When Finding Your Roots helped 3 non-celebrities overcome brick walls

When Finding Your Roots helped 3 non-celebrities overcome brick walls

Viewers of Finding Your Roots have long wished for a chance to have host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. research their own genealogy brick walls. Well, Gates and PBS listened, and in April broadcast a very special episode that focused on audience members instead of celebrities.

When Finding Your Roots put out the call for submissions, 9,000 people responded. Three were chosen: Terry Morrow, Megan Robertson, and Joyce Willis.

Like many celebrity guests, the genealogical mysteries in this episode relate to NPEs - Non Paternity Events, also known as “Not Parent Expected” situations:

Non-paternity event is a term used in genetic genealogy to describe any event which has caused a break in the link between an hereditary surname and the Y-chromosome resulting in a son using a different surname from that of his biological father. The definition excludes minor changes in the spelling of the surname, and is implicitly limited to events after the relevant branch of the surname became hereditary.

For all three guests, the NPEs relate to uncertainty about a great-grandfather’s parents or origins.

Terry’s great-grandfather was handed off to another family when he was just 5, and until his death at age 105, he always wondered why his mother left him.

Finding Your Roots non-celebrity guest

Megan’s great-grandfather was put up for adoption as a youth, and the family wanted to know the identity of his parents.

For Joyce’s grandmother, and offhand comment by her father left her wondering if he was her biological dad.

Finding Your Roots birth index

You can see what the researchers uncovered in the paper and DNA trails on the official PBS website, or check the TV listings this week (individual programs are often shown more than once, and rerun years later).

And remember, despite Finding Your Root’s big research budget, many of the techniques used on the show are available to practically anyone.

Back to blog