Finding Your Roots

Expand/Collapse Finding Your Roots


The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.

  • Mercantilism and the American Revolution

    In this video from Finding Your Roots, Tina Fey learns about an ancestor who helped Benjamin Franklin develop the manufacturing industry in the American colonies.  The background essay and discussion questions help students understand British mercantilism and its effects on colonial politics.   

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Rise of Nationalism

    In this video from Finding Your Roots, Tina Fey learns about an ancestor who fought to free Greece from four centuries of Ottoman rule.  The resource helps students understand the rise of nationalism in Europe in the 19th century. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • Sally Field: We Came Over on the Mayflower

    In this video from Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. introduces Sally Field to her Pilgrim ancestor, William Bradford. Bradford sailed to America on the Mayflower and later became the governor of the Plymouth colony where he presided over what many consider to be the first Thanksgiving.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Deepak Chopra: The Wounds of Partition

    In this video from Finding Your Roots, Dr. Deepak Chopra reexamines the trauma his family experienced during the partition of India and Pakistan.  The partition led to one of the largest migrations in history and resulted in the deaths of an estimated half million people. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • Ethics and Laws

    Learn how Louis Dershowitz, grandfather of attorney Alan Dershowitz, helped relatives escape from Nazi persecution in this video from Finding Your Roots. As the Nazis spread their antisemitic policies in Europe, many Jews wanted to escape to safety. Immigration quotas enacted in the 1920s made it difficult for immigrants to enter the United States, so Louis Dershowitz submitted false documents to help his relatives enter the country. Use the “Teaching about Ethics and Laws” guide in the Support Materials section to help students understand ethical choices and how they relate to laws. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Antisemitism and Violence in Modern Europe

    Learn about different ways antisemitism erupted into violence against European Jews in this video from Finding Your Roots. Singer-songwriter Carole King, attorney Alan Dershowitz, and playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner all have ancestors who lived in Eastern Europe during a time when being Jewish could make you the target of attacks. Violence ranged from individual communities being targeted in pogroms to the Holocaust, in which the Nazis tried to eliminate the entire Jewish population.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Rochons: An African American Dynasty

    In this video from Finding Your Roots, host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reveals the ancestry of White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett learns she is descended from one of the first African American legislators in the country and that she comes from a line of free people of color dating back to the 1700s.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Coming Outta Queensbridge: Nas and Hip Hop

    In this video from Finding Your Roots, host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. interviews acclaimed rapper Nas. The clip demonstrates how the hip-hop scene in New York City’s Queensbridge housing projects influenced the artist as a young man. WARNING: This video contains limited profanity. Please review to ensure appropriateness for your students.

    Grades: 9-12
  • 20th Century Italian Immigration: America the Melting Pot…or Not?

    Explore the experiences of twentieth century American immigrants alongside renowned chef Tom Colicchio as he learns about his Italian ancestor’s arrival to Ellis Island in this episode of Finding Your Roots. Learn about how some immigrants made multiple trips to and from America from their homelands and the difficult conditions they faced as new citizens.

    Grades: 5-8
  • Cultural Revolution in China: Purge of the Impure

    Follow chef Ming Tsai’s grandfather through World War II, the Chinese Civil War, and the Cultural Revolution in this episode of Finding Your Roots. Learn about the traumatic experiences he faced as he fled from communist control in search of freedom and safety.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Battle of Harlem Heights: Minor Battle, Major Implications

    Learn about Ben Affleck’s ancestor, Jesse Stanley, who served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and fought under George Washington in the tide-turning Battle of Harlem Heights in this video from Finding Your Roots. Using archival pension files to determine Stanley’s Revolutionary War service, a historical narrative resembling an action packed Affleck war film unfolds.

    Grades: 5-10
  • Defying the Odds in the Slave-Owning South

    Learn how the ancestor of former NAACP President Ben Jealous defied the oppressive odds of the slave-owning south in this video from Finding Your Roots. Jealous was not the first in his family to fight for freedom and represent civil rights. Follow Peter G. Morgan’s unique journey from slave to slave owner and learn about the difficult decisions he made to protect his family.

    Grades: 7-10
  • Founding Fathers: Freedom Fighters or Hypocrites?

    The Revolution was a noble fight for freedom, but not freedom for all! Meet Khandi Alexander’s slave-owning Patriot ancestor and examine the contradictory actions exercised by many of the Founding Fathers in this video from Finding Your Roots. The video explores the notion that despite America being founded on the concepts of freedom and equality, many believed that not everyone was created equally.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Basil Biggs: True American Hero

    In this media gallery from Finding Your Roots, learn about the extraordinary life of Anna Deavere Smith’s ancestor Basil Biggs, a free man of color and a veterinarian who played major roles in the Battle of Gettysburg and the Underground Railroad.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Bold Act of Rebellion

    Anderson Cooper finds out about a long-forgotten southern ancestor who was killed by a man he enslaved in this video from Finding Your Roots. Through census records, students learn about Burwell Boykin, the slaves he owned, and how one of them rebelled and murdered him.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Derek Jeter: The Family Name

    This video from Finding Your Roots uncovers the origins of Derek Jeter’s family surname. Using family stories, local archives, and census records, students learn about Derek Jeter’s great-great-grandfather, Green W. Jeter.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Women on the Court: Billie Jean King to Rebecca Lobo

    Students will learn about two influencial figures in women’s sports in this media gallery from Finding Your Roots. By examining the lives of tennis great Billie Jean King and basketball star Rebecca Lobo, students will learn more about the accomplishments of these women—ranging from winning the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match in 1973 to being a pioneer in women’s professional basketball.

    Grades: 9-12
  • John Janey: The Courage to Flee and to Fight

    Learn about actor Courtney B. Vance’s ancestor, an enslaved man named John Janey, who ran away to freedom and later fought on the Union side during the Civil War in this video from Finding Your Roots. Through newspaper archives, Underground Railroad chronicles, and military records, a dramatic story begins to unfold about the epic life of a true American hero.

    Grades: 8-12
  • 1492: A Small Jewish Population Immigrates to Jamaica

    This video from Finding Your Roots examines actor Gloria Reuben’s Jamaican ancestors. Through examining records dating back to the 19th century, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. solves the mystery of the Reuben family name, the reason they emigrated from Spain and what life was like for them when they arrived to Jamaica.

    Grades: 7-12
  • A Hurried Escape

    In this video segment from the PBS series Finding Your Roots, Professor Henry Louis Gates reveals to Margaret Cho why her father’s family fled what is now North Korea. Cho’s grandfather worked for the Japanese during their occupation of Korea. After the Japanese withdrew from Korea after World War II, Cho’s grandfather was considered a traitor. To ensure the safety of his family, Cho’s grandfather and his family left their home in North Korea and moved to South Korea.

    Grades: 9-12

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