar information.

    With regard to etc and the yearly cost, for me it equates to about a dollar a day, which really in the scheme of things, I get great value out of. If you worry about the cost, I think that you are doing yourself a disservice, but that is my opinion,

    To finish, a couple of tips

    Have a look at, part of the National Archives and Records Administration, all sorts of records. An amazing site and you can see the actual documents on screen.

    If you are visiting cemeteries, take a GPS with you as well as a camera, as other relatives and researchers may wish to visit that grave as well and it is documented in your research. A valuable thing for people in the future..

    Keep researching


  16. Marie Batch

    I love the show! Matthew`s show was touching. We discovered my husband`s grt. grandfather, Frank Batch, was in the civil war, Frank`s brothers John and Joseph served also.
    Without reseach we would have missed so much! In Springfield Ill. we find an obit for Joseph, it was amazing! The man met Pres. Lincoln! We Found all 3 of there graves.
    Since they were able to Locate Matthew`s grt. grandfather, will he get a grave with his name on it, something every vet truly deserves!

  17. Sarah Steadman

    I was given an old (80-120 years?) photo album (leather) partially filled with old B/W portraits taken by photographers in PA. NO names or dates on these at all, but here are the business names and any reg. #’ of some pics. I am happy to scan them and send them on to folks who think they may have a match. Once they find a family, I’m happy to ship them.

    SPREAD the word to anyone with a history from PA! REPOST anywhere you can!

    D.C. Burnite–Harrisburg , PA
    H.S. Deibert Photo Artist–Main Street, Schuylkill, PA.
    W.J. Lochman Photographer–Hamburg, PA.
    A.M. Allen Photographer–Pottsville, PA. No. 38823

    Sarah Steadman

  18. I thought this segment with Matthew Broderick was the most interesting so far.
    Wow! I didn’t know those records about World War 1 even existed! My grandfather Elbert Homer Ramey fought in World War 1 also and was seriously injured in France and received a purple heart. I haven’t been able to find much at all about him and was told that most all of the US records were destroyed in a fire. I didn’t even think to try French records.
    Does anyone know the best way to find this information? I can’t afford to travel to those places. Were most World War 1 soldier records really destroyed in a fire?
    Thanks for any help!

  19. Donna

    I have not seen this episode, but I also noted as some of you did that the celebs go to court houses and archives and have someone there to pull the records for them. That really is rare unless you are related to the clerk. Genealogy requires hundreds of hours spent in libraries, town halls, cemeteries and historical societies. Sometimes eight hours of searching yields almost nothing. Other days you hit the mother lode as I did when I first started researching and went to a local town hall. That day I discovered 27 direct ancestors and thought that genealogy would always be that easy. I still have brick walls over 20 years later. I’d love to see Ancestry do something on those people who have tough lineages and show how they can be searched.
    I am also concerned that is getting a monopoly on many records. The people who may have time to do genealogy often do not have the bucks to buy an expensive subscription and many freebies or near-freebies such as the Goddard library have been cut at the knees by I was outraged when they stopped offering many of their online databases after struck a deal with them to keep people from accessing the census with off-site subscriptions.
    There are many folks out there who will do lookups in local town halls and court houses though, so keep that in mind. Try searchng message boards in the locale you need and posting to see if someone is located close to what you need. Genealogists are very generous with their time and resources.


    I watched the program with great interest. How I wish I were as fortunate as Matthew Broderick. I have been to Norka, Russia, where my grandparents were born in 1866.

    Are you aware that in 1941 when Hitler was invading Russia, Stalin packed all of the Volga Germans into boxcars and shipped them to Siberia where most of them were placed in forced labor camps? Less than half of them survived. They had no Allied liberators to free them in 1945. Some were still in forced labor camps as late as the 1970s. It was in the fall of 1941 that Norka was turned over to Russians and was given the new name of HEKPACOBO. What Stalin did to the Volga Germans was every bit as evil as anything that Hitler did to the Jews.

    After the Germans were all gone, the grave markers were ripped out of the cemetery, and all of the records identifying the burial plots were destroyed so that the land could have a more useful purpose such as grazing cattle or playing soccer.

    For my trip to Russia to see the graves of my ancestors, all I found was a cow pasture with depressions showing where there had once been burials.

    I wonder if Matthew Broderick and all those who watched, realize how wonderful it is to have records and marked graves. Not all of us are as fortunate.

