Wanda Sykes' Startling Roots

Henry Louis Gates Jr. tracked down the revealing story of her paternal ninth great-grandmother.

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Wanda Sykes' family history was professionally researched for a segment of Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr., a new series that will debut Sunday on PBS. While Gates, The Root's editor-in-chief and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, has interesting genealogical tidbits to share with all of his subjects, Sykes' report was especially revealing, according to the New York Times.

"The bottom line is that Wanda Sykes has the longest continuously documented family tree of any African American we have ever researched," Gates said. He traced her roots to her paternal ninth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Banks, a free white woman, who was punished with "thirty-nine lashes, well laid" for "fornication & Bastardy with a negroe slave," according to a stark June 20, 1683, court document from York County, Va.

He was referring to the dozens of genealogies his researchers have unearthed for his television roots franchise, which began in 2006 with the PBS series African-American Lives and includes three other genealogy-inspired shows.

Other subjects who will be featured this season on Finding Your Roots are Barbara Walters (who learns her original family surname), Harry Connick Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Margaret Cho, Kevin Bacon, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, Branford Marsalis, Robert Downey Jr. and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The episode with Sykes will air in May.

The Root will have clips and coverage on the series. Check out The Root's Guide to Genealogy and more about tracing your own ancestry here.

Read more at the New York Times.

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