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Sequencing the Gates genome

Q. You and your father, Henry Louis Gates, Sr., had your genomes sequenced for FACES OF AMERICA … what was that like?

skipanddadGates: We always knew we were going to do genome sequencing for two people, because that’s what we had the budget for — the science is incredibly expensive. So I jumped at the chance to participate, and I was very interested in finding out the genetic differences between my father and I. We made history in the process. My father and I are not only the first African Americans, but also the first father and son to have their genomes sequenced. In addition, at age 96, my father is the oldest person to have the procedure done. He also made the results public, so scientists will be studying his genetic makeup for generations to come.

Right now, the science of genome sequencing is in its infancy. Imagine being in the Library of Congress, but only having the reading level of “See Dick, See Jane.” When it comes to genome sequencing, we’re at that level of analysis right now, but we’re learning more every day. For me, it was very emotional to see the presence of my mother’s genome in my own map; she died in 1987, so it was like having a piece of her with me again.

  • Jonelle Blair Shadowens

    I cannot watch the African America genealogy series or the first episode of “Faces of America” without crying. I’ve worked on my genealogy for many years and just recently had my brother’s paternal line DNA processed through It feels more strongly for me all the time how interconnected we all are: You are me and I am you; it’s as simple as that. How can we hate or even just dismiss anyone based on that awareness?
    In watching others discover their genealogical history presented to them through Dr. Gates’ programs, I see the world made larger for those participating. And just as importantly in the details, that Kristi Yamaguchi’s grandfather was not just a hero to her but that a newspaper article documents it; that Tom Joyner’s, “I believe in love,” remark begins his acceptance of the person who was responsible for his gray eyes; and Oprah Winfrey’s being confirmed as not having any European ancestry at all and her nearly-palpable pride in that. What a wonderful moment!
    Thank you to Dr. Gates and PBS for getting these wonderful programs before us. I’d love to believe that
    Alex Haley is smiling about it!

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