  21. Gordon LaPean

    I have an ancestor buried as an unknown in the Marietta National Cemetery and he was killed on June 27, 1864 at Kennesaw Mtn shot in the left breast by a confederate minnie ball… this was written to his family by the Captain of his company.

    My question is how they found Mathew’s ancestor in this cemetery and I can’t find mine when both are burial unknowns? I live in Georgia.

    It is very ironic that I met Matthew Broderick on the movie set of GLORY in Georgia as a civil renactor extra.

  22. Bonnie

    While I too enjoy the program for the entertainment value – I am drawn to point out a couple of things…
    1. Not many of us can go flying around the country and the world to trace down each new clue (and not many of us can hire the experts to be waiting with the documentation)
    2. I am appalled that the show portrays these researchers and experts alike, sitting around a table handling OLD, original documents. At two state archives when I have had the opportunity to view original documents, it was in a controlled environment with gloved hands. I think the show does a disservice of not educating the public on just how rare and fragile these documents are – especially in the South where so many court houses were burned.

  23. Tom H

    C’mon folks!
    How about a 24 hour TV marathon of Matthew B. scrolling through microfilm and finding nothing? Do you think that would make good TV or attract any new amateur hobbyists? This is TELEVISION.

    Do you complain when a biography show condenses a whole life into 42 minutes and does not contain day after day of a youngster sitting in school or working on the farm? Or four years of WWII into six 90 minute segments and does not include every minute of boot camp or every boring day in a transport ship?

    Did you notice that the grave in Marietta was identified by a serious amount of effort by that amateur researcher. If your ancestor’s grave is also there, then do the research. Serious genealogy is a lot more than ‘cut-and-paste’ off the internet.

  24. Mary Cichon

    I agree with #23.Genealogy is alot of tedious and boring work.Every small find is a victory which could take months to uncover.But I think the best part of genealogy is the hunt.Walking through cemeteries,sitting for hours in a library with your nose stuck in a microfilm machine or quietly paging through page after page of Church Books.I find footwork to be the most satisfying part of genealogy.Finding it yourself is the best way to do research.I hope these celebrities realize and appreciate the amount of work that the experts did on their behalf.

  25. I agree with what Bobbi #7 had to say. The time and expense to track down info as detailed as what was done for Matthew Broderick is out of my reach. I’m disappointed in the “military records” on ancestry. It seems that only draft registrations are online and I wanted to go beyond that – to muster rolls, etc.
    The National Archives website is a monster- very difficult, for me anyway, to navigate and then the records I want aren’t available online.

    Maybe I’ll win the ancestry contest and get some help.

  26. I would love for Hollywood to discover my 5g’s grandfather George Washington Kilgo, co-founder of the 1st Alasbama Cavalry,and all its members, the only UNION regiment in Alabama during the Civil War.

    according to research he was quite a character, had to be, he lived until 1910.

  27. Kathy

    Notice that Ancestry’s transcribers list Charlotte as Charles for the 1870 index. I can see the mistake because somewhere along the line before the census was microfilmed the F(female) was cross out and changed to M(male).

    I do think that the 1870 census book has this same markout to change Charlotte from female to male. I rewatched the episode and each time the line Charlotte is on was pointed to the camera always cut off the rest of the line where the sex of the person was indicated.

  28. Gordon LaPean

    Tom, I have done serious research at the cemetery and being there physically with help from the Director……so my question still stands how an unknown grave becomes known there?

  29. Susan

    I really enjoyed the show and am a big fan of Matthew’s but I enjoyed the show with Emmitt just as much and I had never heard of him until that show. The sad part about Matthew not doing most of the research is he didn’t get the thrill of solving the mystery. He showed sympathy for his ancestor but I would have actually been thrilled at that moment. I would have been excited to know that I had helped tell my ancestor’s story, give a name to his monument, and help him to be remembered. I would have been thrilled that I could share this with others. Matthew only got a bit of that. He did sound like he had a touch of the genealogist’s passion when he talked about wanting to share what he had learned. Solving a 100+ mystery is a big deal and very cool for his family!

  30. Tom H

    Gordon, according to the show, the amateur historian, Gordon somebody, identified all the members of that unit that died in the Atlanta campaign. He then located all of their graves except one, Martindale. There was one ‘unknown’ grave from that unit and all the rest were identified. Only one ‘unknown soldier’ and only one named grave unaccounted for. No other solution.

