Finding Your Roots

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a documentary television series hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. that premiered on March 25, 2012 on PBS. In each episode, celebrities are presented with a "book of life" that is compiled with information researched by professional genealogists that allows them to view their ancestral histories, learn about familial connections and discover secrets about their lineage.

Finding Your Roots
with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Title card from the second season
Written byHenry Louis Gates Jr.
Directed by
  • John Maggio
  • Jesse Sweet
  • Caitlin McNally
  • Jack Youngelson
  • Sabin Streeter
  • Julia Marchesi
Presented byHenry Louis Gates Jr.
Composer(s)Michael Bacon
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes45 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Running time51–53 minutes
Production company(s)
Original networkPBS
Original releaseMarch 25, 2012 (2012-03-25) 
present (present)
Preceded byFaces of America
External links

Season Six is shown from October 2019 to October 2020 with two new episodes premiering in October 2019, eight episodes premiering in January 2020, and six episodes premiering in October 2020.[1]


The series uses traditional genealogical research and genetics to discover the family history of well-known Americans. Genetic techniques include Y-chromosome DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA analyses to infer both ancient and recent genetic relationships. The series has examined the family histories of celebrity guests with African American, Asian American, British American, Chinese American, Dutch American, Greek American, Indian American, Irish American, Italian American, Jewish American, and Latin American heritage.

Each celebrity guest is given a book of life, which contains all of the information discovered about the guest's genealogy by researchers. Included in or with the book are comprehensive genetic results, a family tree that is as complete as paper research allows, copies of historical records used to assemble each tree, and photos of newly found family members. In some episodes, particularly episodes in which original DNA profiling research must be used to establish a past ancestor's parental link, guests are reunited with long-lost relatives. However, in most episodes, each guest is predominantly shown seated opposite Gates as he guides them through their book of life. To show correlations between the guests' family stories, each episode cuts back and forth between two or three guest stories. To draw further correlations Gates uses examples from his own genealogy quite frequently. Examples of this would be a grandmother of his having multiple children with a white man whose name she never revealed, as well as Gates' membership into the Sons of the American Revolution.

In addition to celebrity guests, everyday people are sometimes featured in an episode to create a third or fourth story line. Usually the non-celebrity guests are a group of peers. An example of this would be the episode in which Gates has his friends at his local barbershop take a DNA test to determine their ethnic makeup, each friend betting on their percentages of African, European, and Native American genetic heritage. Another episode uses a similar guessing game with students at a local school. Singular secondary guests include Robert Downey Sr. and Margarett Cooper, the latter being a friend of Gates'.[2]



The series has seen two past incarnations on PBS, both of which were hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. In 2006 and 2008 the series African American Lives aired. Both seasons of the series consisted of a season-long story line as well as an all African American cast. In 2010 Faces of America aired. Though it continued to use the season-long plot from the prior installment, it was the first installment hosted by Gates to include Americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. Starting with Finding Your Roots in 2012, the series redirected from a season-long plot, to having plots extending only within a single episode. In doing so it has allowed the series to extend its number of episodes each season to ten, opposed to the prior four episodes a season.[3] The series is currently in production on season five.[4]

Ben Affleck controversy

The show's third season was postponed by WNET after it was discovered that actor Ben Affleck had persuaded Gates to omit information about his slave-owning ancestors.[5][6][7] The series returned on January 5, 2016,[8] although "Roots of Freedom", the second-season episode featuring Affleck, was pulled from all forms of distribution by PBS.[9] PBS America, a U.K. TV channel featuring content from PBS in the U.S., continues to feature three clips from the withdrawn episode on their YouTube channel.[10][11][12]


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
110March 25, 2012 (2012-03-25)May 20, 2012 (2012-05-20)
210September 23, 2014 (2014-09-23)November 25, 2014 (2014-11-25)
310January 5, 2016 (2016-01-05)March 8, 2016 (2016-03-08)
410October 3, 2017 (2017-10-03)December 19, 2017 (2017-12-19)
510January 8, 2019 (2019-01-08)April 9, 2019 (2019-04-09)
610October 8, 2019 (2019-10-08)TBA

Season 1 (2012)

