Last weeks episode of Who Do You Think You Are? started with Matthew Broderick talking to his sister about their grandfather, but that didnt actually happen until researchers had already begun their search.
A behind the scenes e-mail from Ancestry.coms Anastasia Tyler said researchers started with only information the actor himself knew knew, and had a hard time at first pinpointing the right James Joseph Broderick in records.
Ancestry.com, a subscription genealogy website, partnered with NBC to create the series.
Heres Tyler’s full e-mail about researching Brodericks family tree:
Matthew Brodericks first step in this weeks episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” was to talk to his sister, who shared details about his paternal grandparents and started him on his journey. Information from family members can be priceless when researching family trees, but what happens when family members arent immediately accessible? Thats the scenario the research team faced when they started researching Matthew Brodericks tree.
One of the fantastic things about the format of Who Do You Think You Are? is that the celebrities really are starting out with what they know. We watch them on screen learning information from their families or from records for the first time. Likewise, the research team started out only with the information that the celebrity knew.
A Common Ancestor
For Matthew Brodericks tree, the researchers had the name of his paternal grandfather, Joseph Broderick, and a few other clues about Josephs life. Using these facts, the researchers set out to discover more about Joseph Broderick.
They quickly ran into somewhat of a brick wall. When we started the research for Matthews tree, all we knew was that his paternal grandparents were Joseph Broderick and May Martindale, says genealogist Krysten Baca of Ancestry.com. We were quickly stuck; there were many Joseph Brodericks and not enough information to determine who the correct ancestral Joseph was.
Dont Overlook Anything
But Matthew was able to provide the research team additional clues his grandfather Joseph Broderick was a postman in New Hampshire. The occupation was a small, perhaps seemingly insignificant detail, but in this case it broke down the brick wall. Immediately after learning this information, the team found a record for a James Joseph Broderick working in the Post Office in Manchester, NH.
This record matched Matthews tree in three ways: (1) the name Joseph Broderick, (2) the location of New Hampshire, (3) the occupation of postal worker. In addition, Matthews father was named James Broderick. Based on these pieces of information, the team hypothesized that James Joseph Broderick was the ancestral Joseph Broderick, Matthews grandfather.
Breaking through the Brick Walls
Focusing on this hunch, the researchers looked for additional records about James Joseph Broderick of Manchester, New Hampshire. The records they found matched the few additional details known about the ancestral Joseph Broderick and allowed the researchers to confirm that James Joseph Broderick was indeed Matthews paternal grandfather.
The records gave the team another brick-wall-breaking cluean alternate name for Josephs wife. Previously the researchers knew her only as May; the additional records listed her as Mary. This information allowed further discoveries about Mary and her life before she married James Joseph Broderick.
Of course, Matthews sister held some of this information all along. But similar to many researchers experiences, sometimes research begins before family members can be consulted. If this case proves anything, says Krysten, its that even the smallest clue could be the key to unlocking a family tree.