    Notice that this tremendous effort was done by an amateur historian as a labor of love. Something that is not on ancestry website. This was a bit of luck as there was only one unknown.

    Make a list of all the casualties from your unit in that campaign. Find all their graves. How many graves are missing? Process of elimination might narrow the possibilities.

    That is something anyway. My missing CW relatives were CSA so their unmarked graves are truly ‘unmarked’.

  31. Beth

    I’m curious about /what/ records were used for research in France to find the rest of Joe Broderick’s service record. Like many researching a WWI serviceman, I’m probably blocked by the records fire of 1973 and would like to look into possibilities of searching in Europe.

  32. BradPatrick

    The other note about the amateur research was a specific reference in the reinterrment documentation about the last (unaccounted for) member of his unit…something that gave a higher degree of confidence. (and I haven’t gone back to Tivo and freeze frame the entry, but it was there).

    I would love nothing more than to have Ancestry put together an expert seminar for the web on the specifics of their research, how producers conceptualized each episode, how experts were integrated into the process, and really how they orchestrated the whole thing. While I am grateful for the commentary on this page, a whole “making of…” bit would be spectacularly helpful.

    Thanks, Brad in Tampa

  33. Karen

    With regard to MB’s WWI history, I went through my records after this show and discovered that my husband’s uncle, just shy of his 23rd birthday, died on Nov 3, 1918 in the same set of skirmishes in France that wounded MB’s grandfather. Roy Tooley, Private, Company L, 9th Infantry. Knowing he was in that exact spot during the same time as shown on TV gave it a personal feeling. I’ve yet to discover if anyone served in the Civil War but my husband and I both have several branches living in America dating back to the 1600s, so it would be odd if we didn’t! My daughter went to Gettysburg during the 125th anniversary on July 4th, 1988. She did the battle exhibit, walked the battlefields, visited the cemetery and went up into the tower. They also had a reenactment for the anniversary. I know she was very moved.

  34. I don’t know about Matthew Broderick- but I’ve always been interested in learning more about my family’s history. I appreciate you posting the links to other historical sites because when I tried, it didn’t yield any return results for me…

  35. Teia

    I find these shows interesting. But as you can see they do pick well to do Actors. What about the little guy? It would be interesting to see a normal Joe get his family researched for free by

    As for me, I have been finding it hard to find stuff on my people. I finally found a link to my g g g grandfather to a LTC Brewer of the Confederate Army (took me 2 years). But still, I need the 1890 census of Ohio to put the ! on my work. I am hoping that states did keep copies of that census. I will find out next year.

    As to people saying this cost to much… I would love to see some competition out there myself.

    Happy Hunting

  36. Julia

    It was nice but I think I would be more interested in the average american….these people on the show seemed to get very little information from the site. It mainly came from genealogist and from traveling from one place to another.

  37. Kerry

    I agree that this is “entertainment value genealogy”, in other words most of the tedium is erased for tv consumption.
    I have some grudging respect for in bringing what was heretofore a subject for stuffy long time researchers (like me)to the “masses”. Therein lies the rub. Gobs of sloppy, undocumented research to sift through, the fees, and the mean-spirited “flamers”, who respond to correction information in a fashion only the invisible face of the internet can offer.

  38. Christina Martindale-Ojeda

    I found this episode with Matthew most interesting…because, I am related to him! I am not even kidding. My fathers great great grandfather is also Robert Martindale. Robert and Charlotte had several children, one was John Henry, who had a son Edward, who had a son John Edward, who had my dad Richard Edward in 1956. My dads father died in 1958 when my dad was only 2 yrs old, so he does not know alot about that part of his family. I found a family tree online a couple years ago and with what info we did have from my dad and his sisters, I was able to get a glimpse into my dads paternal family. Seeing Matthew Broderick discover his family and realizing they are my family as well,was insane! The show also gave me info, I otherwise would not have the time or money to get myself. Normally I would want to get in contact with Matthew or his sister Janet, but since he is a celebrity, I feel awkward. I would only want to get whatever info he has and share what I have. Its is very strange to grow up and know nothing about such a big part of your heritage. I am not sure what to do about it. I really could use more info, as I would like to make my dad a family tree. Either way, it was a great episode and very informative, in more ways than one, for me anyhow.

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