No. in
TitleOriginal release date
11"Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr."March 25, 2012 (2012-03-25)
Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., fellow jazz musicians, grew up together in New Orleans.
22"John Lewis and Cory Booker"March 25, 2012 (2012-03-25)
Georgia Congressman John Lewis and then Newark Mayor Cory Booker meet each other before they explore their family heritages.
33"Barbara Walters and Geoffrey Canada"April 1, 2012 (2012-04-01)
Barbara Walters and Geoffrey Canada both discover their families' original surnames in the episode.
44"Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon"April 8, 2012 (2012-04-08)
Married couple Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon discover they share distant ancestry.
55"Rick Warren, Angela Buchdahl and Yasir Qadhi"April 15, 2012 (2012-04-15)
All three guests, Rick Warren, Angela Warnick Buchdahl and Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, are religious leaders in their respective faiths.
66"Robert Downey Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal"April 22, 2012 (2012-04-22)
Robert Downey Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal both descend from European-American immigrants. Robert's father, Robert Downey Sr., acts as the episode's unofficial third guest, sitting with Henry as he reads his book of life.
77"Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Simmons"April 29, 2012 (2012-04-29)
Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Simmons trace their genealogical backgrounds into slavery, and with the help of DNA analysis, back to Africa.
88"Martha Stewart, Margaret Cho and Sanjay Gupta"May 6, 2012 (2012-05-06)
Martha Stewart, Margaret Cho, and Sanjay Gupta are all the offspring of first or second generation immigrants.
99"John Legend and Wanda Sykes"May 13, 2012 (2012-05-13)
John Legend and Wanda Sykes[13] explore their rich and extensive free negro heritages. Margarett Cooper also makes an appearance in the episode, appearing only a year before her death in 2013.[14] In keeping with the theme of the episode, Cooper seeks help from Gates to answer long-held questions about her free heritage.
1010"Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier and Linda Chavez"May 20, 2012 (2012-05-20)
In this episode, Michelle Rodriguez, Adrian Grenier, and Linda Chavez explore their Hispanic roots.

Season 2 (2014)

No. in
TitleOriginal release date
111"In Search of our Fathers"September 23, 2014 (2014-09-23)
Celebrity guests: Stephen King, Gloria Reuben, and Courtney B. Vance
122"Born Champions"September 30, 2014 (2014-09-30)
Celebrity guests: Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, and Rebecca Lobo
133"Our American Storytellers"October 7, 2014 (2014-10-07)
Celebrity guests: Ken Burns, Anderson Cooper, and Anna Deavere Smith
144"Roots of Freedom"October 14, 2014 (2014-10-14)
Celebrity guests: Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander, and Benjamin Jealous. This episode has been withdrawn from all forms of distribution by PBS (see § Ben Affleck controversy).
155"The Melting Pot"October 21, 2014 (2014-10-21)
Celebrity guests: Tom Colicchio, Aarón Sánchez, and Ming Tsai
166"We Come From People"October 28, 2014 (2014-10-28)
Celebrity guests: Angela Bassett, Valerie Jarrett, and Nas
177"Our People, Our Traditions"November 4, 2014 (2014-11-04)
Celebrity guests: Alan Dershowitz, Carole King, and Tony Kushner
188"The British Invasion"November 11, 2014 (2014-11-11)
Celebrity guests: Deepak Chopra, Sally Field, and Sting
199"Ancient Roots"November 18, 2014 (2014-11-18)
Celebrity guests: Tina Fey, George Stephanopoulos, and David Sedaris
2010"Decoding Our Past Through DNA"November 25, 2014 (2014-11-25)
Celebrity guests: Jessica Alba and Governor Deval Patrick (also appearing are Anderson Cooper, Valerie Jarrett, and more). Gates' relationship to Wilmore Mail is described.

