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Episode 3: Making America

Making America tells the story of the peopling of the New World, of how land came to define the settling and identity of America, and of how the guests’ ancestors were part of this history. We discover descriptions of Meryl Streep’s eighth great-grandfather who fought in Metacom’s War; records of a land dispute in Spain that pushed Eva Longoria’s ancestors to leave for the New World; a treaty that Louise Erdrich’s Native American ancestor was forced to sign; and Yo-Yo Ma’s family genealogy in China, which gives insights into his identity he has longed for his whole life.

  • Bill Snyder

    I’m a genealogy freak (and, to be honest, an employee of an NPR/PBS joint-licensee) and this has been a wonderful series.

    My family ancestry is very much like Meryl Streep’s. In fact, with those Philadelphia Quakers, I’d be surprised if she and I were NOT related. Stephen Colbert too, what with those Alsacian Lutherans.

    Oddly, it’s the stories of Eva Longoria, Yo-Yo Ma and Queen Noor that I feel most compelling.

    I’m curious as to whether non-researchers find this as compelling.

  • trbeall

    I do also. There is a lot of common knowledge about the European Christian immigrants. Just look at an American History Social Studies text book. Mexican, Asian, and Middle-east cultures have not been fairly acknowledge. That is until now. I am showing this series to all of my Social Studies classes.

    I am curious about Yo-Yo’s sister.

  • Joseph

    A thought to consider regarding this wonderful series.
    If anyone stops to figure out the amount of people involved with each preceding generation in order to bring just one of us into this world, one can not escape the fact that this number will double with every generation.
    For instance in the 9th generation we have a total of 2,048 ancestors around 1620, which is a relative recent time period and a manageable number of people.
    However, this number explodes in a geometrical progression as we go back in time to such outstounding proportions that it boogles the mind, in the 30th generation ca 980 AD we all have 4,294,967,296 ancestors who are needed to beget any one of us and each of our siblings, and just eight generations back in time the number is increased to an unbeliavable 1,099,511,627,776 ca. 700, in a brief span of 180 years just over a billion ancestors running around the early Middle Ages. You will probably wander, how can this possibly be when there have never been that many people living back then on the face of the earth?.
    The answer is simple, we descend from one particular individual hundreds if not a thousand times, it is just that it may not be able to be documented because the paper trail has been lost, but we still have a pedigree collapse as one goes back further in time with an ever decreasing genetic pool. It is due to this endogamy that is carried within each of us, that makes it very easy to realize that in the end we are all related to each other to a lesser or greater degree. We will all eventually will be lucky enough to trace our roots to some great historical personages, but it will be the unknown masses of untraceable ancestors that will provide the greatest number or kinships to others and to ourselves.
    We are descended from fewer people many times over, and this is why we are all related because we all descend from a very small number of actual ancestors. A very interesting subject to ponder and peruse.

  • Ed Mashmann

    Hello -

    I did David Letterman’s genealogy a while ago. David descends from the same Hans Diebold Lederman from Matstall, Alsace as Stephen Colbert descends from. That makes them distant cousins.


  • Bill

    Noah,Adam,Eve it’s in the book already.

  • Amy

    @Bill-that’s one theory and we’re all entitled to our beliefs!

    My story is similar to Streep’s-they came over from England in the mid 1600’s. I am related to Andrew Baldwin, who fought in the Revolutionary War as a chaplain, became a state senator, and was chosen to be a delegate at the 1787 continental congress, which he signed. He was also one of the creators of the public college system in this country, helping to charter Georgia State colleges. Today he has buildings and towns in Georgian named after him.

  • Amy

    OOPS I mean Abraham Baldwin…can’t believe I made that mistake…it is late after all!

  • Rawn

    What an intriguing and incredible series! Aside from the detail uncovered in each of these lines, the history that unfolds through the stories of these families is fabulously beyond expectation. I’ve been trying to research my own family as someone simply interested and wanting to learn of connections (and I have some wonderful findings dating back to the 1700s). I’m in process of DNA testing/matching to hopefully answer questions. If only the same detail could be uncovered about my own family but, alas… it take a lot of resources, time and money at the head of the list, and hopefully a still existing paper trail. Please continue this serious with another group once this is finished. I’m an addicted fan!

  • Dan

    This is an amazing series. I can’t imagine the work that went into it’s development. It’s programs like this that make me appreciate once again the genre of Television.

  • carolyn

    I love Stephen Colbert’s story about his name pronunciation. My paternal line is also from Alsace: Lutherans from Preusdorf in Bas Rhin I think, though haven’t been able to connect the dots, yet.

    Dad always told us the name,”Kieber” would be said one way in Germany and another in France. Wondering if the comic line is genetic from that region? My 5 brothers can be very funny as well as my father, the quipster, and his father also was known for his sense of humor. He was photographed dressed up in women’s clothing for a skit at a family reunion.

