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4.3 out of 5 stars
Finding Your Roots
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This is the second season of the PBS "genealogy" series "executive produced" by actress Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.. I reviewed the first season here on Amazon when it was released. This second season is similar to the first (which was titled "Faces of America")- but with a different array of celebrities searching for their ancestry.

Like all reality TV shows, once one becomes a hit there are copycat shows. I'm not sure which came first (and it really doesn't matter) but there is a similar show that aired on NBC titled "Who Do You Think You Are?". I've been watching both second season DVDs and enjoying both. I thought I'd point out the differences in both of my reviews.

Since "Who Do You Think You Are?" (WDYTYA) is on a commercial network, it obviously had commercials. With those deleted for the DVD, each episode runs only 42 minutes. And, because the producers want you to remember what happened before each commercial break (short-term memory loss? <g>), they rehash what came earlier after each of the six commercial breaks. As you will see by other reviews of both seasons, this is the biggest gripe both others and myself have with this series. The PBS series have no commercials so each episode is 58 minutes long with no breaks.

While the NBC show used it's funder, the commercial website Ancestry.com, to start the research and the celebrity not only does the research - with some guidance - but travels the country, and the globe, to visit the sites where their ancestors lived, Gates uses outside researchers to do the leg work and compiles the results into an "album: which he reviews with the celebrity subject. And Gates uses DNA, as well as documentary files and census records to search the heredity trail.

The NBC series focuses on one individual for each episode. Gates takes a different tactic and groups two or three celebrities in each episode. I actually like that idea best. My favorite episode the one where two young New Orleans musicians (Branford Maraslis and Harry Connick Jr - who grew up as friends together in the multi-ethnic neighborhoods of NOLa) discover how their "roots" crossed. The other was the episode on husband-wife actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick. Having known Bacon's family in Philadelphia where he was raised, I found this one of particular interest. You, of course, will find your own.

Other reviewers have listed the celebrities covered in this season and so there is no reason to repeat those here.

Because these are exactly as shown on PBS, you will be subject to the "supporter commercials" at the beginning and the end of each episode, but that's a minor inconvenience.

Both series are interesting and take different approaches. And, while the concept of researching your family history may be sparked by watching theses series, a lot has to do with the "celebrity-ness" of the stories.

I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 23, 2012
Ostensibly a continuation to his 2010 series Faces of America Dr. Gates continues to serve up genealogies on fairly well known individuals whose family histories more often then not are fascinating and captivating. It's all quite enjoyable and makes for great storytelling, but as a genealogist myself I can't help but wish Dr. Gates would show the actual effort that goes on behind the scenes to create these family histories. I'm certain he must have quite a retinue of researchers working diligently to find all of this information as surely a tremendous amount of effort must go into gathering all of this information. I likewise can't help but wonder what if he has an individual whose family history is rather dull and unexciting? Are they cut? Does he just go with different family branches until he finds something dishy? These are never really answered and I really wish he would do a behind the scenes episode to show how hard genealogists have to work to find this sort of information. That's minor quibbling however as the family histories Dr. Gates selected genuinely help tell the story of not only that individual but of our nation's collective history, researching a broad array of people representative of who we are as Americans. The result is endlessly fascinating.

Certain stories certainly pop more than others and I was particularly taken by the story of Angela Warnick Buchdahl on episode 5. Even though I'm neither Korean nor Jewish I found her own story absolutely fascinating not to mention her truly unique heritage and she's a person I'm truly interested in learning more about. As a southerner I was also intrigued by episode 7 with Samuel Jackson, Condoleeza Rice and Ruth Simmons, and again it was so interesting to hear how the Civil Rights era had impacted them and spurred them to reach to heights unimagined by their parents and grandparents. The use of DNA to trace their ancestry was also quite fascinating as it gave glimpses of where in Africa their ancestors came from. Granted this is used in every episode and the use of DNA not only answers some questions but raises other questions that simply cannot be answered; something I delight in seeing as it points out what genealogists frequently run into. Episode 8 was particularly stunning as I was amazed at the depth of record keeping in both India and Korea as records went back hundreds and hundreds of years. I was also struck by how haphazardly records are stored and am praying that they have been digitized although I have my doubts. My personal favorite was episode 9 with comedienne Wanda Sykes as she is not only so funny, but her family's history is simply astonishing. I don't want to spoil it for those interested in watching, but suffice to say your jaw will drop when you hear certain aspects of her family's history as it truly tells things about our country's history that you simply will NOT learn from textbooks.

There certainly will be some who do not like Dr. Gates or who will critique seemingly everything he does. I found the multiculturalism throughout the series to be refreshing and certainly many people in the series found some surprising results during the DNA section that they didn't expect, pointing out how we truly are a melting pot of peoples. The DNA testing adds a fascinating new aspect to traditional genealogical research that should be utilized as a tool by researchers. Granted it cannot answer some questions and may raise new ones that similarly cannot be answered. In the whole "Finding Your Roots" is fascinating television even for those not interested in genealogy and family history. Like another series Sarah Jessica Parker it does have a tendency to focus on famous people over average people so as to draw in viewers. Unfortunately some of those viewers may be lulled into thinking genealogical research is easy and when confronted with the reality of it will drop it like a bad habit. That would be a shame and in that respect I think shows of this nature can do the genealogical community a disservice even as it brings in new interest.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2012
I love this series on TV and wanted a copy for home. I have learned a lot about finding my own roots through seeing other people's journey's. And it was wonderful hearing other's stories both the joys and sorrows and the meaning each one found through researching their roots.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2013
Fascinating and even-handed look at the American story through tracing the ancestry of a variety of celebrities. Entertaining and instructive.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2013
this is a good movie for family viewing good history lesson very informative wanting more and more will watch again
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2013
i really enjoyed this dvd it was so interesting,and to go as far back as some have done its amazing
catherine fletcher
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2014
Not nearly as good as the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are" (or something like that). Doesn't go too far back or present the history in an interesting way - but PBS doesn't have the big budget the major cable networks do! I would save your money and watch it on PBS TV or On Demand with your cable provider.
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This video series is enjoyable viewing for anyone into family research. It is particularly valuable for those doing research on black ancestors. Like the other genealogy video series, it is quite superficial and neglects certain trails of evidence (i.e., too "Hollywoood" and not enough rigorous science). It does, however, show the use of DNA studies (done through 23andme) in the research of family history. Too bad it doesn't also use autosomal DNA results.
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on December 4, 2013
am using it as a research document for an upcoming Jourrnal paper and the data is oral withithout substantiation in some cases
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on September 29, 2014
I Guess I Thought I Was Buying A Movie, So I didn't get much out of it other then they did like a family tree of a few known people and were able to find what some of their ancestors did. I'm sure it would be of interest to people trying to find their ancestors to get a flavor of what is involved to do so in putting together their family tree.
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