Season 3 (2016)

No. in
TitleOriginal release date
211"The Stories We Tell"January 5, 2016 (2016-01-05)
Celebrity guests: Donna Brazile, Kara Walker and Ty Burrell
222"The Irish Factor"January 12, 2016 (2016-01-12)
Celebrity guests: Soledad O'Brien, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Maher
233"In Search of Freedom"January 19, 2016 (2016-01-19)
Celebrity guests: Maya Rudolph, Shonda Rhimes and Keenen Ivory Wayans
244"Tragedy + Time = Comedy"January 26, 2016 (2016-01-26)
Celebrity guests: Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and Bill Hader
255"Visionaries"February 2, 2016 (2016-02-02)
Celebrity guests: Richard Branson, Maya Lin and Frank Gehry
266"War Stories"February 9, 2016 (2016-02-09)
Celebrity guests: Patricia Arquette, Julianne Moore and John McCain
277"Family Reunions"February 16, 2016 (2016-02-16)
Celebrity guests: Sean Combs and LL Cool J
288"The Pioneers"February 23, 2016 (2016-02-23)
Celebrity guests: Neil Patrick Harris, Gloria Steinem and Sandra Cisneros
299"The Long Way Home"March 1, 2016 (2016-03-01)
Celebrity guests: Azar Nafisi, Lidia Bastianich and Julianna Margulies
3010"Maps of Stars"March 8, 2016 (2016-03-08)
Celebrity guests: Mia Farrow and Dustin Hoffman

Season 4 (2017)

Garrison Keillor was scheduled to appear in the season finale episode "Funny Business". His segment was edited out of the episode after reports of inappropriate workplace behavior by him were made public.[15]

No. in
TitleOriginal release date
311"The Impression"October 3, 2017 (2017-10-03)
Comedy writer Larry David and Senator Bernie Sanders discover their Jewish-American heritage and find that they have more in common than they think.
Celebrity guests: Larry David and Bernie Sanders
322"Unfamiliar Kin"October 10, 2017 (2017-10-10)
Actor Christopher Walken discovers that he had relatives back in Germany who stayed when Adolf Hitler rose to power; singer Carly Simon discovers that she has ancestry that her grandmother kept hidden; and former Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen finds out that his paternal grandfather wasn't all that he seemed.
Celebrity guests: Christopher Walken, Carly Simon and Fred Armisen
333"Puritans and Pioneers"October 17, 2017 (2017-10-17)
Celebrity guests: Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and William H. Macy
344"The Vanguard"October 24, 2017 (2017-10-24)
Celebrity guests: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ava DuVernay, and Janet Mock
355"Immigrant Nation"October 31, 2017 (2017-10-31)
Celebrity guests: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, and John Turturro
366"Black Like Me"November 7, 2017 (2017-11-07)
Celebrity guests: Bryant Gumbel, Tonya Lewis Lee, and Suzanne Malveaux
377"Children of the Revolution"November 14, 2017 (2017-11-14)
Celebrity guests: Lupita Nyong'o, Carmelo Anthony, and Ana Navarro
388"Relatives We Never Knew We Had"November 21, 2017 (2017-11-21)
Celebrity guests: Tea Leoni and Gaby Hoffmann
399"Southern Roots"December 12, 2017 (2017-12-12)
Celebrity guests: Questlove, Dr. Phil and Charlayne Hunter-Gault
4010"Funny Business"December 19, 2017 (2017-12-19)
Celebrity guests: Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari[lower-alpha 1]
  1. Episode originally featured Garrison Keillor. His segment was replaced by Maya Rudolph's from season three.

Season 5 (2019)

The series was renewed for a fifth season which premiered on January 8, 2019.[16][17]

No. in
Title[18]Original release date[18]
411"Grandparents and Other Strangers"January 8, 2019 (2019-01-08)
Former Saturday Night Live cast member (and star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) Andy Samberg searches for his mother's long-lost parents; Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin stumbles upon a family secret about the man he called "Grandpa Louis". Celebrity guests: Andy Samberg and George R. R. Martin
422"Mystery Men"January 15, 2019 (2019-01-15)
Celebrity guests: Felicity Huffman and Michael K. Williams
433"Reporting on the Reporters"January 22, 2019 (2019-01-22)
Celebrity guests: Christiane Amanpour, Ann Curry and Lisa Ling
444"Dreaming of a New Land"January 29, 2019 (2019-01-29)
Celebrity guests: Marisa Tomei, Sheryl Sandberg and Kal Penn
455"Freedom Tales"February 5, 2019 (2019-02-05)
Celebrity guests: S. Epatha Merkerson and Michael Strahan
466"Roots in Politics"February 12, 2019 (2019-02-12)
Celebrity guests: Tulsi Gabbard, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan
477"No Laughing Matter"February 19, 2019 (2019-02-19)
Celebrity guests: Seth Meyers, Tig Notaro, and Sarah Silverman
488"Hard Times"February 26, 2019 (2019-02-26)
Celebrity guests: Laura Linney, Michael Moore, and Chloë Sevigny
499"The Eye of the Beholder"April 2, 2019 (2019-04-02)
Celebrity guests: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Marina Abramović and Kehinde Wiley[19]
5010"All in the Family"April 9, 2019 (2019-04-09)
Celebrity guests: Ty Burrell and Joe Madison[19]

