The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

April 16, 2012

Frankie Meyer: PBS show dives into celebrities’ ancestries

JOPLIN, Mo. — If you enjoy the programs “Who Do You Think You Are,” you will be thrilled with the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” This amazing series airs each Sunday at 7 p.m.

The 10-part series is hosted by Harvard professor and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., who helps well-known musicians, politicians, educators, doctors, actors and religious leaders learn about their ancestry. Details about the series is found at www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots.

The programs, which are filmed on location in the United States, emphasize the journeys of families after they arrived on our shores.

Because the programs delve so deeply into American history, they provide dynamic insights into our country’s past. The host uses resources such as Social Security applications, estate papers, other courthouse records, death certificates, journals, census records, state archive records, city directories, newspaper articles, photographs, cemetery records, and religious records.

Each program also includes visits to old home sites and talks with local historians. DNA analysis is used, too.

A few programs have already aired. One was about television journalist Barbara Walters and educator Geoffrey Canada. The two learned that their family names changed through the years.

In Walters case, the name changed as her ancestors moved from one country to another. The family name changed from Waremwasser in Poland, to Warmwater in England, to Walters in America.  

In Canada’s family, the name changed as his ancestors left slavery and moved from one state to another. His family name changed from Cannady, to Kennedy, to Canada. From DNA analysis of his Y chromosome, Canada also learned that one of his ancestors (possibly a plantation owner) was of European ancestry.

In the program last Sunday, Hollywood husband and wife team Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick explored their family histories. Ironically, at the end of their search, they learned that they are distant cousins.

Another past episode was about musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis, who have been friends since they were children in New Orleans. Marsalis was fortunate to find his ancestors listed in the 1870 census as well as the 1850 census -- a feat that is rare in African American research.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Newark Mayor Cory Booker have also been featured this spring. The previous programs can be viewed in their entirety at the web site.

Future celebrities include actors and actresses (Tyra Banks, Margaret Cho,  Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier, Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Legend), television hosts ( Martha Stewart, Linda Chavez), religious leaders (Korean-American Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Islamic leader SheikhYasir Zadhi, Pastor Rick Warren), neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Suggestions or queries? Send to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or contact: frankiemeyer@yahoo.com.

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