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Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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Photo Credit:  Joseph Sinnott / WNET

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  • Season 1
    • Amazon
  • Season 2
    • Amazon
  • Season 3
    • Amazon
  • Season 4
    • Amazon
  • Season 5
    • Amazon
Legal Full Episodes
Not Available Online
(That We Know Of)

Plot Synopsis

Working closely with leading U.S. genealogists and ancestry experts from around the world, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and his team comb through family stories to discover unknown histories and relatives the guests never knew existed. When paper trails end for each story, the team turns to top geneticists and DNA diagnosticians to analyze each participant's genetic code, tracing their bloodlines and occasionally debunking their long-held notions and beliefs. Reaching beyond celebrity stories, Gates also seeks out everyday individuals 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. Guest pairings in Season 1 include: 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.

FINDING YOUR ROOTS returned for its 10-episode second season on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings). In each episode of Season 2, Gates focuses on the specific ethnic roots, cultural traditions and deep interplay of family influence and genetics of three guests, including: celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio, Aaron Sanchez and Ming Tsai, who cook the food of their ancestors and discover family members who have shaped their lives -- and America's cuisine; Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King and Rebecca Lobo, three of America's greatest athletes whose determination and love of sports were deeply shaped by their families, but who were all cut off from their true origins -- raising the question of whether champions are made or born; actress Tina Fey, humorist David Sedaris and journalist George Stephanopolous, all of whom look into their Greek American ancestry; and American playwright Tony Kushner, singer-songwriter Carole King and lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who not only share a Jewish heritage, but a history of perseverance in the face of withering opposition. In other episodes, actors Ben Affleck and Khandi Alexander come to realize their families have long been engaged in the battle for freedom and civil rights, but they had no idea that those principles were passed down through generations of ancestors. Gates also explores the history of the Vanderbilt family with Anderson Cooper, discovers a web of intimate relationships between Nas' slave ancestors and their masters, and traces Sting's roots back centuries in England where we find that being close to the seat of the Empire doesn't mean that life is any better.

Season 3 of FINDING YOUR ROOTS premiered on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 8pm (check local listings), as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. he delves into the genealogy of 28 new guests. In Season 3 broadcast journalists and commentators Bill O'Reilly, Bill Maher and Soledad O'Brien look into their shared Irish roots and learn of the formidable obstacles that their forbears faced. Modern Family's Ty Burell seeks answers about his possible African lineage and political organizer Donna Brazile wants to find clues to the mystery of her unusual surname. Neil Patrick Harris learns that his bravery as a performer can be traced to a courageous 11th great-grandfather who was one of the first settlers in colonial Virginia, and Gloria Steinem discovers that she was not the first in her family to embrace feminism. Three of the most successful and influential figures in entertainment -- Maya Rudolph, Shonda Rhimes and Keenen Ivory Wayans -- gain a new understanding of the struggle for freedom that binds their families and the roles each plays in this trajectory. While Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Hader and Norman Lear share a gift for comedy, they also share a history of family tragedies, and Lear, whose characters have been inspired by his embittered parents, learns information about their origins in Russia that completely changes his perspective. The family histories of Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and Senator John McCain are steeped in military service throughout the centuries, from which each has inherited a distinctively independent sense of strength and integrity. Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow last shared the screen in 1969; in FINDING YOUR ROOTS, they share a history of tragic deaths that their ancestors endured, providing the building blocks of two of the great Hollywood success stories. And Sean "Puffy" Combs and LL Cool J learn of family histories long shrouded in mystery that shakes them both to their cores.

