Henry Louis Gates, Jr. embodies all that I love about genealogy: tell the story beautifully and wrap it up in a binder for people to see and love. His excitement on a “good find” is palpable. The way he leads his guests in a conversation to reveal their ancestry – his voice was just made for telling those tales.
On Finding Your Roots, his guests sit across the table from him. In front of them is a beautiful scrapbook filled with surprises about their ancestors. When he tells them: “Turn the page and read the excerpt. Does that name sound familiar?” I just hold my breath, waiting to find out along with the guest what hidden treasure is being revealed.
Watching the episode with Sterling K Brown and Jon Batiste devastated my heart and found me crying on my couch as they discovered some of their hard-to-know truths. If you have not done so already: WATCH AN EPISODE!!
Did I mention he was born in WV?
According to his Wikipedia page:
Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. (born September 16, 1950) is an American literary critic, teacher, historian, filmmaker and public intellectual who serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He discovered what are considered the earliest known literary works of African-American writers, and has published extensively on appreciating African-American literature as part of the Western canon.
In addition to producing and hosting previous series on the history and genealogy of prominent American figures, since 2012 Gates has been host for four seasons of the television series Finding Your Roots on PBS. It combines the work of expert researchers in genealogy, history, and genetics historic research to tell guests about their ancestors’ lives and histories.
Gates was born in Keyser, West Virginia, to Henry Louis Gates Sr. (c.1913–2010) and his wife Pauline Augusta (Coleman) Gates (1916–1987). He grew up in neighboring Piedmont. His father worked in a paper mill and moonlighted as a janitor, while his mother cleaned houses, as described in his memoir Colored People (1994).
He has learned through contemporary research that his family is descended in part from the Yoruba people of West Africa. He also has learned that he has 50% European ancestry, including Irish; he was surprised it was that much. This notwithstanding, he grew up in the African-American community and identifies as such. He has learned that he is also connected to the multiracial West Virginia community of Chestnut Ridge people.
Gates graduated from Piedmont High School in 1968 and attended Potomac State College of West Virginia University before transferring to Yale University, from which he graduated summa cum laude. and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in history. The first African American to be awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, Gates sailed on the Queen Elizabeth 2 for England and University of Cambridge, where he studied English literature at Clare College and earned his PhD.
Newspaper Clippings on Gates:
For additional information, here are some links:
YouTube Video of various interviews: