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The Dig: Yes, Tammy Duckworth’s Family Has Served in the Military for Centuries

The Dig

An investigative reporter's candid advice for uncovering life’s everyday truths

Derek Kravitz

During a debate last week, Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk mocked the heritage of his opponent, Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, whose mother is from Thailand.

After Duckworth said, “My family has served this nation in uniform going back to the Revolution,” Kirk responded: “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” (Amid outrage over the comments, Kirk apologized to Duckworth via Twitter.)

As an exercise for some students, I decided to show how various records could easily be accessed to explore Duckworth’s oft-repeated line that her family has fought in every major conflict since the American Revolution.

First off: The records suggest that not only is Duckworth right but that her ancestors fought in early colonial conflicts since before the Revolution.

Genealogical records from show that Duckworth’s father’s ancestors emigrated from Britain to America in the mid–17th century and that Duckworths have served in every major conflict since then. (The namesakes of Kirk, her Republican opponent, arrived from Ireland and Scotland sometime in the mid–18th century and served in the American Revolution and, later, for the Union in the Civil War.)

Duckworth’s direct ancestors likely served in county militias during the French and Indian War, according to militia rosters from the time. And two of her fifth great grandfathers served for the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

In the early 1800s, one of Duckworth’s fifth great-grandfathers, Aaron Duckworth, received 50 acres of land in western Maryland that was exclusively designated for Continental Army volunteers, according to turn-of-the-century copies of the Cumberland Times and the 1800 federal Census. As part of the deal, commissioned officers received four plots of land; privates just one. Aaron Duckworth’s plot was situated alongside Georges Creek in what is now Garrett County, Maryland.

His actual military record is lost, but he appears to have been a private during the war, according to Duckworth family researchers who have combed through Allegany County court records from the time.

To boot, Tammy Duckworth’s brother, Thomas, served in the U.S. Coast Guard for eight years; her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, is still active in the Illinois National Guard; and Duckworth’s late father, Marine Corps Capt. Franklin Garthwright Duckworth, served in World War II and Vietnam and during the Korean War. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A final note: One of Duckworth’s other fifth great-grandfathers, Elijah Anderson, served as a private in a Virginia militia during the Revolutionary War. Anderson doesn’t appear to have personally served under George Washington, but his commanding officer was Washington’s second cousin.

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