Finding Your Roots

Finding Your Roots
with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Title card from the second season
Genre Family history
Documentary Series
Written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Directed by John Maggio
Jesse Sweet
Caitlin McNally
Jack Youngelson
Sabin Streeter
Julia Marchesi
Presented by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Composer(s) Michael Bacon
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of series 3
No. of episodes 30
Executive producer(s) Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Producer(s) Rachel Dretzin
Leslie Asako Gladsjo
Dyllan McGee
Peter Kunhardt
Stephen Segaller
Running time 51–53 minutes
Production company(s) Kunhardt McGee Productions
Inkwell Films
Ark Media
Original network PBS
Original release March 25, 2012 (2012-03-25) – present
Preceded by Faces of America

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a PBS television series hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The first season aired on PBS from March 25 to May 20 of 2012. It was broadcast in the 8–9 p.m time slot (EDT). The series returned for a second season on September 23, 2014 and finished on November 25, 2014.[1] Season three began airing on January 5, 2016.[2]


The series uses traditional genealogical research and genetics to discover the family history of well-known Americans. Genetic techniques include Y-chromosome DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA analyses to infer both ancient and recent genetic relationships. The series has examined the family histories of celebrity guests with African American, Asian American, Chinese American, Greek American, Indian American, Irish American, Italian American, Jewish American, and Latin American heritage.

Each celebrity guest is given a book of life, which contains all of the information discovered about the guest's genealogy by researchers. Included in or with the book are comprehensive genetic results, a family tree that is as complete as paper research allows, copies of historical records used to assemble each tree, and photos of newly found family members. In some episodes, particularly episodes in which original DNA research must be used to establish a past ancestor's parental link, guests are reunited with long-lost relatives. However, in most episodes, each guest is predominately shown seated opposite Gates as he guides them through their book of life. To show correlations between the guests family stories, each episode cuts back and forth between two or three guest stories. To draw further correlations Gates uses examples from his own genealogy quite frequently. Examples of this would be a grandmother of his' having multiple children with a white man whose name she never revealed, as well as Gates' membership into the Sons of the American Revolution.

In addition to celebrity guests, everyday people are sometimes featured in an episode to create a third or fourth story line. Usually the non-celebrity guests are a group of peers. An example of this would be the episode in which Gates has his friends at his local barbershop take a DNA test to determine their ethnic makeup, each friend betting on their percentages of African, European, and Native American genetic heritage. Another episode uses a similar guessing game with students at a local school. Singular secondary guests include Robert Downey, Sr. and Margarett Cooper, the latter being a friend of Gates'.[3]


The series has seen two past incarnations on PBS, both of which were hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In 2006 and 2008 the series African American Lives aired. Both seasons of the series consisted of a season-long story line as well as an all African American cast. In 2010 Faces of America aired. Though it continued to use the season-long plot from the prior installment, it was the first installment hosted by Gates to include Americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. Starting with Finding Your Roots in 2012, the series redirected from a season-long plot, to having plots extending only within a single episode. In doing so it has allowed the series to extend its number of episodes each season to ten, opposed to the prior four episodes a season.[1]

Ethics problem

The show's third season was postponed after it was discovered that actor Ben Affleck had persuaded Gates to omit information about his slave-owning ancestors.[4][5][6] The series returned on January 5, 2016.[7]

Series overview

Season Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1[3] 10 March 25, 2012 May 20, 2012
2[3] 10 September 23, 2014 November 25, 2014
3[3][8] 10 January 5, 2016 March 8, 2016


Season 1 (2012)

No. in
No. in
Title Original air date
11"Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr."March 25, 2012 (2012-03-25)
Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr., fellow jazz musicians, grew up together in New Orleans.
22"John Lewis and Cory Booker"March 25, 2012 (2012-03-25)
Georgia Congressman John Lewis and then Newark Mayor Cory Booker meet each other before they explore their family heritages.
33"Barbara Walters and Geoffrey Canada"April 1, 2012 (2012-04-01)
Barbara Walters and Geoffrey Canada both discover their families' original surnames in the episode.
44"Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon"April 8, 2012 (2012-04-08)
Married couple Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon discover they share distant ancestry.
55"Rick Warren, Angela Buchdahl and Yasir Qadhi"April 15, 2012 (2012-04-15)
All three guests, Rick Warren, Angela Warnick Buchdahl, and Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, are religious leaders in their respective faiths.
66"Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal"April 22, 2012 (2012-04-22)
Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal both descend from European-American immigrants. Robert's father, Robert Downey, Sr., acts as the episode's unofficial third guest, sitting with Henry as he reads his book of life.
77"Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Simmons"April 29, 2012 (2012-04-29)
Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and Ruth Simmons trace their genealogical backgrounds into slavery, and with the help of DNA analysis, back to Africa.
88"Martha Stewart, Margaret Cho and Sanjay Gupta"May 6, 2012 (2012-05-06)
Martha Stewart, Margaret Cho, and Sanjay Gupta are all the offspring of first or second generation immigrants.
99"John Legend and Wanda Sykes"May 13, 2012 (2012-05-13)
John Legend and Wanda Sykes[9] explore their rich and extensive free negro heritages. Margarett Cooper also makes an appearance in the episode, appearing only a year before her death in 2013.[10] In keeping with the theme of the episode, Cooper seeks help from Gates to answer long-held questions about her free heritage.
1010"Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier and Linda Chavez"May 20, 2012 (2012-05-20)
In this episode Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier, and Linda Chavez explore their Hispanic roots.

