Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has made it a mission to uncover and celebrate history. One of his most compelling ways to do so is the work he does in genealogy. On the show African-American Lives, he traced the ancestry of African-Americans (including Tom Joyner’s) through slavery and back to Africa.
He expanded his reach in Finding Your Roots, which explores the ancestry of celebrities in the world of media, film, television and music.This season, Gates works with everyone from best-selling author Stephen King to rapper Nasir Jones. This season’s theme was “Finding Our Fathers” and here are some of the fascinating details he was able to discover.
Author Stephen King: “His father walked out to get a pack of cigarettes when he was 2 years old and Stephen never saw him again. I showed him a picture of his father and he said that’s what he looked like? He didn’t even know.
His name wasn’t even King. His name was Donald Pollack. Can you imagine 50 million books being sold by a Donald Pollack? It turns out his father lost his father at age 6, he was a victim of the Spanish flu. We traced his family all the way back to the Civil War and six of his uncles fought for the Union to free the slaves.”
Actor Courtney Vance: “Courtney Vance’s story was one of the most moving we’d ever traced. His father was Conroy Vance and he was adopted. He never found his birth parents and Courtney wanted us to do that. We found his grandmother, Ardella Vance on the South Side of Chicago. She was 17 and she had a baby, she wasn’t married. Courtney’s father was put up for adoption in a house and his birth mother lived right around the corner and he never knew it.
Then we used DNA to get on the trail of Courtney’s grandfather. Then we found that Courtney’s second great grandfather ran away from his master in Maryland 1842 and when the Civil War got started, he [the Army] and was in President Lincoln’s funeral procession. What we do is we bring Black history back to life.”
Finding Your Roots airs tonight on PBS. Check local listings for times in your area.