Wednesday, February 17, 2010

There are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese...

I wanted to tell you all about a really interesting multi-part documentary series that premiered last week. Faces of America is airing on PBS and follows 12 celebrities as they learn more about their family histories and ancestors. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (you all remember him , don't you?) is the host and he makes these really neat scrapbooks for the people with historical documents and photos teaching them about how they came to be in this country, and interesting things their distant relatives did.

One thing I think is remarkable is how cut off from their family histories so many of the people seemed to be. I always thought this was something that primarily concerned black Americans because of the legacy of slavery. But there were many white participants in the program who didn't know very much about their pasts.

Another thing I noticed was that, when faced with no information we tend to fill in the blanks with information that a lot of the time, is not accurate. For example, Mike Nichols always thought that his late father (who was a doctor,) had scraped and struggled to put himself through medical school. Nope, turns out Nichols' grandfather had made a bunch of money from owning a gold mine in Russia.

I know I would love to participate in something like this, because I would really like to know as much as possible about my past. I am looking forward to hearing more, particularly from the black participants--to see what kind of information Dr. Gates can compile for them.

Faces of America airs Wednesdays (that's tonight!) on PBS, check your local listings for times. You can also watch the premiere on their website if you missed it.

Did you see the first episode? If so, what did you think? Would you want to participate in a project like this? Why or why not? How much do you already know about your family history? Are there any specific things you already know that you'd like to examine more in-depth?


  1. I watched last week and was very excited about both Yo-Yo Ma's and Kristi Yamaguchi's histories. :)

    I know very little about my own family tree. I'd love to participate in such a project. I don't know anything beyond my grandparents. It's more like a family shrub.

  2. I hadn't heard about the show til now, so thank you for that.

    One of my grandmother's cousins did one of those geneology studies for that line of the family and dug up the fact that some generations back (following the patriarchal line) there had been a slave owner amongst them and my grandmother was so ashamed to learn that about her (our) family.