‘Finding Your Roots’ brings genealogical stories to light

Today’s brightest personalities discover the surprising stories buried within their own families in the fifth season of the critically acclaimed PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The new ten-episode season will air on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on Arizona PBS.

This season features an array of celebrated guests who are cultural trailblazers with fascinating family stories, including Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei; Emmy and Golden Globe Award winners Felicity Huffman, Laura Linney and S. Epatha Merkerson; and actors Michael K. Williams, Andy Samberg, Chloe Sevigny and Kal Penn. Season Five also includes superstar author George R.R. Martin; acclaimed journalists Christiane Amanpour, Ann Curry, Joe Madison and Lisa Ling; bestselling author and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg; TV hosts Seth Meyers and Michael Strahan; artists Marina Abramovic and Kehinde Wiley; politicians Marco Rubio, Tulsi Gabbard and Paul Ryan; Academy Award-winning filmmakers Alejandro Innaritu and Michael Moore; and comedians Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman.

The roots of these guests cover the globe — from Samoa, Nigeria, Taiwan and Sicily to Iran, Ireland, India and Cuba — and almost everywhere in between. Their family trees are filled with compelling characters — slaves and kings, artists and entrepreneurs, abandoned children and missing parents, revolutionaries, soldiers, and a constant flow of ordinary individuals who did remarkable things, laying the groundwork for their successful descendants. Each episode weaves together these stories, gleaned from cutting-edge DNA analysis and old school genealogical detective work. Highlights include a search for Andy Samberg’s biological grandparents, the discovery of Michael Strahan’s deep European ancestry and the solution to a mystery that has plagued Ann Curry’s family for her entire life.

At the center of it all, guiding every discovery, is host and executive producer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. “I find it inspiring that our fellow Americans are so determined to explore their own ancestral heritage,” said Gates, “precisely at a time when immigration has become such a deeply controversial and sensitive matter. Our series demonstrates each week, in vivid detail and with moving storytelling, that a continuing source of strength for our country is the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. That we can serve as both guide and inspiration to the splendidly exciting pleasure of finding one’s roots is an immense honor. I believe that the more each of us understands about where we came from, about what our ancestors experienced, and how those experiences have shaped us, whether we knew about them or not, the more richly we can live our lives.”

In a very personal episode, the new season also explores Gates’ own DNA story and takes a look at how science and history can inspire the next generation. Concerned about the lack of diversity in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Gates worked with Penn State professor Nina Jablonski and a committed group of historians, artists, biologists, geneticists, anthropologists, genealogists and educators to develop the “Finding Your Roots Genetics & Genealogy Curriculum,” an educational model that invited students to consider who they are genetically, geologically/socio-culturally and intentionally. Once designed, the team piloted the curriculum in a two-week camp environment at two different locations in the U.S., where students developed hypotheses and research protocols. The project video won Facilitator’s Choice and Viewer’s Choice awards at the 2018 STEM For All Video Showcase, receiving tens of thousands of unique visitors from 154 countries.

Jan. 8: “Grandparents and Other Strangers”  

New — Actor Andy Samberg and author George R. R. Martin answer some family mysteries when DNA detective work uncovers new branches of their family trees. The DNA analysis upends family history and reveals new relatives. Watch via Passport.

Jan. 15: “Mystery Men”

New —Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps actors Felicity Huffman and Michael K. Williams discover a wealth of hidden family history. Both grew up knowing little about their biological fathers, and seeing their lost ancestry restored proves deeply empowering. Watch via Passport.

Jan. 22: “Reporting on the Reporters”

New —  Journalists Christiane Amanpour, Ann Curry and Lisa Ling are shown stories within their own family trees are every bit as compelling as the news stories they have been covering for the world. Watch online.

Jan. 29: “Dreaming of a New Land”

New — Marisa Tomei, Sheryl Sandberg and Kal Penn learn the tremendous challenges faced by their immigrant forebears. From Italy, Russia and India to America, their histories show success could take generations to achieve. Watch online.

Feb. 5: “Freedom Tales” (9 p.m.)

New — Henry Louis Gates, Jr. delves deep into the roots of two African American guests, actor S. Epatha Merkerson, and athlete and television personality Michael Strahan. Both discover unexpected stories that challenge assumptions about black historyWatch online.

Feb. 12: “Roots in Politics”

New — Explore the diverse family histories of politicians Paul Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard and Marco Rubio. They each see a shared vision of the great American melting pot reflected in their ancestors’ stories. Watch online.

Feb. 19: “No Laughing Matter”

New — Comedians Seth Meyers, Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman learn their family tress are filled with people whose struggles laid the groundwork for their success. Gates also reveals to each one news of an unexpected DNA cousin.

Feb. 26: “Hard Times”

New — Explore the family stories of filmmaker Michael Moore and actors Laura Linney and Chloe Sevigny — three people whose distant ancestors overcame great hardships in ways that resonate with their lives today.

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