Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” is a new series from Henry Louis Gates Jr., who previously brought us series such as Faces of America, African American Lives, and African American Lives 2.  The show, which airs on PBS stations on Sunday nights, premieres March 25th, 2012 with singer/actor Harry Connick, Jr.

Last week I participated in a conference call with members of the show, including Senior Story Editor and Producer Leslie Asako Gladsjo and Chief Genealogist Johni Cerny.  Also on the call, although only able to participate for a few minutes, was Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Here are some interesting tidbits about Finding Your Roots – and genealogy in general – that I learned from the conversation:

  • Gates believes that genetic genealogy is deconstructing the notion of race; never has FTDNA or 23andMe returned an African American’s testing results and reported 100% African, for example.  In other words, science is demonstrating that things are much more complicated than we would have guessed without the benefit of DNA.
  • All guests on Finding Your Roots used both 23andMe and FTDNA for DNA testing – all African Americans participating in the series also used African Ancestry.  While the guests receive all their results, we may not always see them.
  • Many are still wary of genetic genealogy; many potential guests even turned down the series largely because of the DNA testing involved.
  • Gladsjo and Cerny noted that DNA is just another tool for the genealogist; sometimes the guests’ DNA results were very interesting, and sometimes they were “pretty boring.”

I hope you’ll be tuning in tomorrow to see Finding Your Roots.  I have a feeling that this is going to be a fascinating series.

By the way, did you catch last night’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” with Helen Hunt? It was another fantastic episode.  Too bad they didn’t bring in DNA testing.  With Hunt’s Jewish ancestry, it would have been a terrific opportunity to education viewers about the many unique facets of genetic genealogy testing in this population.


Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007


  1. Please make this show a daily event. Give us more more more! It’s awesome.

  2. I saw and liked Findingyourroots but once again Dr.Gates didnt go over the limitations of the dna tests.He used 23andme again like in Facesofamerica.23andme is a great company but what theyre great in is health,not ancestry.They have inadequate population sampling and give Africanamericans(and Africans from Africa) Asian percentages,usually 3%or4%or 6%or7%,and were supposed to believe that its Native American when in reality its neither NativeAmerican or Asian but miscalculated African.I respect 23andme as ahealth company but their ancestry is not much better than the old Ancestrybydna 2.5 test(though you can send 23andme results to Dr,Doug Mcdonald) .Dr.Gates should use the Populationfinder from Familytreedna or myDNAmix from Africanancestry next time.

  3. Have 1857 king james Bible/family names start at 1779-1940s,black foiks,love for your input,after that show that the road am taken,7047345508,hisfacedd@yahoo.com

  4. Dear Professor Gates,

    At age 90, Herbert P. Douglas Jr. is the oldest living black American Olympian (Bronze medal in the long jump, 1948 London Olympics). I have contact information for him. Gabby Douglas is the youngest black Olympian. It would be interesting to find out if the two Douglases are related.

    Very truly yours,

    Ralph Metcalfe Jr.

  5. I would like to find out through DNA testing ( Who am I ) as a Black male in America. What and where are my African roots ?

  6. There seems to be different type of tests obtaining different information – or in different forms. What test would one need to obtain that pie chart of your various degrees of ethnicity? I can’t seem to get a straight answer on this. And, assuming I find the right test, can a female take it for those results? Or does it have to be a male? I’m not so much interested in finding connections to kin as I am in understanding my ethnic background.

  7. Where do I begin to find out my roots when there are so many secrets and know one has any information. What DNA do I do/

  8. Dr. Gates
    I would like to have my DNA tested.
    How can I have my roots traced by you, and what would it cost?

  9. Dr. Gates,
    I would love to have my DNA story – I want to know the story of who I am and since I don’t have the family to tell me maybe you can help with the mystery. Thank you.

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