Wednesday evening (2/10) PBS presented “Faces of America”. The show was hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; he has hosted and written several PBS specials. Gates is an American literary critic, educator, scholar, writer and editor. “Faces of America” will feature the ancestry of 12 celebrities and and includes: Elizabeth Alexander (poet), Mario Batali (chef), Stephen Colbert (comedian), Louise Erdrich (novelist), Malcolm Gladwell (journalist), Eva Longoria (actress), Yo-Yo-Ma (musician), Mike Nichols (director), Dr. Mehmet Oz (tv host and heart surgeon), Meryl Streep (actress), Queen Noor, and Kristi Yamaguchi (figure skater).
The program appears to be organized as most genealogists do when putting together a family tree. The first episode included two generations, their parents and grandparents, covering a time period to the early 1900's. The show included the world history during those years and the role that their ancestors played and how it may have affected their lives. I think for some, like Kristi Yamaguchi, learning of her grandfathers accomplishments as a soldier during WWII, became very emotional as she suddenly realized the sacrifices that were made by him and her family who were placed in holding camps in the United States.
The story of Ludwig, Louise Erdrich's grandfather, was especially touching to me. Ludwig a German, fought for the German army during WWI and before WWII had emigrated to the United States. He then fought against his birth country during WWII. It most certainly was difficult knowing he could be in combat with his own family. I believe there are many similar stories across the U.S. I know in my own family that is was extremely difficult for my grandfather when his son was sent to Germany to fight during WWII.
I think most Americans are enamored with celebrities and may have tuned into the program out of curiosity. Overall I enjoyed the PBS presentation of “The Faces of America”. From a researchers standpoint though, I would have liked to have seen the celebrities participating in the research which would help to demonstrate the process of obtaining these records. Hopefully the program will inspire others to search out their own family history.
This program runs from February 10th through March 3rd on Wednesday evenings. You can also watch the episodes on the PBS website for those that missed last nights premier.
PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/facesofamerica/