The BEST Episodes of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!

Last Updated: Sep 13, 2020

Network: PBS

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the 12th and latest series from the renowned cultural critic and Harvard scholar. In this 10-part series, Professor Gates continues the quest he begun in African American Lives 1 and 2 and Faces of America delving into the genealogy and genetics of an all new group of famous Americans. The series combines history and science in a fascinating exploration of race, family, and identity in today's America. Each hour features a different pair of celebrity guests, who are bound together by an intimate, sometimes hidden link, whether it be as old friends, through long-lost relatives, or even through a common ancestral past.

The Melting Pot

#1 - The Melting Pot

Season 2 - Episode 5 - Aired Oct 21, 2014

Chef Tom Colicchio learns the hardships his family endured in Northern Italy; chef Ming Tsai traces his roots back 2,000 years; chef Aarón Sánchez learns his Mexican roots include Spaniards, Africans and Native Americans.

star 8.57
21 votes
Family Reunions

#2 - Family Reunions

Season 3 - Episode 7 - Aired Feb 16, 2016

Uncover family mysteries about two legends of hip hop, Sean Combs and LL Cool J, through the use of DNA technology that reveals information that shakes their very foundations.

star 8.50
30 votes
Barbara Walters - Geoffrey Canada

#3 - Barbara Walters - Geoffrey Canada

Season 1 - Episode 3 - Aired Apr 1, 2012

What's in a name? Well, a lot, at least when it comes to piecing together your family history. For former slaves, choosing a last name was one of their first acts of freedom. For Jewish immigrants, it was a way to fit in their new country. Whatever the reason for a name change, it can make the process of learning about one's ancestors difficult, if not impossible. In this episode, we unearth missing links in the family histories of media legend Barbara Walters and educational superstar Geoffrey Canada. Walters did not know her father's real last name. Canada did not know the name of his grandfather. Both of them had been unable to access their history... until now.

star 8.48
21 votes
Maps of Stars

#4 - Maps of Stars

Season 3 - Episode 10 - Aired Mar 8, 2016

Learn how Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, who last shared the screen together in 1969, also share a history of tragic deaths in their families that played major roles in shaping future generations.

star 8.47
34 votes
The Stories We Tell

#5 - The Stories We Tell

Season 3 - Episode 1 - Aired Jan 5, 2016

The Season 3 premiere features Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, actor Ty Burrell and artist Kara Walker, who learn how the legacy of slavery has helped shape them.

star 8.47
30 votes
Hollywood Royalty

#6 - Hollywood Royalty

Season 6 - Episode 1 - Aired Oct 8, 2019

Guests: Isabella Rossellini, Anjelica Huston, Mia Farrow. Three actors born into Hollywood royalty discover branches of their family trees that have been hidden from the public eye--and meet a cast of characters every bit as dramatic as the people they themselves have played on camera.

star 8.43
7 votes
Mayor Cory Booker - Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

#7 - Mayor Cory Booker - Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

Season 1 - Episode 2 - Aired Mar 25, 2012

In this episode, we feature two African American politicians from different generations and opposite backgrounds. John Lewis grew up in a sharecropping family in rural Georgia, while Cory Booker was raised in an affluent, all-white New Jersey suburb. Although both men have devoted their lives to the betterment of African-American people, neither of them knows much about their own ancestors. In this episode, we introduce Booker to his white great-grandfather, a man he never knew, and move Lewis to tears over the extraordinary ambitions and accomplishments of his slave ancestors..

star 8.42
24 votes
Freedom Tales

#8 - Freedom Tales

Season 5 - Episode 5 - Aired Feb 5, 2019

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. delves deep into the roots of two African-American guests, actor S. Epatha Merkerson and athlete and television personality Michael Strahan. Both discover unexpected stories that challenge assumptions about black history.

