John McCain Correction

While compiling the companion book to Series 3 of Finding Your Roots, we discovered a genealogical error in Episode 6, “War Stories,” which originally aired on February 9, 2016.

In the episode, we assert that John McCain’s great-great-grandfather William A. McCain served in the Mississippi Cavalry during the American Civil War, was captured by the Union army, and died at a military hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1864. In making these assertions, we were initially guided by a reference in Senator McCain’s 1999 book, Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir. Other secondary sources reinforced that reference (stating that Senator McCain’s great-great-grandfather had died fighting for the Confederacy), and military records found in the U.S. National Archives seemed to support it.

However, we now know that this was incorrect. The error is based on an extraordinary coincidence. As it turns out, there were two men named “William A. McCain” of roughly the same age who resided in adjacent counties in Mississippi and who both died during the Civil War. (The two men were not related, despite their similar names and roots in neighboring counties.) Regrettably, our episode focuses on the “William A. McCain” who was not John McCain’s great-great-grandfather. Senator McCain’s actual great-great-grandfather did not die in a military hospital in 1864; instead, he died at home, likely in 1863. Furthermore, he did not serve in the Mississippi Calvary. Instead, we believe that he enlisted in a Confederate militia company, but died before he could effectuate that service.

The companion book to Series 3 of Finding Your Roots will include this correction. It will contain an explanation of the identity confusion, brief facts about Senator McCain’s great-great-grandfather, and the military story of the other William A. McCain, since it serves as a powerful reminder of the perils and sacrifices of war that also find example in Senator McCain’s life.

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About Season Three

Season three of Finding Your Roots explores how diverse racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds challenge many of our long-held national myths. Learn more here.

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