How “Finding Your Roots” Is Helping People Realize Who They Really Are

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An old cliche goes: "Let sleeping dogs lie," implying "leave the past in the past." And of course, this has been proven to be good advice, usually.

Many people in our society today are unaware of their true heritage, and as a result, feel "lost" or "out of place." At some point in our lives, we may want to know about our past so we can find our true identity and chart a course for our future.

And this is why the TV show "Finding Your Roots" has become very popular. People want to know their true heritage, and "Finding Your Roots" uses genealogy to reveal it to them.

Scarlett Johansson Scrapbook / YouTube

The Importance Of Genealogy

Genealogy is the study of families and the tracing of their history and lineage. It makes use of a variety of methods, ranging from oral interviews to genetic analysis and other records to obtain information about a family and establish kinship and pedigrees of its members.

In recent times, there has been a growing interest in genealogy, due to the fact that knowing your true heritage helps you properly define who you are in terms of your history.

It also confers a level of status; for example, being descended from families that survived generations of poverty or slavery implies that one might be predisposed to survival in the harshest of conditions, giving such an individual a new sense of confidence in himself. This may explain why the TV show "Finding Your Roots" has caught on.

Scarlett Johansson Scrapbook / YouTube

What's So Special About "Finding Your Roots"

"Finding Your Roots" is a TV show that first aired on PBS in 2012. Before that, the host, Henry Louis Gates Jnr., had hosted other genealogy-themed shows, such as "African American Lives" and "Faces of America." However, "Finding Your Roots" was the first show hosted by Gates to include Americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

The show uses the work of expert researchers in genealogy, history, and genetics historic research to tell guests about their ancestors' lives and histories. Since its launch, "Finding Your Roots" has gained popularity, due, in part, to the considerable number of celebrities who have been on the show.

In addition to the celebrity guests, normal everyday people have also been featured on the show, such as the episode, in which Gates has his friends at his local barbershop take a DNA test to determine their ethnic makeup, with each friend placing a bet on their percentages of African, European, and Native American genetic heritage.

Scarlett Johansson Scrapbook / YouTube

The host, Henry Louis Gates Jnr., is a teacher, historian, and literary critic. In 2010, he became the first African-American to have his genome fully sequenced, revealing his West African, European, and Irish origins. He has hosted "Finding Your Roots" since the airing of the show's episode. In an interview, Gates tells PEOPLE:

We always have a box of tissues. Most guests will cry, male and female, and we don’t know when it will happen. There’s no way to predict it... You just don’t know where that moment of complete empathy [will happen]. It’s almost as if they are stepping inside the identity of an ancestor.

And indeed, "Finding Your Roots" has made some people cry. Take, for example, Maya Rudolph, "Saturday Night Live" vet, who broke down in tears on realizing that a maternal ancestor was a slave. TV producer Shonda Rhimes also had a similar reaction on discovering her heritage.

Scarlett Johansson Scrapbook / YouTube

The discoveries revealed on "Finding Your Roots" are potentially life-changing, and everyone should, at some point in time, look into their ancestry.

Ways To Study Your Family Tree

There are a couple of ways to study your family tree. First among these would be to actually hire a genealogist to look into your family lineage and ancestry.

However, you could also ask family members and look through old family pictures with an older relative to begin to get an idea of the stories of your ancestors.

Scarlett Johansson Scrapbook / YouTube

You should also check the earliest released 1940 US census and begin tracing your parents and grandparents through it. Record their ages, birthplaces, names, residences, occupations, and details of immigration as you begin building out the family tree. Also, look for earlier census data in order to confirm your ancestry.

It might be just another TV show, but "Finding Your Roots" is, in its own way, giving people a sense of identity. Helping them see who they are descended from is helping people finally begin to feel a sense of belonging. And we would like to see this TV show continue to run for as long as possible.

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