“Who Do You Think You Are?” Angie Harmon Traces American Revolution Roots

“Who Do You Think You Are?” Angie Harmon Traces American Revolution Roots

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...

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.

FamilyTreeMagazine.com has some tips here for finding your ancestors’ wills.

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.

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  1. I suggest that a researcher use the county boards at Ancestry or GenWeb asking specific information on individual counties. Ask about courts, location of records, fires, boundary changes… These county boards are frequented by folks who have specialized knowledge of each individual county.

    There are 4 states that are not states but Commonwealths, Kentucky is one. Important little tidbit as it affects how suits are styled. If I were searching for a 1916 criminal case of a bootlegger. I would go to the big "C" as in Commonwealth of Kentucky vs (name of bootlegger).

    Another important tidbit – Was this county included in the W.P.A. records projects? If yes – then you know the old court records were organized & indexed. Knowing to use the "big C" & that this court was a WPA court – it would take but a few minutes to find your bootlegger, no matter the year.

    Ky had two courts in each county – County & Circuit. There was a 3rd court for short time -Court of Quarter Sessions.

    Alas, the Morman Missionaries came thru Ky., in the early 1960’s when equipment was a very time consuming dinosaur & missionaries had little training. They left many records not filmed.