Covering Your Roots

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  • Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates has been helping people discover their family history for some time now. His PBS show “Finding Your Roots” featured the compelling stories of Margaret Cho, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Cory Booker, Samuel L. Jackson, Branford Marsalis, Wanda Sykes, John Legend and others. On the season finale, airing this Sunday, May 20th at 8 p.m., actors Adrian Grenier (“Entourage”) Michelle Rodriquez (“Lost”) writer and TV host Linda Chavez have their complicated family histories uncovered.

    Grenier, who knew he had some Indian ancestry was found to also have Spanish ancestry. Chavez was found to have ancestral ties to the “Crypto-Jews” a group of Spanish Jews who practiced their religion in secret. But Rodriquez had perhaps the most fascinating family story – her Puerto Rican ancestors, intermarried to keep their bloodline pure of Indian and African contributions.

    Gates says that finding your roots can generate more information about the history of this country that isn’t always found in the history books.

    “All historians generalize from particulars,” Gates told NPR.org. “And often, if you look at a historian’s footnotes, the number of examples of specific cases is very, very small. As we do our family trees, we add specificity to the raw data from which historians can generalize. So when you do your family tree and Margaret Cho does hers, and … Wanda Sykes and John Legend … we’re adding to the database that scholars can then draw from to generalize about the complexity of the American experience. And that’s the contribution that family trees make to broader scholarship.”

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