Updated: Mar 8, 2021
No Really! This is a genuine question?? Am I the only person obsessed with this show? If someone would have told me years ago that I would be interested in other people's genealogical history or any type of history I would have laughed in their faces.
What is "Finding Your Roots" all about?
It's pretty self-explanatory. On the show "Finding Your Roots" this absolutely awesome man named, Henry Louis Gates Jr is a Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
Henry and his team do some of the best research I have ever seen by using paper trails and DNA to find celebrities' long-lost family members.
The Book of Life
He puts together what he calls, The Book of Life, which holds all of the research for that person. As he untwists family mysteries and never before told stories within each page he says these magic words, "would you please turn the page". When he says that you better keep your seat because he's about to reveal something juicy!
I bet you didn't know...
Remember the story that grandma or granddaddy used to tell you about there being "Indian" in the family. Well, I bet you didn't know that 90% of the time that story is FALSE! The truth is that in most African American families there is just "caucasian" in the family. I learned that from watching this show.
Henry Gates says, "The average African-American is 24 percent European...I love to joke about this. African-Americans all think that they're a descendant from a Native American. And the average African-American has less than 1 percent Native American ancestry, but they have 24 percent European ancestry."
Now don't shoot the messenger. I'm not saying that you don't have Native American ancestors I'm just saying we all can't be excluded from that 24 percent. Think about it.
You Have to Check These Out!!
Although all of the episodes are intriguing to me I just had to share with you some of my favorites! Get your cups ready because I'm about to spill some tea.
Season 5 Episode 1: Andy Samberg
This episode is one of my all-time favorites. So Andy Samberg is an actor/comedian that has had a role in some of your favorite tv shows and movies.
For example, he is the voice for Johnny in the animated film, Hotel Transylvania. He was in the movie Grown Ups and was even on Saturday Night Live for a period of time.
All for His Mom
So Andy comes on the show not for himself but for his mom. You see Andy's mom, Marjorie Samberg, was adopted and she had been searching for her birth parents for over 60 YEARS! Since the 1980's Andy mentioned. Marjorie would reach out to the adoption agency and they would send her vague letters with little detail like:
You were born to a 24-year-old, single Jewish woman that was born in Germany and immigrated to the US when she was 16 years old with her parents and 2 younger sisters.
She reached out a second time and this time the letter said:
Your maternal birth grandfather had 3 sisters, one was married, one was a very famous singer and musician and lived in India and the other was a nurse who lived in South America and Spain.
I'm thinking to myself, what is she supposed to do with that?! Right?
They took that information and asked themselves, Hmmm how many Jewish famous singers could there be living in India during the 1940s?
They found a woman named Gerda Philipsborn who was a famous opera singer living in India during the 1940s.
Then they revealed to Andy a naturalization letter for Artur Phillipsborn, Gerda's brother, who migrated to America with three daughters. One of the daughters was named Ellen who was around the same age that they thought Marjorie's mom to be during that time.
At this point, I'm yelling, "THEY FOUND HER! THEY FOUND HER!"
Unfortunately, Ellen died in 2007 with no living descendants but they were able to find one of Ellen's nieces. They turn to DNA to confirm if they are in fact related.
The results are in...
Henry Gates says "would you please turn the page". And there you have it, a 13.5% match!!! This means that Andy's mom and the niece of Ellen are 1st cousins! Which also means.......Yep, that's YO MAMA!!! ELLEN PHILLIPSBORN was Marjorie's mother!!
Ellen Phillipsborn was an artist and a child psychologist.
This was a cool fact because Andy's mom also works with children.
Who's Your Daddy?
Now that they discovered the identity of Andy's grandmother they started their search on his grandfather. There was nothing to rely on except DNA. Henry Gates reveals that Andy's mom's DNA shows connections to a Sicilian family from Alimena, with the surname Maida that migrated to Philadelphia.
The only issue was that when Ellen was pregnant she was a graduate student living in Berkley, California not Philadelphia
The search for the Maida family came back to some military records for someone named Samuel Maida that served in the Navy during WWII. The military records had also shown that his ship landed in ALBANY, CALIFORNIA FROM NOV 1944-MARCH 1946!!
During the same time Ellen was in Berkley, California which is right next to Albany, California.
The Results are In...Again...
