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.

  • Educator Survey

    What do you think about the Finding Your Roots resources on PBS Learning Media? We’d like to know. Take our quick survey for a chance to win a DNA kit or DVDs.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Finding Your Roots in the Digital Age (Webinar)

    Technology has made it easier than ever to retrace our ancestry and uncover fascinating insights into our past. Join PBS and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard scholar and host of PBS' Finding Your Roots series for a look into how science and storytelling come together to reveal the rich histories of his guests. You'll also learn strategies for integrating classroom-ready social studies and science resources developed from the series. (Recorded on November 5, 2014)

    Grades: 13+
  • Segregation in California: Separate Schools for Mexicans and Whites

    Learn about the segregation Jessica Alba’s ancestors faced as Mexican Americans living in California in this clip from Finding Your Roots. Alba’s great-grandfather, Daniel Martinez, emigrated from Mexico and opened a store in Los Angeles. When the store went out of business, his family had to work as migrant laborers. In the early 20th century, segregation kept Mexicans and whites apart in many public places, including schools. Martinez worked with others to establish a school for Mexican students so they could receive an education that celebrated their culture.

    Grades: 9-12
  • What is "Race"?

    Learn about the relatively recent invention of “race” and judge how well the concept applies to people today in this video from Finding Your Roots. Geneticist David Altshuler describes how people in the 19th Century developed a concept of race that had more to do with the social interactions and hierarchies of that time period than with biological differences. But even while the concept of race was forming, human relationships showed that race was less rigid than it was believed to be. In the video, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick learns about the relationship between two of his ancestors, a relationship that demonstrates that people made connections that defied stereotypes. Genetic analysis reveals that people are far more similar than they are different.

    Grades: 9-12
  • 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 anti-Semitic 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. 

    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. Using video, text, text-dependent discussion questions, and teaching tips students will learn about the Cultural Revolution with English Language Arts and Literacy-based activities. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • 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 influential 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

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