Do you ever think about your ancestors?
We all think about our parents’ lives and our grand parents’ lives once in a while, but what about the people in our family who came before our immediate grand parents? What about the people who came even before them?
If you are the kind of humans who believe in evolution – if you are not you should get yourself checked by a doctor – then you should be fascinated by the physical and behavioral influences we get in the form of our genes. These genes are directly passed on to us by parents and to them, their parents. So if we are the culmination of all the combined genetic material right from our parents to the very first genetic ancestral human pair, then it is fair to say, that our ancestors, through genes, have a significant influence on our lives.
Or do they?
Just finished watching the PBS documentary series ‘Faces Of America’ produced by Henry Louis Gates Jr. If his name sounds familiar it is because he was in the news a while back for the political theater called ‘Beer Summit’. Google it.
This documentary is a unique look into the history of immigrants in America and Genealogy with respect to connecting people. It has two segments woven together. One, Dr.Gates discusses the family history of 12 prominent Americans of diverse background. Using available public and historical records he traces the ancestors of each of the 12 subjects to find out when and how they became Americans. And he does that with with startling accuracy. The subjects include celebrities like Stephen Colbert, renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma, Queen Noor of Jordan and others. The second segment of the documentary picks up where the paper trail ends. Using latest scientific methodologies Dr. Gates tries to find how connected these subjects are to each other.
If you have even the slightest interest in history and behavioral evolution, this program is a must watch.
With grainy black and white photos and centuries old articles published in New York Times, Dr.Gates takes us in a fascinating journey through time. All of the subjects interviewed in the series consider themselves to be true Americans and yet, their history is completely filled with people from Europe, China, Jamaica and France among others who came to America in search of a better life. Some came under extreme duress, like escaping oppression and famine while other came long before America even became America.
The genealogy analysis was even more astonishing. Using DNA analysis of each of the subjects, their genetic heritage was calculated. Turns out Actress Eva Longoria, who is of Mexican descent, is a distant cousin of Yo Yo Ma, who is under DNA analysis 100% Asian. Even more incredible – Stephen Colbert ( says he is 100% white) is long distance cousin of poet Elizabeth Alexander who is African .
Seems like our genes tell a different story about us than what we think is our history.
Being an immigrant myself, it was incredible to learn and understand what immigration meant in the olden days. Almost all of them started as a worker, often in harsh conditions. They worked in mines, fought wars, toiled as slave farmers and even joined the Native Americans. All of this just to earn a living and make something out of themselves. And their direct descendants today are celebrities, sport stars, artists and even royalty.
That says a lot about the way the time shapes our lives and our legacy.
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