Samuel passed away in 1990 but he left behind four children. They test one of the son's DNA to see if there is a match and guess what??
Finding Your Roots found Marjorie's father!
And the resemblance between Andy and his grandfather was CRAZY!
The shock doesn't end there. Andy and his mom visit their newly found family and you know how it goes, you have family come over and out come the pictures. They find a picture of Samuel on a date with an unknown woman. They've seen this picture several times but never could figure out who this woman was. Guess who....yep you got it! It was Ellen!
Such a beautiful gift! They started with knowing almost nothing to having this small miracle of a picture of both birth parents together.
Season 7 Episode 6: Rosanne Cash
Now, this episode is one for the books! Let's get straight to the meat and potatoes of it all.
This episode is about a country singer named, Rosanne Cash.
She is the daughter of famous country singer Johnny Cash.
Johnny Cash was arrested in 1965 for possession of amphetamines. But that wasn't the scandal that had people in an uproar. While Johnny was leaving the courthouse a photo was taken of him and his wife, Vivian Liberto.
I took one look at this picture and instantly thought, "She is GORGEOUS!
People were losing their damn minds behind that picture because they were accusing Johnny Cash of being married to an African American woman.
I'm not Black!
Okay so let me paint this picture for you. It's the 1960s, in Texas and interracial marriage is illegal. Racism was on steroids during this time period. So Johnny Cash and his wife were harassed by white supremacists, the KKK, and anyone else that didn't agree with interracial marriage.
Vivian Liberto identified as white and Johnny Cash went so far as to make a public statement saying that his wife is a white woman.
I'm just going to say this and I'm going to move on. I took one look at Vivian and I knew instantly that she had Black people somewhere in her family tree. So how in dee hell did Johnny or anyone around him think that she was completely white??
Henry Gates does his "would you please turn the page" thing and shows Rosanne an 1870 census where it lists her great-great-grandfather as Mulatto.
Her response is, "So it was a small part true".
No ma'am it was 100% true. Especially during the 1960s, if you had the smallest drop of African American blood you were considered NEGRO/BLACK/AFRICAN AMERICAN! All of the above.
Rosanne was shocked to hear this information. I often wonder if Henry Gates gives his guests a heads up before the show. Like hey during the show today I'm going to tell you that you have Black ancestors, are you okay with this??
My Girl Sarah
Rosanne's intriguing history doesn't stop there. Gates shares that her 3rd maternal great-grandmother, Sarah Shields, was born into slavery and freed in 1848.
Sarah was freed by her father, Rosanne's 4th great grandfather, William B Shields. Sarah and seven of her siblings were freed by their FATHER. And the only reason a child of a white man would need to be freed would be because their mother was a slave.
But check this out! Sarah's mother was never emancipated, she was only rewarded to her free children.
Yeah, I thought that sucked too but then I thought the greatest joy had to have been seeing all of her children freed by their father because we all know that was a rare situation during slavery.
I Do What I Want!
Oh, but Sarah was an IDGAF about your laws kind of woman herself. She married a white man...
10 YEARS PRIOR TO BEING FREED!!
Sarah was married in 1838.
She wasn't emancipated until 1848.
Slavery didn't officially end until 1865!
You see Sarah's father was wealthy and whatever his baby girls wanted they got! He paid the county clerk a significant amount of money to turn a blind eye and marry his daughter and her white significant other. CRAZY RIGHT?!
Check the White Box
So how could Rosanne's mother not know she had African American ancestors. Well, when the Jim Crow days started to roll Sarah and her family found it safer to continue to "pass" and identify as white.
How do I feel about that? Well, I'll tell you, being a biracial woman myself and being raised by an African American woman I feel like Black people were put under A LOT OF PRESSURE during those days. Even the smallest decisions such as drinking from a water fountain could mean life or death. Would I choose for my family to live an "easier" life? Yes without a doubt. But would I allow them to forget their heritage, forget the slave mother that birthed me, or whatever trials she had to endure so that I could enjoy the luxuries Sarah did as a white woman? No. No, I would not.
Need a Show to Binge-Watch?
If you ever want to get an interesting history lesson or see your favorite celebrity find out about their heritage, Finding Your Roots is the show for you! It comes on every Tuesday and Wednesday on PBS. You can even sit back and binge-watch all 7 seasons on Amazon Prime Video.