star 8.38
16 votes
Our American Storytellers

#9 - Our American Storytellers

Season 2 - Episode 3 - Aired Oct 7, 2014

Ken Burns learns that his Southern ancestors include Confederate soldiers and a slave owner; Anderson Cooper learns that an ancestor on his father's side was killed by one of his slaves; and Anna Deavere Smith learns about her great-grandfather, who was a free black man and former conductor on the Underground Railroad.

star 8.36
25 votes
Grandparents and Other Strangers

#10 - Grandparents and Other Strangers

Season 5 - Episode 1 - Aired Jan 8, 2019

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps actor/comedian Andy Samberg and author George R. R. Martin answer some family mysteries.

star 8.36
14 votes
Decoding Our Past Through DNA

#11 - Decoding Our Past Through DNA

Season 2 - Episode 10 - Aired Nov 25, 2014

In the Season 2 finale, DNA analysis uncovers previously unknown roots in the family trees of Jessica Alba and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. Alba, for instance, learns that she's descended from the official cartographer of France's King Louis XIV; and Patrick discovers his ancestors include a black homesteader in Colorado. DNA analysis is also used to delve deeper into the family histories of Anderson Cooper, Valerie Jarrett and host Henry Louis Gates Jr. himself.

star 8.33
3 votes
Immigrant Nation

#12 - Immigrant Nation

Season 4 - Episode 5 - Aired Oct 31, 2017

In this episode, three guests explore the tremendous challenges faced by their immigrant forebears. On her mother’s family tree, Scarlett Johansson ponders “what if” as she learns that while her Jewish great-grandfather became a grocer in NYC, his brother in Poland was lost to the Warsaw ghetto, along with his family. Turning to her father’s Danish roots, Johansson — a newly-minted Danish citizen herself — learns that her paternal great-grandfather was in fact a Swedish immigrant who came to Denmark as a manual laborer, leaving behind roots in Sweden that go back to 15th century nobility. Paul Rudd follows his roots from Eastern Europe and Russia to England, where his grandfather changed his name from “Rudnitsky”and signed up to fight in World War II; along the way, Rudd learns that anti-Semitic movements in England became motivators for both sides of the family to leave for America. John Turturro sees the details of his mother’s early years in an orphanage as her Italian immigrant father struggled to make ends meet in Brooklyn, only to encounter massive prejudice in the wake of an inter-racial marriage. Turturro also learns about the harsh experiences of his father and grandparents —in both America and Italy — and reflects on what he gained from their sacrifices. In the end, each guest gains a greater understanding of how their immigrant ancestors laid the groundwork for their success.

star 8.32
31 votes
Black Like Me

#13 - Black Like Me

Season 4 - Episode 6 - Aired Nov 7, 2017

Bryant Gumbel, Tonya Lewis-Lee and Suzanne Malveaux, three African-American guests delve deep into their family trees, discovering unexpected stories that challenge our assumptions about black history.

star 8.29
24 votes
Tragedy + Time = Comedy

#14 - Tragedy + Time = Comedy

Season 3 - Episode 4 - Aired Jan 26, 2016

Uncover a history of tragedies and triumphs in the families of three of America's funniest men--Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and Bill Hader-as they learn how comedy truly has its place in all aspects of life.

star 8.27
26 votes
The British Invasion

#15 - The British Invasion

Season 2 - Episode 8 - Aired Nov 11, 2014

Deepak Chopra, Sting and Sally Field explore the British influence in their family histories.

star 8.26
23 votes
Angela Buchdahl - Rick Warren - Yasir Qadhi

#16 - Angela Buchdahl - Rick Warren - Yasir Qadhi

Season 1 - Episode 5 - Aired Apr 15, 2012

Pastor Rick Warren, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl and Sheik Yasir Qadhi are of three different faiths, all with complex family histories that profoundly shaped their religious beliefs. Our research of their roots unearthed a story about the spiritual foundations of this country, an unrelenting struggle to achieve our ideal of religious freedom and tolerance, but also the difficulties sometimes of holding onto one's faith and still feeling like an "authentic" American.