Season 4 of FINDING YOUR ROOTS premiered on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 8pm on PBS (check local listings). In the season opener, comedian Larry David and politician Bernie Sanders discover they have more in common than they thought, tracing their roots back to Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Later in Season 4, comedic performers Garrison Keillor, Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari learn contrasting stories of assimilation and independence all over the globe. Actors Fred Armisen and Christopher Walken and musician Carly Simon each learn about a grandparent whose real identity and background had been a mystery to them. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and author and activist Janet Mock see their basic assumptions about their families challenged, placing their ancestors -- of all colors -- into the greater context of black history. Actors Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and William H. Macy trace their nonconformist ancestors through American conflicts -- the Civil War and the American Revolution, all the way back to the Puritan establishment. Journalists Bryant Gumbel and Suzanne Malveaux and producer and writer Tonya Lewis-Lee discover a tapestry of the unexpected as they delve into their ancestry, revealing slaves and free people of color, Civil War legacies, and forgotten European origins. Actor Lupita Nyong'o, NBA star Carmelo Anthony and political commentator Ana Navarro trace their African heritage, investigating the political choices of their fathers and discovering sometimes unexpected heritage. Also, actors Tea Leoni and Gaby Hoffmann both have lives shaped by family mysteries and are introduced to the identities and life stories of their biological ancestors, thanks to DNA detective work. DJ and producer Questlove, talk show host Dr. Phil, and journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault's family stories are rooted in the American south. Actors Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd and John Turturro, all with immigrant parents, gain greater understanding of the unique challenges their ancestors faced by way of prejudice and poverty at home and abroad.

The fifth season of FINDING YOUR ROOTS premiered on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 8pm on PBS (check local listings). The 10-episode season features an array of celebrated guests who are cultural trailblazers with fascinating family stories, including Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei; Emmy and Golden Globe Award winners Felicity Huffman, Laura Linney and S. Epatha Merkerson; and actors Michael K. Williams, Andy Samberg, Chloe Sevigny and Kal Penn. Season 5 also includes superstar author George R.R. Martin; acclaimed journalists Christiane Amanpour, Ann Curry, Joe Madison and Lisa Ling; bestselling author and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg; TV hosts Seth Meyers and Michael Strahan; artists Marina Abramovic and Kehinde Wiley; politicians Marco Rubio, Tulsi Gabbard and Paul Ryan; Academy Award-winning filmmakers Alejandro Innaritu and Michael Moore; and comedians Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman. The roots of these guests cover the globe -- from Samoa, Nigeria, Taiwan and Sicily to Iran, Ireland, India and Cuba -- and almost everywhere in between. Their family trees are filled with compelling characters -- slaves and kings, artists and entrepreneurs, abandoned children and missing parents, revolutionaries, soldiers, and a constant flow of ordinary individuals who did remarkable things, laying the groundwork for their successful descendants. Each episode weaves together these stories, gleaned from cutting-edge DNA analysis and old school genealogical detective work. Highlights include a search for Andy Samberg's biological grandparents, the discovery of Michael Strahan's deep European ancestry and the solution to a mystery that has plagued Ann Curry's family for her entire life. In a very personal episode, the new season also explores Gates' own DNA story and takes a look at how science and history can inspire the next generation. Concerned about the lack of diversity in STEM education, Gates worked with Penn State professor Nina Jablonski and a committed group of historians, artists, biologists, geneticists, anthropologists, genealogists and educators to develop the "Finding Your Roots Genetics & Genealogy Curriculum," an educational model that invited students to consider who they are genetically, geologically/socio-culturally and intentionally. Once designed, the team piloted the curriculum in a two-week camp environment at two different locations in the U.S., where students developed hypotheses and research protocols. In the season opener, host Henry Louis Gates Jr. helps actor Andy Samberg and author George R.R. Martin answer some family mysteries when DNA detective work uncovers new branches of their family trees. The DNA analysis upends family history and reveals new relatives.
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On Tuesday, April 9, 2019 at 8pm (check local listings), PBS premiered the Season 5 finale of FINDING YOUR ROOTS. The season ender, "All in the Family," features the family stories of actor Ty Burrell, and radio host Joe Madison. Also a look at how a summer camp for children is using genetic genealogy to help young people better understand their burgeoning identities.

Production & Distribution

  • Produced by Kunhardt McGee Productions
  • Produced by Inkwell Films
  • Produced by WNET
  • In association with Ark Media