    This series is fascinating. Thank you PBS. And as for Mr. Gates, rock on!

  • Catharine

    Sorry Meryl,
    You can’t get into the DAR unless you can produce a Revolutionary War Soldier in you tree, but you can join the Colonial Dames and/or the Colonial Dames of the 17th Century. ;)

  • JyV

    this point is interesting but if one considers that one is often descended from people who may be cousins that will collapse the numbers and necessarily bring us into strong interrrelationship until we go back several millenia.

  • Treacy

    Wonderful series. Thank you!

    Carolyn, my maternal grand mother’s family originally came from the Alsace region. My Mom and Aunts were a complete joy. The family was so very comical. I will often recall something my Mom or an Aunt had said forty some years ago….and find myself smiling and laughing. I believe indeed there must be a genetic link. :)

  • Dawn

    Meryl, while it is true that your ancestor from the 1745 period would not qualify for DAR, you may qualify for “Patriotic Service” for your ancestor John Wilinson who served on committees and served as a Delegate to the PA Constitution. Even if this event was after the Declaration was signed, this may still qualify:

    Patriotic Service, which includes:
    Members of the Continental Congress, State Conventions, and Assemblies

    Membership in committees made necessary by the War, including service on committees which furthered the cause of the Colonies from April 1774, such as Committees of Correspondence, Inspection, and Safety, committees to care for soldier’s families, etc.

    Signer of Oath of Fidelity and Support, Oath of Allegiance, etc.

    Defenders of Forts and Frontiers, and Signers of petitions addressed to and recognizing the authority of the Provisional and new State Governments.

    The DAR would be pleased to explore this should you be interested. They accomplish so much for litteracy and education and you certainly would be an asset should you qualify.

    You can check into this by contacting:

    Meryl, I have wonderful news for you, your ancestor is already established with the DAR!!

    Best of luck to you Meryl, you should be very proud of John Wikinson’s contribution.

  • Dawn

    Also want to say I have enjoyed this series, especially the history Eva Longoria and Yo-Yo Ma. I am looking forward to the DNA portion of this series and hope there will more presentations like this in the future.

  • June Dickens Lewis

    Address 5875 Doverwood Dr #303 Culver City, Ca 90230 (Los Angeles, Ca .County)
    I thoroughly enjoyed your Series. My Dad was in his 80s when he passed in 1955 i think.
    I have been tracing Charles Dickens Family Tree for years. i am 87 yrs old. Born in San Dieg,Ca
    My father ,Harry Milford Dckens, was born in Ohio, and was raised by a Black Family,(Rev Ramsome,sp?)
    somewhere in Ohio).He came to California circa 1900?.Married my mother Florinda Mussenden in1911
    While my daughter, Rita was a Sr ‘72 at the Stanford School in Maidenhead,near London, England (Lady
    Astor’s Castle) I visited her. At the Stanford Library i read a Dickens Book that mentioned that Charles met and
    “visited” a Lady of Color while he was in Ohio!.My dad looked white and always said he was “colored”.
    I have been curious ever since, especially since i am Black. I met 2 ladies ,Rose and Helen who lived in Ohio
    that never married.Another lady was “passing “and knew my father but would not invite me to her home.
    Could you help me? There was a Chas Jr and Chas Sr had a sister who did not marry.

  • Deborah Burnett

    Gates and PBS had done it again, produced a wonderful and amazing program about our ‘roots.’ Thank you!!
    As once said, “We stand on the shoulders of our ancesters.”

  • Shannon Waggoner

    I love the series, but I think exploring and “every-day’ person’s genealogy would be just as exciting or maybe try and solve genealogist’s road blocks.

  • Gregory C. Williams

    Speaking of road blocks …lMy ancestry is a total mystery, especially my paternal grandfathers history. The story I’ve heard over the years is that his interracial marriage to my grandmother led him to change our original last name (Jolly) to Williams. I’ve always wondered where those tracks led.

  • Carol Goodson

    Really, really loved this series… every one of the stories was fascinating. I’m just so jealous that I don’t have a professional researcher to track down MY story, since I don’t have the time to do it myself: I’m sure the tale of my Polish great-grandfather coming to America in 1890–and what forces caused him to make the decision to come here alone, leaving family behind–would be equally compelling :-)

  • Boyd

    This series is based on facts that are provable, not magic. Let’s not drag down such a great series with religious nonsense.

  • SJA

    I so love this series. I have tried to document some of my own genealogy and found both expected and unexpected road blocks. I would love to have my tree traced on this program! Cherokee, Irish, Scottish, French, English, German, Shawnee, Black American, and supposed Spain and Mexico links as well. I’d love to see how that comes together! Professor Gates, you do such a wonderful and sensitive job. All the stories are so touching. And, more importantly, a glorious reminder that we are all related…it just depends on how far back we look. I love the quote from the treaty in Meryl Streep’s story that said we are all one blood. So truly spoken. One tribe, people.

