“Who Do You Think You Are?”: Bill Paxton Traces American Revolution Roots

By Diane Haddad

Bill Paxton visits his fourth-great-grandfather’s remote gravesite.

Follow along as guest blogger Sunny Jane Morton recaps last night’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” episode with actor Bill Paxton, and shares links to resources for researching ancestors in the American Revolution.

From a Revolutionary War battle to the final decades of slavery in the United States, last night’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC spanned early American history through the life of Benjamin Sharp, the fourth-great-grandfather of celebrity guest Bill Paxton.

Genealogist Kyle Betit helped Paxton use the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Genealogical Research System, which you can use, too. It contains databases listing Patriot ancestors on whom DAR members have based their applications, descendants of those Patriots linking them to DAR members, and more.

You can download Family Tree Magazine‘s tutorial for searching DAR genealogy databases from Family Tree Shop.

Benjamin was only about 14 when he participated in the Revolutionary War. That’s young, but what really caught Paxton’s eye was Benjamin’s role: a spy! Paxton learned more about Benjamin’s service in the local militia at the DAR Library in Washington, D.C. Then Paxton visited King’s Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina and read Benjamin’s first-hand recollection of the battle that took place there.

Revolutionary War ancestors are fascinating, whether they were Patriots or British Loyalists. They lived in a critical but uncertain time and had to make risky decisions that could affect their families for generations. A variety of documents can tell you more about Revolutionary War service, including compiled military service records (indexed on and available on subscription site Fold3); muster rolls and payroll records (look for these on Fold3 and and pension and bounty land application records (search for free on Learn more with Researching Revolutionary War Ancestors, our video class by D. Joshua Taylor.

Bill Paxton’s ancestor’s story didn’t end with the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Sharp eventually rose through the ranks of US government service and accumulated a fair fortune. But Paxton was unhappy to learn that Benjamin owned slaves (“All our ancestors disappoint us.”). He took some comfort in knowing that Benjamin’s will, while it didn’t free his slaves “Bill and Judy,” did express concern for their well-being, commanding that they not be sold outside the family against their will. An 1850 census record, created after Benjamin’s death, shows that the Sharp family apparently did grant Bill and Judy their freedom.

Next week is the last episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” for a while. Stay tuned for singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, who travels to Quebec to learn more about her sixth-great-grandfather.