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

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  96 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Unlike most white Americans who, if they are so inclined, can search their ancestral records, identifying who among their forebears was the first to set foot on this country’s shores, most African Americans, in tracing their family’s past, encounter a series of daunting obstacles. Slavery was a brutally efficient nullifier of identity, willfully denying black men and women ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published January 27th 2009 by Crown (first published December 27th 2008)
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4.20  · 
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 ·  96 ratings  ·  32 reviews


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Natalie
May 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating book! I have been blessed with Parents, Grandparents, and Great Grandparents who have spent a lot of time doing Genealogy work. As a result, and most likely with the help of a professional along the way, I have the names and birth dates of ancestors back to the 1300's. History has always been so much more fascinating when I can connect world events to my own family. I know I am blessed by this knowledge.

Sadly anyone of African American descent has a wall that stops any Genealo
...more
Deborah
Feb 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Being African American in America is being without roots that go back further than grandparents for most. Growing up listening to so many non African American's speak of their families coming over from Ireland, England, Italy etc and knowing my African ancestral roots were stolen and brought to America without a choice is very sad. This book shows by using DNA Gates has been able to trace the biological roots back to Africa and beyond. Many were surprized to find that they had such deep European ...more
Shawna
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Skip Gates and I are always in sync. I love his writing, his mind and his passion for genealogy.
Stephanie
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Nophoto-f-25x33 If there is anything that binds people of all races and cultures together, it’s the need for roots, to know where we come from and above all who we come from. We sense, somehow, that as in the normal course of nature, who we are and become springs from who our parents and ancestors were.

For African Americans, it is more difficult than for most to trace their family history...particularly back into the slavery years, much less prior to that. Mr. Gates proposed, as a project, to co
...more
Tanna Rothert
I read the book “In Search Of Our Roots”, by Henry Louis Gates. The book is based off of 19 individual stories of African Americans trying to reclaim their past. The novel stands out from any other book I’ve read because of its inspirational strength brought in each chapter. The novel includes many stories from known names to “normal” citizens. A known name like Oprah Winfrey, to a not so known Morgan Freeman.
My opinion on this novel is very inspirational. I believe Henry wrote this novel to kn
...more
Nikki
I might have rated this book a little higher had I not already seen the PBS programs on which it was based -- it's quite good, it was just that a lot of the information wasn't new to me. Gates, with the aid of genealogists and DNA testing, explored the family histories of such well-known African-Americans as Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Chris Rock, and Don Cheadle, among others. In almost every case, he hit the well-known "brick wall" sometime before 1870, the first census taken after Emancipati ...more
Liz
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book partly because it is so important (for all of us to understand American history through this lens) and because the stories in it were so interesting. The book was produced in conjunction with a PBS TV series (the series is well watching, especially if you don't have the time or patience for a long book). Henry Louis Gates worked with genealogists and scientists to reconstruct family trees for the titular 19 people, and then presents the stories in the context of African roots, ...more
Andrea
We’ve been really enjoying Professor Gates’ current PBS series “Finding Your Roots” so this was both familiar and full of new, interesting ideas. This work, based on two early documentaries that predate the current series, presents the family histories and genetic heritage of 19 individuals, most celebrities. What stood out the most to me is a point that Gates himself makes a number of times throughout this work – that while there are common themes, there is no one story of the African-American ...more
Carla
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. At first, I was most interested about the family histories of the celebrities. But after you read a few chapters, you realize what you are really getting is a glimpse into the many realities of African-Americans in the 1800's & 1900's. Some whose families had always been free, some whose families were generations of slaves. I learned more about the Great Migration. It was fascinating to see how different people's family legacies supported, encouraged, and inspired ...more
Jenny Shipp
Aug 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book!! I heard it on tape, a wonderful reader. But mostly, I just loved the stories and what I learned. It is thrilling, moving and just great. Let's see, he takes Maya Angelou, Morgan Freeman, Whoopee Goldburg and 16 other wonderful African American people, so many that I didn't know and now know so much about, and he beautifully and simply and movingly talks about family, and how you look back and why and I learned to have such a rich, multifaceted picture of African American hist ...more
Richard Harden
Dec 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Unknown, unrecorded episodes from the African-American experience are discovered and presented here through the tracing of the genealogy of nineteen African-Americans, many of whom are household names. This book is well worth reading for the wealth of information uncovered, not just for African-Americans, but for everyone.

