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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding Your Roots! Episode #3 Gifted Storytellers Connecting With the Past

Finding Your Roots!

Episode 3

Someone once said that a storyteller tries to capture and share their most important stories.

Photo from Finding Your Roots website

Anderson Cooper
CNN Investigative Journalist

Anderson Cooper comes from the famous wealthy Vanderbilt family and I had a hard time believing that he did not know anything about his family history. But it wasn't the Vanderbilt side (the side that Anderson said came with baggage) that he was curious about; it was the Cooper side.  The Coopers were his paternal side who were from Mississippi and were poor. These ancestors fought for the confederacy and a few of them owned slaves. In fact, one of Anderson's relative was beaten to death with a garden hoe by his slave.  Unfortunately, all we were told on this segment was that the slave was hanged without a trial.

Professor Gates asked Cooper if he could meet an ancestor who would it be? Anderson wanted to meet his Dad again and find out what he thought of him now.  In the beginning of my research, I would ask myself that very same question and from time to time the answer would change.  Lately, I have one relative that I would like to meet; my maternal great-grandfather, John P. Pate. John P. Pate has always been an enigma because he died when my grandmother was around 3 years old and we have lots of "tales" about him but I have yet to confirm some of these "tales."

Anna Deavere Smith
Playwright, Actress

This segment concentrated on the Maryland native's ancestor Basil Biggs who Anna did not know about.  Biggs was a free Black man who was prosperous before the Civil War and became the wealthiest Black man in Gettysburg, PA.  His wealth came from his veterinarian business and probably his contract work with disinterring the bodies after the Gettysburg battle. Biggs received a contract to disinter the dead bodies from their temporary graves and rebury them. This took Biggs and his crew which was less than 10 men about 5-8 months to complete.  In addition, Biggs home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.  How Anna did not know about this great man; I don't know.  But I loved it when Smith was told she came from a long line of free Blacks. Ann's response was "Boy, I have no excuse not to make something of myself!  Even if Anna did not descended from a long line of free Blacks, with Basil Biggs as an ancestor, she certainly had no excuse not to be successful.

Sadly a lot of African Americans do not know anything about their ancestor and how their ancestors helped build this country.  If I found a successful ancestor in my tree, I would certainly spread the word among his or her descendants and later contact the local historical society where my ancestor lived because every community needs to know about its "unsung" heros and sheros.

Ken Burns
Documentary Filmmaker

Ken Burns and Anderson Cooper both lost family members at an early age. Ken lost his mom and Anderson lost his father and only brother.  Burns said that someone once told him that he missed his mom and probably want her back because in his work, he wakes up the dead.  Burns agreed that he wanted to do well; "really well" to make his mom proud. I agree that we all want to do well to make our ancestors proud so if they ever wake up they would have to say "well done."

Burns research led him to ancestors on both sides of the American Revolution and a slave owning ancestor.  Through DNA, Burns discovered that he was related to Scottish poet Robert Burns and his hero Abraham Lincoln. It certainly would put me on "Cloud 9" if I was related to my American Idol or favorite entertainer, Prince.

To my disappointment, Mr. Burns was more ashamed of having a Loyalist ancestor who was loyal to England and the King instead of an ancestor who owned slaves.  But in fairness, at least he was honest.  There are a few things that would make me ashamed of my ancestors but I would try to rationalize what my ancestor was facing for him or her to make a choice that perhaps was a necessity.

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