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Friday, June 12, 2015

The Root - Tracing Your Roots with Help From Henry Louis Gates & Co.

"Finding Your Roots" is the PBS series hosted and researched by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Compared to "Who Do You Think You Are,"  a similar show produced by Ancestry.com  investigating family histories of well-known people, Henry Louis Gate's approach has a less scripted,  more of a no-holds-barred delivery of ancestral news for the chosen celebrities who are on his show.  He has a perpetually earnest demeanor on the show as well,  and an obvious genuine interest in each and every story he reports - usually accompanied by his signature, somewhat mischievous half-smile.

Article by Gates, Moore and Siekman


I have recently discovered "The Root: History" which is an historical webpage authored by Gates and other research experts, offering good tips on investigating your own roots.  The format is a question/answer style approach with, in some articles,  Gates responding to real inquiries from real people who are not celebrities.

After years of tackling genealogical research projects, it is easy to fall into using the same set of research records, websites, sources, and tools.  We all do this because they are familiar to us.

I find Gates research suggestions to be fresh and outside-the-box.  He understands a doggedly inquisitive mind and how sometimes following the thinnest of clues or connections can offer good promise in solving ancestral mysteries.



A great example, is last week's posting authored by Gates and Zachary Garceau titled:  "How to Trace Your Ancestor Through a Name Change."

Gates answers letters written by real people, often African Americans, and often dealing with the confusing and fascinating and sometimes uncomfortable history of slavery in America.


For those who have explored these deep waters, you will know that slaves, even once freed, often retained the surnames of their owners.  The tangled records this produces is a serious challenge.

Another week, Gates offers tips on how to find that missing death certificate -a brick wall that can stymy the best of us.  He encounters wrongly-transcribed records, spelling problems, and the crooked trail to the death of a Miss Ola Mae Waters.

Here in MA, for example,  a frequent research result for death information that pops up in Ancestry.com is the MA state Death Index.  What does this tell you?   Well, it will confirm the town, and year of death for your ancestor, a volume and page number.  But it will tell you nothing about who was present, cause of death, family members, etc.

example of MA Death Index



 Gates suggests faster and more informative
trails for finding a missing death record.  Again, more thinking outside the box by suggesting not to take things at face value:  names can be misspelled on records, for example.


"The Root" is a good source for genealogical research tools, in general. It will not necessarily jump out at you in a random Google search, however.   I discovered the website via my connection to PBS through their Facebook page.  No matter how you get there, "The Root" History articles,  authored by Gates and  by other experts, will undoubtedly offer you some new ways of breaking through your ancestral brick walls.  It certainly did for me, and I count myself among the most dogged of investigators.

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