Season 2 (2014)

No. in
No. in
Title Original air date
111"In Search of our Fathers"September 23, 2014 (2014-09-23)
Celebrity guests: Stephen King, Gloria Reuben, and Courtney B. Vance
122"Born Champions"September 30, 2014 (2014-09-30)
Celebrity guests: Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, and Rebecca Lobo
133"Our American Storytellers"October 7, 2014 (2014-10-07)
Celebrity guests: Ken Burns, Anderson Cooper, and Anna Deavere Smith
144"Roots of Freedom"October 14, 2014 (2014-10-14)
Celebrity guests: Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander, and Benjamin Jealous
155"The Melting Pot"October 21, 2014 (2014-10-21)
Celebrity guests: Tom Colicchio, Aarón Sánchez, and Ming Tsai
166"We Come From People"October 28, 2014 (2014-10-28)
Celebrity guests: Angela Bassett, Valerie Jarrett, and Nas
177"Our People, Our Traditions"November 4, 2014 (2014-11-04)
Celebrity guests: Alan Dershowitz, Carole King, and Tony Kushner
188"The British Invasion"November 11, 2014 (2014-11-11)
Celebrity guests: Deepak Chopra, Sally Field, and Sting
199"Ancient Roots"November 18, 2014 (2014-11-18)
Celebrity guests: Tina Fey, George Stephanopoulos, and David Sedaris
2010"Decoding Our Past Through DNA"November 25, 2014 (2014-11-25)
Celebrity guests: Jessica Alba and Governor Deval Patrick (also appearing are Anderson Cooper, Valerie Jarrett, and more). Gates' relationship to Wilmore Mail is described.

Season 3 (2016)

No. in
No. in
Title Original air date
211"The Stories We Tell"January 5, 2016 (2016-01-05)
Celebrity guests: Donna Brazile, Kara Walker and Ty Burrell
222"The Irish Factor"January 12, 2016 (2016-01-12)
Celebrity guests: Soledad O'Brien, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Maher
233"In Search of Freedom"January 19, 2016 (2016-01-19)
Celebrity guests: Maya Rudolph, Shonda Rhimes and Keenen Ivory Wayans
244"Tragedy + Time = Comedy"January 26, 2016 (2016-01-26)
Celebrity guests: Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and Bill Hader
255"Visionaries"February 2, 2016 (2016-02-02)
Celebrity guests: Richard Branson, Maya Lin and Frank Gehry
266"War Stories"February 9, 2016 (2016-02-09)
Celebrity guests: Patricia Arquette, Julianne Moore and John McCain
277"Family Reunions"February 16, 2016 (2016-02-16)
Celebrity guests: Sean Combs and LL Cool J
288"The Pioneers"February 23, 2016 (2016-02-23)
Celebrity guests: Neil Patrick Harris, Gloria Steinem and Sandra Cisneros
299"The Long Way Home"March 1, 2016 (2016-03-01)
Celebrity guests: Azar Nafisi, Lidia Bastianich and Julianna Margulies
3010"Maps of Stars"March 8, 2016 (2016-03-08)
Celebrity guests: Mia Farrow and Dustin Hoffman

See also


  1. 1 2 "Finding Your Roots – About". PBS. United States: U.S. Government. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  2. "Finding Your Roots". PBS. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Finding Your Roots – Episodes". PBS. United State: U.S. Government. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  4. Allen, Nick (April 17, 2015). "Ben Affleck's slave-owning ancestor 'censored' from genealogy show". The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  5. Kirell, Andrew (April 18, 2015). "Ben Affleck Demanded PBS Suppress His Slave-Owning Ancestry". Mediaite. Abrams Media. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  6. Koblin, John (June 24, 2015). "Citing Ben Affleck's 'Improper Influence,' PBS Suspends 'Finding Your Roots'". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  7. Guthrie, Marisa (October 19, 2015). "PBS' 'Finding Your Roots' Returns After Ben Affleck Scandal: "Hard Conversations," More Rigorous Process". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles: Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  8. Jennifer, Robinson (December 30, 2015). "Finding Your Roots : Season 3 (New Season Premiere)". KPBS TV. San Diego: San Diego State University. Retrieved January 6, 2016.
  9. Leemarch, Felicia R. (March 19, 2012). "Family Tree's Startling Roots". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company.
  10. "Margarett Cooper Obituary". Boston: Great Hill Partners. September 20, 2013. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
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