Yesterday (02 Oct) Lynn Elber, AP Television Writer, previewed a bit of tonight’s premiere of Finding Your Roots on PBS. She wrote:
If there’s a bigger cheerleader for genealogy research than Henry Louis Gates Jr. it’s unlikely they’re nearly as well-connected.
The prominent Harvard professor once again lures the famous and celebrated to PBS’ “Finding Your Roots,” which shares their ancestry and family stories as uncovered by impressive research and science.
In the fourth season beginning Tuesday (check local listings for time–8 pm in the Cleveland, Ohio area), the three dozen subjects include Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong’o, Sean Combs, Amy Schumer, Garrison Keillor, Aziz Ansari, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, author Ta-Nehisi Coates and Christopher Walken.
Larry David, whom Gates said he’d “bugged” for three years to go under the “Roots” microscope, finally agreed and discovered that he’s related to Bernie Sanders, whom David memorably impersonated on “Saturday Night Live.” Their separate family stories are on the season opener.
David said he was reluctant to have personal details disclosed on TV but was glad he finally took part, lauding the “incredible job” done by researchers.
There were other revelations that took him aback, he said. David learned of ancestors who settled in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1840s, owned two slaves and fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. A hundred years later, many aunts, uncles and cousins on the maternal side of his family died in Nazi Germany’s Holocaust.
But “Finding Your Roots” is aimed at more than satisfying individual curiosity and telling an engrossing story, said Gates, an executive producer and writer as well as host of the series: It carries a message of shared origins that he argues can benefit society.
The science of DNA proves that “there aren’t four or five biologically distinct races. We’re all from one race, the human race, genetically,” Gates said. “And we know that genetically we all … descended from common ancestors that left the African continent 50,000 years ago. That’s a fact.”
Detailing how different ethnic groups contributed to world history and how their experiences “merged or conflicted” with those of other groups is also of immense value, he said.
“It’s part of a larger education process to make us all realize we’re fully human,” Gates said.
Advances in DNA testing and the increased digitization of records benefited those who participated this year, he said, while some searches required plain old shoe leather as well.
She went on to write about some of the other three dozen celebrities who will be featured in future episodes.