Season 6 (2019)

On July 29, 2019, it was announced that the sixth season will premiere on October 8, 2019.[1] Season 6 will explore ancestry stories of Jon Batiste, Sterling K. Brown, RuPaul, Jeff Goldblum, Terry Gross, Anjelica Huston, Gayle King, Justina Machado, Marc Maron, Melissa McCarthy, Queen Latifah, Jordan Peele, Nancy Pelosi, Zac Posen, Issa Rae, Isabella Rossellini, Amy Ryan, Eric Stonestreet, Diane von Furstenberg, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Wright and Sasheer Zamata. Season six will span October 2019 to October 2020 with two new episodes premiering in October 2019, eight episodes premiering in January 2020, and six episodes premiering in October 2020.[1]

No. in
TitleOriginal release date
511"Hollywood Royalty"October 8, 2019 (2019-10-08)
Celebrity guests: Anjelica Huston, Mia Farrow, and Isabella Rosselini
522"Off The Farm"October 15, 2019 (2019-10-15)
Celebrity guests: Melissa McCarthy and Eric Stonestreet

See also


  1. "Season Six of "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." Premieres Fall 2019 and Airs Through Fall 2020 on PBS, Beginning October 8". The Futon Critic. July 29, 2019.
  2. "Finding Your Roots – Episodes". PBS. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  3. "Finding Your Roots – About". PBS. Archived from the original on September 18, 2014. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  4. "Home". Ark Media. Retrieved May 22, 2018.
  5. Allen, Nick (April 17, 2015). "Ben Affleck's slave-owning ancestor 'censored' from genealogy show". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  6. Kirell, Andrew (April 18, 2015). "Ben Affleck Demanded PBS Suppress His Slave-Owning Ancestry". Mediaite. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  7. Koblin, John (June 24, 2015). "Citing Ben Affleck's 'Improper Influence,' PBS Suspends 'Finding Your Roots'". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  8. Guthrie, Marisa (October 19, 2015). "PBS' 'Finding Your Roots' Returns After Ben Affleck Scandal: "Hard Conversations," More Rigorous Process". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles. Retrieved October 16, 2016.
  9. "PBS: Ben Affleck 'Finding Your Roots' Episode Violated Standards". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles. Associated Press. June 24, 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  10. "Finding Your Roots: Khandi Alexander". PBS America. January 8, 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  11. "Finding Your Roots: Ben Affleck (Freedom Summer)". PBS America. January 8, 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  12. "Finding Your Roots: Ben Affleck (Civil War)". PBS America. January 8, 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  13. Leemarch, Felicia R. (March 19, 2012). "Family Tree's Startling Roots". The New York Times. New York City.
  14. "Margarett Cooper Obituary". Boston. September 20, 2013. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
  15. Sefton, Dru. "PBS removes Keillor segment from upcoming 'Finding Your Roots'". Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  16. Moraes, Lisa de (July 31, 2018). "House Speaker Paul Ryan Discovers Ashkenazi Jewish Heritage On 'Finding Your Roots' – TCA". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  17. Haddad, Diane (August 1, 2018). "Here's When You Can Watch Season 5 of "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr."". Family Tree Magazine. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  18. "Finding Your Roots – Listings". The Futon Critic. January 9, 2019.
  19. MacEntee, Thomas (January 30, 2019). "Finding Your Roots: Dreaming of a New Land Episode – Now Available For Online Viewing at PBS". Abundant Genealogy.
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