Reviews for In Search of Our Roots : How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past


Booklist Reviews 2008 December #1
*Starred Review* Following up on the PBS series tracing the genealogy of 19 prominent African Americans, Gates details the long and arduous efforts given the abrupt disruption of the Middle Passage and the secrets created by illicit race mixing during and after slavery. In each chapter, he highlights the personal family history of each subject and the particular challenges of tracing the family s roots. Photographs and personal recollections of family stories add to the fascinating detail as Gates reveals to the subjects the results of searching genealogical records and using DNA testing to find their specific African origins. Among those whose roots he traced are Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Tina Turner, Quincy Jones, and Peter Gomes, all of whom recall cherished family legends and intimate secrets. Gates puts each search in the broader context of African American and American history with an appreciation for the texture of the lives of ordinary people in contributing to the history of a nation and the complexity of race. The final chapter offers sound advice and insight on conducting genealogical research. Gates famous enthusiasm for history and African American genealogy is evident throughout this fascinating book. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2008 November #2
Chatty companion volume to the landmark PBS documentary African American Lives.The folksy persona displayed onscreen by the two-part program's writer/producer was a decided change of pace for gadfly public intellectual Gates (director, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute/Harvard Univ.; America Behind the Color Line, 2004, etc.), whose scholarly work can be starchy. Often going by his nickname "Skip," Gates led celebrity guests like Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Morgan Freeman through their family history, with an impressive team of genealogists and DNA scientists helping to clear up many mysteries. That same engaging tone emanates from this book, which covers all 19 people profiled on the show and adds a chapter on "How to Trace Your Own Roots." It's the rare African-American family that can track any relative back past the 19th century, and none of Gates's guests knew nearly as much about their family as they would have liked. ("I just want to know exactly what happened, whatever it is," was a common statement.) There's not a dull story in these pages. Tina Turner found out she was actually one-third white: "So that's why I love Europe," she quipped. Reverend Peter J. Gomes learned that his Cape Verdean background included several Jewish ancestors. Don Cheadle's ancestors were owned, not by whites, but by Native Americans. Long-held family myths were dispelled by hard genealogical or genetic data, often prompting very emotional responses, but the historical truths that replaced them were sometimes even more fascinating. Like the documentary, the book aims to be as approachable as possible--Gates's frequent use of "we" is a nicely familial touch--but there are times when this stance becomes repetitive and bland, despite the intrinsically intriguing material. In the end, though, Gates achieves his goal: to produce a Roots for the 21st century.Bright, inquisitive take on the multifarious murky stories and relationships that make up the history of a dispossessed people.Author tour to Washington D.C., New York, Boston Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2007 October #2
Inspired by the PBS documentary African American Lives, which he narrated, Gates chats with the likes of Beyonce and Quincy Jones about their family history. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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Library Journal Reviews 2009 January #1

Harvard historian Gates argues that family history has a special place in African American culture, in part because the American institution of slavery allowed for the creation of precious few records of African Americans' lives. By detailing individuals' stories, he writes, we may tell an important part of the larger American story. In these genealogies, Gates uses the search for the family history of 19 notable African Americans to form a narrative that goes beyond family lore. He illuminates the technical challenges of tracing African Americans' roots, but he also shares his famous subjects' memories and reflections about their families' reticence in discussing slavery or telling ancestors' stories about it. These elements combine in an intelligent narrative that will be accessible even to those who aren't genealogists. A closing chapter introduces some of the tools and methods for African American genealogical research, with bibliographic sources. This book is an able companion to the PBS series Gates hosted, but it stands on its own as well. Essential for genealogy collections; recommended for all public and high school libraries.--Emily-Jane Dawson, Multnomah Cty. Lib., Portland, OR

[Page 105]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 November #2

In this companion book to a two-part PBS series, Gates (Colored People) combines rigorous historical research with DNA analysis to recreate the family trees of African-American celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones, as well as intellectuals, authors, comedians, musicians and athletes. Most of the subjects knew very little about ancestors as recent as grandparents, to say nothing of the information DNA results provided about their African and European ancestry. Gates connects gaps in ancestral knowledge to the fundamental evil of the American slave era, when slave owners and sellers purposely "robbed black human beings of... all aspects of civilization that make a human being 'human': names, birth dates, family ties." Though the book relies too heavily on the notion that knowing one's ancestry leads to a better understanding of aspects of one's own personality, Gates proves in case after case that the past brings itself to bear on the present. In Chris Rock's case, had he known he had a 19th-century ancestor who had served as a South Carolina legislator, "it might have taken away the inevitability that I was going to be nothing." (Jan.)

[Page 44]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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