African American Lives
Analyzing the Evidence
The Science and the Investigators
Who am I? A Genealogy Guide
Sharing Stories
For Educators
About the Series

About the Series
Intro Episode Descriptions About the Filmmakers Broadcast Dates Credits
Episode 1: Listening to our Past
Air date: February 1, 2006 at 9 pm (ET) check local listings

Image of a collection of family photographs
In the first episode, Gates begins to piece together the family histories of four of the participants. The episode explores the post-World War I "Great Migration" of African-American families from the South to northern cities like Detroit and Chicago, as well as the experiences of those who stayed in the South during the period of Jim Crow segregation. Gates also begins to examine his own family’s past, recounting the discovery of a box of photographs and heirlooms that sparked an obsession with his ancestry.

Episode 2: The Promise of Freedom
Air date: February 1, 2006 at 10 pm (ET) check local listings

Episode two travels back to the end of the Civil War to look at how African Americans defined their freedom after slavery. Gates reviews courthouse records of land acquisitions, documents from the Freedmen's Bureau and the 1870 census -- the first in which African Americans were counted as citizens, not property -- to trace his guests' lineages through Reconstruction. Gates' personal story continues as he seeks to confirm a family legend -- that a white slaveholder is one of his 19th-century ancestors.
Detail of a Reconstruction-era political cartoon of an African-American man voting

Episode 3: Searching for Our Names
Air date: February 8, 2006 at 9 pm (ET) check local listings

Cover of a collection of 19th century court records
Professor Gates' research becomes even more difficult as he continues back through the Colonial period of American history. War service records and ways of recording property during slavery's apogee -- such as inventories and sales or gifts of slaves -- help fill in the participants' family trees. In West Virginia, Gates learns from a court transcript about the legal struggle of his ancestor Isaac Clifford, a free man who was kidnapped and accused of being a runaway slave.

Episode 4: Beyond the Middle Passage
Air date: February 8, 2006 at 10 pm (ET) check local listings

When the paper trail runs out, Dr. Gates visits scientists who are using DNA analysis to trace ancestral roots. With DNA results and genealogical research in hand, Gates meets with leading historians of the slave trade, and along the way, he learns more about his own ancestry. Finally, Professor Gates and one guest journey to Africa, where they visit the port from which the participant's patrilineal ancestor was most likely shipped into slavery, and meet local tribal elders, who may be the participant's long-lost cousins.
Photograph of an Angolan woman

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