How Did “Finding Your Roots” Find the Military Ancestry of John McCain, Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette?

How Did “Finding Your Roots” Find the Military Ancestry of John McCain, Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette?

This week's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr." focused on military service in the ancestry of Sen. John McCain and actors Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette. (And it just so happens that our military records webinar is next week—I'll tell you more about that in a minute...

This week’s “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” focused on military service in the ancestry of Sen. John McCain and actors Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette. (And it just so happens that our military records webinar is next week—I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.)

  • McCain followed the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals in the Navy. Researchers discovered that McCain’s Confederate second-great-grandfather William Alexander McCane served under the brutal Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, deserted, was captured by the Union, and was imprisoned in the notorious Irving Block Prison in Memphis. Gates pointed out the similarities to McCain’s own horrific experience as a POW in Vietnam.
  • Moore (whose real name is Julie Anne Smith), grew up in what she described as a “peripatetic” military family. Her ancestor Peter M. Smith fought in the Mexican War, and was among the troops who successfully stormed  Chapultepec Castle Sept. 13, 1847.
  • Arquette was surprised to learn she had a Civil War ancestor, one of the “Hundred Days Men” who enlisted for short periods to serve as guards and laborers, freeing up more-experienced soldiers for combat duty. Her sixth- and seventh-great-grandfathers, respectively, served in the American Revolution and the French and Indian War.

The episode didn’t go deeply into the historical records that provided the information, but we did get a glimpse of a Civil War muster roll for Pvt. McCane.

The basic record type for learning about your ancestor’s military service from the Revolutionary War up through the Philippine Insurrection is the Compiled Military Service Record, or CMSR. According to professional genealogist Shelley K. Bishop, author of a service records guide in the upcoming May/June 2016 Family Tree Magazine, the War Department created CMSRs for enlisted men to facilitate processing later military pension applications.

A CMSR consists of a jacket with cards that summarize information from muster rolls, hospital rolls, prison records, payment vouchers and more.

Depending on the war, you might find indexes to CMSRs and/or digitized CMSRs on genealogy websites such as and Fold3. CMSRs that aren’t imaged online might be available on microfilm, or you might need to order copies from the National Archives.

From there, you can look for military pension applications, regimental histories, state adjutant general records, battlefield maps and other records.

Shelley’s article will help you find CMSRs, and even before that issue comes out, learn how to research several types of military records in our Feb. 25 webinar How to Find Ancestor Military Records (see more details about it and register in Family Tree Shop).

You can watch the full military heritage episode of “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” on the PBS website.

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  1. Why does this show constantly whitewash people’s Jewish backgrounds?

    Harry Connick, Jr., Bill Maher, and Patricia Arquette were all born to Jewish mothers, who were fully Jewish.

    Yet this was not even hinted at in their episodes, not in the slightest.

    You had to squint your eyes real hard to see that Arquette’s DNA result said 48.5% (or was it 48.9%) Ashkenazi Jewish. This certainly was never commented upon anywhere in the episode.

    This is even more absurd because Gates mentioned BOTH sides of the OTHER guests who were on.

    With Maher’s episode, Gates went over Bill O’Reilly’s father’s side the most, but he also discussed a bit of O’Reilly’s mother. He talked mostly about Soledad O’Brien’s father, but they also spent a few minutes about the fact that O’Brien’s mother was a black Cuban woman.

    But apparently Bill Maher was conceived immaculately by his father. Did he even have a mother?

    For Arquette’s episode, Gates covered John McCain’s father a lot, but he also disclosed a bit of genealogical information about McCain’s mother (the George Washington relation). He fully discussed both sides of Julianne Moore’s family.

    But for Patricia Arquette’s mother? Name, profession, and picture. That’s it.

    It would be like having an episode about a person of half Jewish background that never mentions the existence of their non-Jewish parent or ancestry (there have been no such episodes, only the vice versa).

    What’s going on here? It’s ridiculous that an ethnic group that makes up 50% of a person’s ancestry is never mentioned on their shows. Can you name any other group where this has happened, much less happened ”three” times? (and where it’s half of their ancestry).

    You can’t. I’ve checked. It’s never happened on this show.

  2. Interesting observations. I can’t counter the specific instances you’ve referenced here, but I do want to point out that other shows have focused on the Jewish side of guests’ ancestry, for example, Norman Lear, Maya Rudolph and Frank Gehry. The show has been especially informative this season about the Pale of Settlement, where the ancestors of the above guests originated, and the pogroms that happened there.

  3. H. L. gates mentioned Patricia’s first ancestor in America; Jean Arcouet.
    However he failed to mention that Jean was a Huguenot, about 20 years old, from Marennes, France in the Carignan-Salieres regiment; the first European regiment sent to America, (1,200 soldiers) who successfully defended the Quebec settlements from being wiped out by the Iroquois by building a string of forts along the Richelieu River and also Fort Ste Anne at Ile La Motte, VT in 1666. This would have completed the trail of soldiers in her ancestry.

  4. Well, this isn’t about mentioning other guests’ Jewish ancestry. You could have a season with no Jewish guests at all, and it would still be fairly representative of America’s demographics.

    The problem is that if you do have a guest of significant (50%) Jewish heritage, it makes no sense not to at least mention it in passing (this was avoided to the point of not even mentioning anything about Maher’s mother – name, profession – etc.).

    BTW, I discovered using the show as a starting point that Julianne Moore’s father is one eighth German Jewish, through his own mother’s side.