Henry Louis Gates Jr. on His Love for Genealogy

At a screening, series host Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains how he became obsessed tracing DNA.

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The Root was on location at a screening of an episode of the new PBS series Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Before the screening, Gates told us the story of how he was bitten by the genealogy bug as a 9-year-old boy after the 1960 funeral of his grandfather Edward St. Lawrence Gates. He said he was struck by how pale his light-skinned granddad appeared in the casket, and it made him curious to know more about how he got that way.

"The next day I got a composition book, and I interviewed my parents in front of the TV about their family tree," Gates said. "That night Daddy showed me a picture of our oldest ancestor, Jane Gates, who was a slave born in 1819, and she died in 1888. I have been addicted to genealogy ever since." Years later while researching his first genealogy series, African American Lives, Gates was able to confirm through DNA analysis that his grandfather's heritage included Irish ancestry.

Among the black celebrities featured in the serues are actress Wanda Sykes, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, civil rights legend and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, singer John Legend and actor Samuel L. Jackson.

Martha Stewart, Robert Downey Jr., Harry Connick Jr., Barbara Walters and Kevin Bacon are among the other luminaries profiled in the series

Hear more of what Gates had to say about his passion for genealogy in the video clip below.

Finding Your Roots airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on PBS, starting March 25. Check local listings to find it in your area.

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