Finding Your Roots
April 29, 2012
Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a new 10-part PBS series
that explores race, culture and identity through genealogy and genetics
The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new
10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, Finding Your Roots airs Sundays in April at 7 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS.
Continuing on the quest begun in his previous projects, African American Lives (2006), African American Lives 2 (2008) and Faces of America (2010), Gates finds new ways to, as he says, “Get into the DNA of American culture.” In each hour-long episode, he takes viewers along for the journey with one celebrity group bound together by an intimate, sometimes hidden link, treks through layers of ancestral history, uncovers secrets and surprises of their family trees and shares life-altering discoveries.
“Finding Your Roots will be a moving, uplifting, entertaining and enlightening experience for viewers,” says Gates. “Genealogy is more popular than ever, but it’s far more than a solitary pastime. It’s a fascinating endeavor that can drastically alter both history and the way we think of ourselves.”
Guest groupings include award-winning husband-and-wife actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, who both descend from prominent American families that have been in this country since inception; New Orleans jazz masters and close friends Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis, whose European immigrant ancestors made very different choices in the slave-era South; spiritual leaders Angela Buchdahl, Yasir Qadhi and Rick Warren, whose ancestors’ paths to America were shaped by religious convictions; and education superstar Geoffrey Canada and media legend Barbara Walters, who both rediscover family histories long obscured by forgotten name changes.
In other episodes, public servants Condoleezza Rice and Congressman John Lewis, featured in different hours, trace their contemporary-day strength to enslaved ancestors; actor Robert Downey, Jr. marvels at the vastness of his family tree dating back to the 13th century; and Michelle Rodriguez discovers family secrets and heroes that her parents left behind when they came to the United States as immigrants. Henry Louis Gates travels with his guests throughout the series, sharing the details of ancestral stories and helping process what they’ve learned. He accompanies musician John Legend to a rock concert, goes backstage on Broadway with Samuel L. Jackson, joins Mayor Cory Booker from Newark, New Jersey, as he reveals the root-seeking results to his parents, and trails CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Geoffrey Canada to memorable family reunions.
The 25 guests featured in the series are Kevin Bacon, Cory Booker, Angela Buchdahl, Geoffrey Canada, Linda Chavez, Margaret Cho, Harry Connick Jr., Margarett Cooper, Robert Downey, Jr., Adrian Grenier, Sanjay Gupta, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend, John Lewis, Branford Marsalis, Yasir Qadhi, Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Rodriguez, Kyra Sedgwick, Ruth Simmons, Martha Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Barbara Walters and Rick Warren.
Reaching beyond celebrity stories, Gates also seeks out everyday individuals (on-air and online) who are wrestling with questions of identity. He visits with employees at his favorite barber shop and engages Harlem students who are curious about their genetics.
A Finding Your Roots companion website will present video from the series, profiles of featured guests and an ongoing blog from executive producer, writer and presenter Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In addition to his blog, the website will include material from the production team and the scientists who conducted research for the series. With a heavy focus on online engagement, the website will allow fans to submit stories about their own family histories and browse those others have uploaded. The website also will offer a comprehensive list of resources that viewers can use to learn more about their own genealogy.
A Finding Your Roots Facebook page will foster conversation among users fascinated by genealogy, as well as showcase user-submitted photos, videos and stories related to their genetic lineages and family histories.