Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on March 30, 2010 in Who Do You Think You Are?

Did you catch the reference to “Joe the postman” in Matthew Broderick’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? While the moniker was mentioned in passing on the show, to researchers working with Matthew’s family history, “Joe the postman” was the key that opened up all sorts of doors. 

Matthew’s grandfather’s name wasn’t entirely uncommon. Even when accounting for dates and places, sorting through the possible matches was proving difficult. But military records contain all sorts of identifying details that can help a researcher narrow down choices, and one of those details is occupation. So a simple reference to “Joe the postman,” helped eliminate a handful of other possible matches and whittle the field down to one.

It’s another score for the power of a family story. Even if every bit of the story doesn’t turn out to be true, there’s almost always something in one that is. Always take notes – or even better, attach an audio version directly to someone in your family tree. To do so, click on the person’s Profile page and select Record Audio from the Media Gallery.

Everyone loves a good story, so listen to the ones from your family more than once. Compare what you heard to what other family members were told, ask the person who told you the story the first time to tell it to you again (invite kids to listen, too – they love family stories). You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn a second time through, even when you’re positive you got it all the first time.

By the way, if you missed Matthew Broderick’s family history story last Friday, you can catch it online here, where you’ll also find bonus scenes that weren’t in the episode. While you’re at it, watch a preview of this week’s episode, when Brooke Shields traces her family tree back and back and back to its royal roots.

Also, be sure to note the revised Who Do You Think You Are? schedule, which includes an encore presentation of Sarah Jessica Parker’s episode on Friday, April 9. So if you missed that first episode and haven’t had a chance to watch it online, you’ll be able to see Sarah Jessica uncover the details of her very American family tree.

Jeanie Croasmun

Jeanie Croasmun has been working at while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...


  1. I’ve been watching all the shows over the weekends on the internet. Matthew’s made the biggest impression. My grandfather also in an Ohio Regiment fought in the same place. I have to recheck the Reg. # and to see if one of his letters expressly tells about the battle there. Since it made such an impression on him I hope I can find some first hand information to send him.I’m lucky enough to know I had relatives in almost every war until just recently and who they were.

  2. Valerie

    I like the title of this post: “Small Details Make a Big Difference.” I find this to be very true. For example, the fact that, despite overwhelming agreement amongst your blog readers, you have not made any effort to change the way comments are displayed on this blog. It’s a very small detail – but it’s a HUGE difference in the way this blog is read and followed.

    I do apologize for posting this off topic, but I highly doubt anyone’s paying attention to the older post – especially given that we can no longer easily see the number of comments. So, any chance that you will fix this blog?

  3. Mary Beth Marchant

    Unfortunately this blog has become just a vehicle to advertise this TV program. What happened to instructive content. Too bad!!!

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