Take your time with this book. Give yourself the time to read and review each of the entries, to think about what you learned, to internalize the lessons about American, Africa
...more
Vilo
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
The companion book to the TV series where a team of researchers present a well-known African-American with their family tree. Fascinating stories of ancestors who were ordinary people, the sort of people who would have remained unknown to history if not being researched as part of a family history. The book therefore reveals the complexities beyond the broad outlines of American history. One chapter is the family history of a completely ordinary contemporary woman. Her ancestors had some of the ...more
Josephine
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Do you like genealogy? Do you like reading history that you, likely, didn't learn in school? Do you enjoy reading about lives of famous people? If you answered yes to any of those questions you'll love this book. Don't let the size daunt you, it's an amazingly quick read. Gates pulls together each person as a chapter and ends the book with links and books which can help the reader find their own roots. Even for the reader who doesn't have African American roots, there are good resources included ...more
Mona
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The "Our" in "...Our Roots" refers to African-Americans, but any American could find this interesting, as it discusses many roots into our collective history. There are a few common narratives when discussing the period of slavery in the US. In this book, many other actualities are discussed. There is also a great section in the end with an emphasis on African-Americans, but which anyone interested in their own family historycan use, regarding the many data sources available for genealogical res ...more
Beth
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2009
I had seen the documentary series that Henry Gates did a few years ago and was fascinated and horrified at the same time. This book is the written version of his research.

I am very, very interested in genealogy and have traced a branch of my family back to the 1400's. This book traces the ancestor's of 19 African Americans. Think about it, how far back do you think they were able to go? To slavery and dead ends. How very sad and terrible.

This is a fascinating book and I can't recommend it high
...more
Alexander Kwok
Nov 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Seemed to follow the same path as roots, except examined not only the lives of famous celebrities in brief, but also went farther than normal ancestral records to using DNA testing. Includes commentary from celebrities to mirror a such conversation concerning the results and their feelings.
Karen
Feb 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Great genealogy read. Interesting that all of African Americans in the book want to know where their black ancestors came from in Africa, but not necessarily their white ancestor. Also gave DNA rsults as to % of each ethnicity
5katya5
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was fascinating and just so interesting to see what those interviewed knew or had been told about their roots; and what they didn't know - then to see the biological and on the ground research revealed and shared with them. Loved this book.
Tracy Thomas
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting how all these African American people regained the strength to change their fate and ended up on top! Awesome story!
Ratforce
For an examination of the practical uses of DNA testing in genealogy, try these accounts of prominent African Americans using the technology to illuminate their lost family histories.
Heidi
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very interesting
Holly
Mar 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
So fascinating!
Debbie
Aug 08, 2014 marked it as to-read
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sabra
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
There were too many stories and I started to get very very bored with the redundancies. Also, the over reliance on DNA ancestry was just sad. My parents have thrown hundreds of dollars away on those tests. Read the bottom, “results are only near 50% accurate.” Take a guess at who gets to determine “accuracy”. The companies themselves. They are unregulated too. Also, they don’t share their data with one another. All provide various results just depending on which company I choose and take samples ...more
Will Plunkett
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I had never considered the vital significance of the 1870 US Census before (first time slaves were rightfully included as human beings on that every-decade tabulation). Each entry could be read independently, or in order of each person's birth as it was constructed. It's amazing what we as people learn when we didn't even know what it was we didn't know (this will always be the value of printed documents/books, over search-for-only-what-you-type-in online sources). Wonderful research, and well-w ...more
Karan
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
Subject matter is great, but Gates’ writing style is so bland and pedestrian - it’s like he’s trying to make these great stories as dull as possible. Four stars for substance, negative two stars for painfully plodding writing.
Melissa
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
a worthwhile read.
Deborah
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very much enjoyed the research and stories found in this book. As a long time amateur genealogy sleuth, I appreciated the attention to detail, as well as the warmth and depth of the personal stories that were uncovered. Also, a very eye opening look at the struggles that the African Americans as a whole have had to deal with over the last several hundred years of American history.
Wendyhodges
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a big fan of the present day Finding Your Roots series on PBS I was excited to get to listen to this book. It was full of interesting and heartbreaking stories as is often the case when Gates journeys down the genealogical paths of his African American guests. The genealogical dead-ends that the institution of slavery has caused for descendants of African slaves gives me a greater appreciation for having the privilege of being able to trace my family's roots as far back as some of my ancestor ...more
Debye
Nov 30, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genealogy
this is similar to the PBS "Faces" program Gates did this year and the "Who Do You Think You Are?" series. I find them both fascinating. There are also 2 DVDs that accompany this book. I look forward to reading and watching them all! Recommended for genealogy buffs.
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Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. He is well-known as a literary critic, an editor of literature, and a proponent of black literature and black cultural studies.