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Matthew Broderick

Matthew Broderick appeared in the 1989 film "Glory," about the US Civil War's first all-black volunteer company. His connection to the Civil War became personal in this episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" when Matthew learned that his great-great-grandfather Robert Martindale died serving as a Union soldier in the Civil War. Researchers at ProGenealogists,  Ancestry.com, and Wall to Wall Productions worked together to bring Matthew Broderick's amazing family history to light.

How did research of Matthew's Martindale ancestry lead to this discovery? Climbing Matthew's family tree back to Robert Martindale required looking at a variety of American record types, including vital records (of birth, marriage and death), census records (enumerated every 10 years on a federal level), city directories, and military records.

Robert Martindale

Matthew's paternal grandmother was Mary Martindale (wife of James Joseph Broderick), and Mary's father (Matthew's great-grandfather) was William H. Martindale. William Martindale was found living with his widowed mother Charlotte Martindale (Matthew's great-great-grandmother) in the 1870 census of Ansonia, New Haven County, Connecticut. William was born in 1855. Research of this family was made more difficult because we could not find them in the 1860 census despite thorough searches on Ancestry.com. It appears that this Martindale family was simply missed by the enumerators, as sometimes happened in nineteenth century federal censuses. This was particularly frustrating because it meant that Matthew's ancestor,

William H. Martindale, would not be found with his father in any census; William was born AFTER the 1850 census and was missing from the 1860 census. Nonetheless, Charlotte was found living with her English-born husband Robert Martindale in the 1850 census of Derby, New Haven County, Connecticut, about five years before William H. was born. We knew this was the same family as in the 1870 census because they lived in the same place and the names and ages of household members matched between 1850 and 1870. It was fortunate to have found the family in the 1850 census, since it was the earliest U.S. Federal Census to list the names and ages of all members of the household. Earlier census enumerations only name the head of the household.

So, the question arose ... "What happened to Robert Martindale between 1850 and 1870?" We could see from the ages of Robert and Charlotte's children listed in the 1870 census that Robert was alive until at least 1861, because his youngest child Emma was born on 12 October 1861. Many men died in this period in the bloody, deadly American Civil War (1861-1865), and it turned out that Robert Martindale was one of them.

In fact, Robert enlisted in the Union Army in August 1862. He fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, and he died in battle near Atlanta, Georgia, in July 1864 (after nearly two years of service). This ultimately explained why Robert was not in the 1870 census. Robert's service records and associated pension records are currently held at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC. Pension records are extremely detailed documents, and in Charlotte's case they included for example the birth dates of Robert and Charlotte's children, including Matthew Broderick's great-grandfather William (born 5 November 1855). Thus, William lost his father to the Civil War at the age of eight.

In general, military records are a rich source of information about Americans. This was seen with another of Matthew Broderick's ancestors, his own paternal grandfather, James Joseph Broderick, who served in France during World War I.

James Joseph Broderick (born 1895)

James Joseph Broderick's military personnel file was obtained from the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR) in St. Louis, Missouri. That office holds military personnel, health, and medical records of discharged and deceased veterans during the 20th century (whereas the Civil War records are at the NARA office in Washington, DC, as previously mentioned).

James Joseph Broderick's records showed that he served as a private first class in the Medical Department, which meant that he provided first aid to fallen soldiers. The NARA records also revealed that James Joseph was awarded both a Purple Heart (for being wounded in action) and a Distinguished Service Cross (for gallantry in action).

Military Records of Your Family

How can military records help you? Many of our American ancestors served in the various conflicts in the United States from the Revolutionary War up to the Vitenam War and beyond. Others served in conflicts that happened even before our country was born, such as the French and Indian Wars. Military records, whether from the 1700s or the 1900s, tend to be quite detailed and helpful sources for family history research. They also tend to have been indexed.

For earlier American conflicts such as the Revolutionary War and Civil War, many books have been published detailing soldiers. The NARA in Washington DC has extensive manuscript records for these and other conflicts. Starting with WWI, the records are held in St. Louis, Missouri. You can look for both service records and pension records for the Revolutionary War and Civil War. There are personnel files for 20th century conflicts, like the one Matthew Broderick found for his grandfather James Joseph Broderick.

Some really useful records for researching Americans in the 20th century, regardless of whether they actually served, are the detailed World War I and World War II draft registration cards, which are available and indexed on Ancestry.com. World War II enlistment records are also available on Ancestry.com. World War II draft registration include many details about your ancestral soldier, like his birth date, birthplace, and color of his hair, complexion, and eyes. Physical descriptions are often included in American military records.


Research Manager on Project:

Kyle J. Betit

Project Hours:

142 Hours

As an avid traveler and the manager of Ancestry’s travel program, Kyle enjoys taking people on ancestral journeys, whether it is on a group heritage tour or to visit their exact ancestral homes. Kyle is an expert genealogist, lecturer, and author residing in Salt Lake City, Utah. He grew up in Juneau, Alaska, where he started researching his family history at the age of 9, under his grandmother’s tutelage. By age 16 he was working for a genealogy company in Salt Lake City. Kyle began traveling regularly to Europe for genealogy research in 1993. Kyle is one of the co-founders of ProGenealogists. His research interests include Ireland, Eastern Europe, Catholic research, and genetic genealogy.


Kyle has appeared on the “Who Do You Think You Are?” television program with Bill Paxton, Trisha Yearwood, Chris Noth, and Scott Foley, among others, and he has worked on many other episodes, such as those for Matthew Broderick, Rosie O’Donnell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Sudeikis, Chelsea Handler, and Cindy Crawford. He was a co-editor of the popular genealogy journal The Irish At Home and Abroad, and he is co-author of A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Irish Ancestors. He lectures widely in North America and Europe.