Finding Your Roots
by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
University of North Carolina Press
Book Review by Kam Williams
“Who are we, and where do we come from? The fundamental drive to answer these questions is at the heart of Finding Your Roots… As Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. shows us, the tools of cutting-edge genomics and deep genealogical research now allow us to learn more about our roots, looking further back in time than ever before.
Gates’ investigations take on the personal and genealogical histories of more than twenty luminaries… Interwoven with their moving stories [is] practical information for amateur genealogists just beginning archival research on their own families’ roots. And details [about] the advances in genetic research now available to the public.
The result is an illuminating exploration of who we are, how we lost track of our roots, and how we can find them again.”
Excerpted from the Book Jacket
Most black people hit a dead end when trying to trace their lineage, because their ancestors were considered fungible goods during slavery, meaning they were merely personal property to be bought and sold, and whipped and shipped at the will of their owners. While in bondage, they couldn’t marry, start a family or even raise their own offspring.
For that reason, Henry Louis Gates’ African-American Lives proved to be a hit on TV, since the popular PBS program profiled prominent black figures’ attempt to reconstruct their family trees with his help. Turns out some other ethnicities are just as curious about their heritage. So, Dr. Gates decided to host another show, expanding his focus this time to include a diversity of folks reflecting the full spectrum of the racial rainbow.
“Finding your Roots” is basically a companion book to Season One of that series of the same name. And among Dr. Gates’ over two dozen subjects is style diva Martha Stewart, whose name has come to be synonymous with class and sophistication.
Given her aristocratic bearing and Anglo-Saxon pseudonym, one might easily assume that she’s a WASP whose forbears arrived on the Mayflower. Truth be told, Martha doesn’t trace her roots back to British bluebloods but to a long line of Polish blue-collar craftsmen who toiled as butchers, basket makers, gardeners, shoemakers, seamstresses and iron workers.
By contrast, Korean-American comedienne Margaret Cho appreciated learning that her family’s surname started way back in 1237 with her great-great-great… ancestor In-gyu Cho. “I love this because now I feel like I exist,” she says, regretting how “Your specialness gets lost with your Americanization.”
CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was born and raised in Michigan, was stunned to discover that one of his forefathers, Rameshwar Dass, had been imprisoned in the Thirties and again in the Forties as a freedom fighter in India’s struggle for independence from England. Also profiled are jazz musicians Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr, politicians John Lewis, Condoleezza Rice and Cory Booker, actors Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey, Jr., Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, minister Rick Warren, and R&B singer John Legend.
A painstakingly-researched genealogical tapestry weaving a wonderful tribute to America as a very culturally-rich melting pot.
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