Follow along as “Who Do You Think You Are?” correspondent Sunny Jane Morton recaps last night’s episode, featuring actor Angie Harmon’s hunt for her Revolutionary roots.
Last night’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” is the first show this season to stay in the United States. But I didn’t miss the exotic eye-candy of foreign vistas. I loved the quintessentially American tale that led into a little-known and surprising episode in US military history.
Celebrity guest Angie Harmon explored the story of her fifth-great grandfather, German immigrant Michael Harmon. She was surprised to learn how he got to come to America in 1772: as an indentured servant whose labor was sold to the highest bidder to pay off his passage. He finished out his term of service as an enlisted man in the 4th Pennsylvania regiment. Along with thousands of fellow troops, he suffered through winter quarters at Valley Forge under Gen. George Washington’s command.
The actor was feeling pretty proud of her ancestor until she learned that his regiment mutinied a few years later. Fortunately she looked for a little more historical context before she judged her ancestor too harshly. The troops had lived for months on few provisions and little of the pay that was owed them and. “Every man has his breaking point,” she decided. They weren’t disloyal, just fed up, a conclusion that seemed supported by the regiment’s rejection of a British offer to buy their loyalty.
Several great record examples appeared as we learned more about Michael Harmon: indenture records, regimental histories, a military pay slip, tax records and a will. Examining the will, Angie Harmon becomes noticeably excited as she finds the name of Michael’s wife and seven children. An entire family reconstructed in a single document: genealogical paydirt.
Wills are usually available in probate court (also called chancery court or orphans court) records for the county where the will was filed. FamilySearch has many counties’ probate records on microfilm; try searching the online catalog for the name of the county and then looking for a probate heading. If the film is digitized on FamilySearch.org, the catalog will link you to that film. If it’s not on microfilm or digitized, you can write to the courthouse (if you know the date the will was filed or have a file number, information that might available in an index published by the local genealogical society) or visit in person.
Angie Harmon brings along her three young daughters on a visit to the ancestral farm in the rolling green hills of Kentucky. The last reveal is the current owner: a cousin, Michael Harmon, 220 years after the first Michael Harmon:
If you’ve got deep US roots, some of the record sets that proved helpful to Harmon’s research could help yours, too. Enlist the aid of military records with our US Military Records independent study course. You’ll learn about different kinds of records created over time, including service, pension, bounty land and draft records. Then get up to speed on tax records, estate files and other county-level records in our Courthouse Research Crash Course OnDemand Webinar.
Next week’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” features actor Sean Hayes and his Irish family history. Tune in Sunday, March 29 at 10/9 Central.