star 8.25
12 votes
Born Champions

#17 - Born Champions

Season 2 - Episode 2 - Aired Sep 30, 2014

Billie Jean King, Derek Jeter and Rebecca Lobo learn about their family histories. King discovers that her grandmother was an orphan; Derek Jeter investigates his ancestors' lives as slaves; and Lobo finds out that an ancestor was forced to flee Spain because of his democratic ideals.

star 8.25
20 votes
We Come From People

#18 - We Come From People

Season 2 - Episode 6 - Aired Oct 28, 2014

Nas learns about his slave ancestors; Angela Bassett discovers that her family history includes an emancipation story; and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, learns about the free people of color in her family's past

star 8.25
20 votes
Mystery Men

#19 - Mystery Men

Season 5 - Episode 2 - Aired Jan 15, 2019

Felicity Huffman and Michael K. Williams discover a wealth of hidden family history. Both grew up knowing little about their biological fathers, and seeing their lost ancestry restored proves deeply empowering.

star 8.25
12 votes
Our People, Our Traditions

#20 - Our People, Our Traditions

Season 2 - Episode 7 - Aired Nov 4, 2014

Tony Kushner learns how the Holocaust impacted his ancestors; Carole King delves into the origins of her family name; and Alan Dershowitz discovers that an Hassidic synagogue started by his great-grandfather played a secret role in World War II.

star 8.23
13 votes
Relatives We Never Knew We Had

#21 - Relatives We Never Knew We Had

Season 4 - Episode 8 - Aired Nov 21, 2017

Téa Leoni and Gaby Hoffman, two guests whose lives have been shaped by family mysteries are introduced to biological ancestors they never knew they had thanks to genetic detective work.

star 8.22
23 votes
The Impression

#22 - The Impression

Season 4 - Episode 1 - Aired Oct 3, 2017

Two guests linked by one hilarious impersonation trace their roots from 1940s Brooklyn back to Jewish communities in Europe. Larry David discovers his German heritage by way of ancestors who settled in Mobile, Alabama in the mid-19th century — including one who became a slaveholding Confederate; Bernie Sanders gains greater understanding of his father’s dangerous childhood in Austrian Galicia during World War I. Both guests discover what happened to the family members who were still in Europe during the Holocaust — Larry David’s grandfather lost nine siblings; Bernie Sanders’ uncle, a member of the Limanowa Judenrat, heroically went head to head with a Nazi officer. Through DNA testing, our guests learn that there is more to their uncanny likeness than they ever suspected.

star 8.18
44 votes
Puritans and Pioneers

#23 - Puritans and Pioneers

Season 4 - Episode 3 - Aired Oct 17, 2017

Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and William H. Macy, three mainstays of modern-day Hollywood discover family legacies that predate the United States itself.

star 8.18
34 votes
Dreaming of a New Land

#24 - Dreaming of a New Land

Season 5 - Episode 4 - Aired Jan 29, 2019

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores with Marisa Tomei, Sheryl Sandberg and Kal Penn the tremendous challenges faced by their immigrant forebears. From Italy, Russia and India to America, their histories show success could take generations to achieve.

star 8.15
13 votes
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Robert Downey, Jr.

#25 - Maggie Gyllenhaal - Robert Downey, Jr.

Season 1 - Episode 6 - Aired Apr 22, 2012

Many American descend from a dense soups of European ethnicities; we could call them mutts, with ancestral roots across every country in Europe. Actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal are textbook examples of Americans with a rich tapestry of European immigrant stories making up their family trees. We delve in to their deep American roots in early colonial communities, and we meet their Eastern European Jewish ancestors, who share almost identical migration stories From the Mayflower to Ellis Island, we journey through centuries of immigration that shaped and built our melting pot nation.

star 8.14
28 votes