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.

  • 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
  • After Slavery

    This video segment from the PBS series Finding Your Roots discusses the steps people took to help freed slaves following the abolition of slavery. In his second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln called for the re-building of the country. In response, Quakers, including Kevin Bacon’s ancestor Lydia Atkinson, became very involved in the education of newly freed slaves.

    Grades: 8-11
  • The Colonization of the United States

    Using video segments from the PBS series Finding Your Roots, this lesson explores Spanish colonialism in the Southwest; the lesson also expands the discussion to include other countries that colonized in North America.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Coming to America

    Using video segments from the PBS series Finding Your Roots, this lesson explores why groups of people leave their native countries, often to come to the United States, and what major historical milestones prompted mass migrations.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Crescent City Gumbo: Race & Jazz in New Orleans

    This lesson uses video excerpts from the PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to explore the history of racial diversity and intermingling in New Orleans, and how it gave rise to the uniquely American art form of jazz.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Facing Muslim Stereotypes After September 11

    This video segment from the PBS series Finding Your Roots provides a look at Muslim stereotypes and anti-Muslim sentiments following the terrorist attacks of September 11. Sheik Yasir Qadhi reflects on his personal experiences with anti-Muslim feelings and the injustice of stereotypes.

    Grades: 10-12
  • Faith and Rebellion

    This video segment from the PBS series Finding Your Roots features Maggie Gyllenhaal as she learns more about her father’s family’s religion, Swedenborgianism. A background of the religion is provided and Maggie discusses her father’s rejection of the religion. Ultimately, his rejection of Swedenborgianism related to the cultural shift of the 1950s and 1960s when young people rebelled against traditions and the “American” identity was truly founded.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Faith in Change: John Lewis

    This lesson uses video segments from the PBS series Finding Your Roots to explore the American civil rights movement of the 1960s through the personal experience of one of its most prominent leaders—Congressman John Lewis.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Founding Mothers

    In this video segment from the PBS series Finding Your Roots, Professor Henry Louis Gates traces Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Jewish ancestors back thousands of years to the four “founding mothers” in Jewish history. The segment explains why DNA allows Professor Gates to trace Gyllenhaal’s family back so far.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Free, but not Free: Life of Free Blacks before the Civil War

    This hands-on, media-enhanced lesson explores the life of free blacks in the United States prior to the Civil War using video segments from Finding Your Roots.

    Grades: 9-11
  • Growing up under Jim Crow in Birmingham, Alabama

    This video segment from the PBS series Finding Your Roots features Condoleezza Rice as she reflects on growing up in Birmingham, Alabama during the era of Jim Crow. Rice recalls the day four young African American girls were killed when a bomb was detonated at their church.

    Grades: 8-11

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