Behind the Scenes of WDYTYA?: Matthew Broderick Episode

Behind the Scenes of WDYTYA?: Matthew Broderick Episode

Last week’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” started with Matthew Broderick talking to his sister about their grandfather, but that didn’t actually happen until researchers had already begun their search. A “behind the scenes” e-mail from’s Anastasia Tyler said researchers started with only information...

Last week’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” started with Matthew Broderick talking to his sister about their grandfather, but that didn’t actually happen until researchers had already begun their search.

A “behind the scenes” e-mail from’s 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., a subscription genealogy website, partnered with NBC to create the series.

Here’s Tyler’s full e-mail about researching Broderick’s family tree:

Matthew Broderick’s first step in this week’s 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 aren’t immediately accessible? That’s the scenario the research team faced when they started researching Matthew Broderick’s 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 Broderick’s tree, the researchers had the name of his paternal grandfather, Joseph Broderick, and a few other clues about Joseph’s 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 Matthew’s tree, all we knew was that his paternal grandparents were Joseph Broderick and May Martindale,” says genealogist Krysten Baca of “We were quickly stuck; there were many Joseph Brodericks and not enough information to determine who the correct ancestral Joseph was.”

Don’t 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 Matthew’s tree in three ways: (1) the name Joseph Broderick, (2) the location of New Hampshire, (3) the occupation of postal worker. In addition, Matthew’s father was named James Broderick. Based on these pieces of information, the team hypothesized that James Joseph Broderick was the ancestral Joseph Broderick, Matthew’s 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 Matthew’s paternal grandfather.

The records gave the team another brick-wall-breaking clue—an alternate name for Joseph’s 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, Matthew’s 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, “it’s that even the smallest clue could be the key to unlocking a family tree.”

If you missed this week’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?”, you can watch it online.

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  1. Thank you for this. I had this uncomfortable feeling about that whole episode – how did they know that was the right Joe? I hate how they leave out details like that when they present the data. I still am not clear on how they jumped from Martindale to Martindale in the second search of the show, but I feel better knowing that the research team did some research beforehand that lead to what they actually present on the show. However, I am concerned that the seemingly quick assumptions they made will perpetuate inexperienced researchers jumping to easy conclusions. Any thoughts on this?

  2. I wondered about jumping to conclusions, too. I have enjoyed the show so far and haven’t really learned much that I didn’t already know. It was interesting hearing about the history of some of these events that their ancestors were tied to.
    However, I’d really have liked more information on how Brad Quinlan really proved that Robert Martindale was in grave 2469 at Marietta. Part of the time, it appeared that he was using the Roll of Honor and Final Disposition records, generated when so many of the Civil War dead were moved between 1866 and 1870 to national cemeteries. But those records don’t necessarily give conclusive evidence that &quot;that soldier&quot; is in &quot;that grave.&quot;
    I was also wondering where Joseph Broderick’s medals ended up and why they wouldn’t have seen them and known about them earlier, even if Joe wasn’t much for talking about it.

  3. To Jan Rader – In reading books such as &quot;Flags of Our Fathers&quot;, some of the mystery of why a family can be unaware of medals earned by an ancestor is explained. The son of one of the soldiers who raised the flag on Iwo Jima wrote the book. His father persued his profession after WWII, and absolutely never talked about his war experience. None of his family knew he had been awarded all of the medals of honor he received until they were cleaning his things out of his home after his death almost 50 years later. Then they found them very well hidden. Granted, the medals were discovered, unlike Brodericks grandfather’s, but many soldiers from all wars prefer to forget about what they saw and experienced, and will not talk about it. It’s not uncommon.

  4. Hi, Jan,
    I understand what you mean. I’ve been concerned that people watching “WDYTYA?” will think you have to spend a lot of many and visit every place your ancestors lived in order to research.

    But Hollywood is about entertainment. “WDYTYA?” tells a story and shows the excitement of discovering your past. Traveling to places ancestors lived is a dream for many genealogists, and those scenes add a lot of emotional impact. It can’t also be a thoroughly educational show in an hour, and if it tried, I think far fewer non-genealogists would watch.

    I’ve read that doctors say if we actually performed CPR the way they do on TV, we’d do more harm than good. Anyone who applies lessons learned from “The Bachelor” to actual dating life is going to be disappointed. At some point we have to rely on people to not to get their education from television. And then we have to be ready for those people with engaging how-to genealogy classes and books and magazines.

    Lisa Louise Cooke of the Genealogy Gems blog had a good post about this topic. You can read it at