  • Margaret Krows

    I have a start up video biography business and would be thrilled to include a couple of “snipets” from this series in my promotional presentations to encourage people to record their personal stories. Whom could I contact to even pursue the remote possibility of getting permission?
    Margaret Krows
    Generation Connection Video

  • Jay

    What beautiful stories for Yo Yo Ma and Eva Longoria to discover.

  • Jay

    I’m sorry, Mr. Mashmann, but when Dr. Gates appeared on “The Colbert Report”, he specifically said that Stephen was NOT related to David Letterman through Hans Diebold Lederman. Colbert is, however, genetically related to several of the other investigation subjects of this series.

    You can see a video of Dr. Gates’ appearance under the Blog section of this site.

  • Darlene

    Its so wonderful to see how Professor Gates, who originally set out to research his own family geneology, stumbled upon this unique way to enrich both our country and our sense of self. Bravo to Professor Gates, the producers and contributors to this series, and to PBS. We are all enriched by having seen the series, even if its only with a new curiosity to ask ourselves where we come from.

    If only we all took the time and had the imagination to share our unique gifts with the world!

    Thank you, Dr. Gates, for finding a way to share your gifts with us all!

  • James

    This is a wonderful series with fascinating stories of these individuals and their families. The beauty of our family histories shows how unique we are yet how much alike at the same time.

  • Sandy

    I found the 3rd episode! Yeah! Can’t wait to watch it and get new ideas and motivation to keep going on my lines!

  • Sumodo

    I have found to be a wonderful resource. I have traced my ancestry very, very far back. Further back than Yo-Yo Ma’s Ming Dynasty ancestor. Based on our family’s oral history, and using this database, I can trace our family to BEFORE the early Ottoman Empire in the1200s. I am not at all affiliated with, but give it a try. (And, take your family stories more seriously!)

  • Jay_jo

    In Dr. Oz story it proved Bible correct Jews and Arabs have same blood link.

  • Ed Mashmann

    Perhaps Dr. Gates is incorrect?

  • francesca


  • janaga

    where did you find it?!…. i couldn’t even find the 2nd vid….

  • Cindy Duffek

    I can’t seem to find the video for Episode 3. I’ve watched the others and enjoyed them. Any ideas on how to get the video for 3? Thanks in advance.

  • Jennifer

    You can find all episodes in the “video” section. Click that tab. 1-4 are there. Now if someone can tell me why they all just stop when they want to and I have to go back and reboot it and start over! Thats annoying!

  • Brianna

    Eva Longoria and Yo-Yo Ma’s stories are truly amazing. I agree that they’re some of the most fascinating. I wish my family had a genealogy going back to the 1400s!

  • Dorothy

    How odd that Stephen Colbert has Alsation roots that are Lutheran. I have family from Alsace on my mom’s side, and they were mostly Catholic. My great, great grandmother was Lutheran.

  • John

    I didn’t have a problem with this episode until it got to the segment about Metacom’s War and then essentially had a memorial service for him to try to make European American’s feel terrible for killing him and his soldiers.

  • Aoife

    I’m watching this in Ireland, haven’t a clue who half the celebs are but it doesn’t matter, great television.

  • Grant

    She’s quite accomplished as well! According to her Linked In profile, Yeou-Cheng Ma has been the executive director of the Children’s Orchestra Society for over 18 years AND for 27 years she was an attending physician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine! An NY Times article from 16 years ago is a nice profile:

    It’s too bad about her own musical career being abruptly cut off when her brother’s career took off, but she has touched many, many lives herself.

  • Anca

    Question for Professor Gates, the producers and contributors to this series, and to PBS: can you help with my family ancestry? can I be a subject of the show?

  • Gaye Tannenbaum

    I have been fascinated with genealogy since the broadcast of Roots back in the 1970s. In the following decade, I found out that I had been adopted and everything I had been researching belonged to my sister and brother but not to me. Twenty-five years later, I’ve found my mother but I am still looking to DNA to prove who my father was.

    I would love for a series to be done on adoptees and their roots – even if the adoptees are famous people. I’m sure there are several who were adopted from overseas who would make good candidates.

  • Sheila

    My husband and I also have followed this very interesting series. Hopefully they will do more in the fall.
    I am interested in a comment above made by Carolyn who was talking about her Kieber ancestors. My family were also Kiebers from Prusedorf, Alsace. I believe two brothers came ca the mid 1850’s. Wonder if we are related!

  • J. Gordon

    Please delete the address within the above post or delete the entire post. She posted her address thinking it was a private message to the show and didn’t realize it not only is visible to everyone here but shows up in various Google searches.

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