When presented with her “Book of Life,” which follows the story of her family tree all the way back to when her 4th great-grandfather came to the U.S. from Scotland, tennis superstar Billie Jean King declares “Now I know why I am the way that I am.” It’s a question shared by all the guests of Season Two of Finding Your Roots: where did I come from and how did that make me who I am today?” With the help of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and his team of genealogists and geneticists, they are able to find out.
Genealogists follow the paper trail back as far as they can: census records, birth and death certificates, personal diaries, and even slave manifests. Then the geneticists take over, determining where the family originally came from and what its genetic legacy is. The geneticists also solve more personal mysteries, telling Ken Burns once and for all if he is really related to famous Scottish poet Roberts Burns, as goes the family legend. Each guest is presented with a “Book of Life” revealing what was discovered along the way, complete with photos and personal journals, where they were available.
The stories are fascinating, taking the guest, and the viewer, back through American History with new eyes. We see the personal stakes behind each historic event, and are left to wonder about our own connections to the past.
Guests include Stephen King, Anderson Cooper, Derek Jeter, Rebecca Lobo and the aforementioned Billie Jean King and Ken Burns, among others. The episodes are each arranged around a theme. Episode One, “In Search of Our Fathers,” deals with guests whose fathers disappeared or who died when the guest was very young, leaving behind nothing in the way of information about where they’d come from. Episode two, “Born Champions,” traces the ancestry of several famous athletes in an effort to discern where exactly they got their drive to succeed..
Not all surprises are happy ones. One guest discovers that his third great-grandfather was beaten to death by one of his own rebellious slaves. Others trace their legacies back through slave times and find the first ancestors who came over on the middle passage.
The stories are all fascinating and reveal a great deal about people we think we know from their public personae, and a viewer can’t help but be inspired to dig into the past and find their own roots.
Season Two of Finding Your Roots debuts at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23 on KIXE.
Chad Grayson has been a gas station attendant, sold video games over the phone, and even was the person who cuts the mold off the cheese in the cheese factory, but spent most of his career as a middle school Language Arts and History teacher. He is now a full-time stay at home dad and writer. You can find him on twitter at @chadgrayson and on his blog at cegrayson.wordpress.com.