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Episode 4: Know Thyself

Know Thyself takes up the search for the guests’ ancestries where the historical record leaves off and links their distinctive family histories to the broader history of “the family of man.” Combining the documented stories of some of the guests’ last known ancestors with DNA evidence, the series travel backward through time to reveal both distant relatives and surprising shared ancestral connections. Elizabeth Alexander learns that she is a direct descendent of Charlemagne, and that her paternal roots are not only European, but Jewish. Meryl Streep and Mike Nichols discover that they are distant cousins, as do Yo-Yo Ma and Eva Longoria. Interwoven with these stories and others is the journey of the host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as he and his father and brother undertake an historic project to have their entire genomes mapped, and thereby to learn everything they possibly can about their own family. This episode offers a compelling and thought-provoking meditation on the importance of ancestry, the meaning of family and the role of both in creating identity.

  • Brandon

    I believe that the way technology has evolved in a fashion that people can trace their lineage multiple ways and in much greater depth is a wonderful thing! Regardless of who gets their lineage traced it was shown in the short film that most people seem to be a stones throw from being related in some way form or fashion. Even though some nationalities are not able to trace as far it gives one hope to new discoveries as to who they really. I really want to try this out not only for my own benefit, but also for the benefit of my children an\d their future children as well. Great show!

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  • Cheryl Louise McGhan

    Gary,
    I am the 32nd great grand daughter of Charlemagne through his 2nd wife Hildegaard. They had five children and she died in childbirth. Charlemagne had a total of five wives and several mistresses. I have done DNA on both sides of my family. I am related to Charlemagne through my grandmother whose mother was a Howard and so all that royalty flows back from her. Grandma always said that we had blue blood and I thought that we had a blood disease. It would be interesting to compare are charts. I have been working on the family tree for 40 years. Keep in touch cousin, Cheryl

  • anita

    I don’t think her comment was rude at all. If you want research done than you should do it yourselves. Like I have done. This is interesting in that we all have stories to tell, and I agree I would rather this be about famous people than people I don’t know. Nothing wrong with our opinions.

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  • Charlie

    I think it’s interesting(even though some hardnosed atheist will be offended by this) that at 34:00 it talks about humans coming from 1 ancestor later there are 3 sub groups that come from this one ancestor. Yet in Genesis 8-10 it says 1 patriarch and his 3 sons repopulated the world. Furthermore it’s interesting to note in this series that Jews and Arabs are related by the same patriarch in the same series. Could the bible be more than coincidence?

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  • TMJohson

    Interesting you would touch on education, but you’ll note that ever “celebrity” on this series has at least one if not multiple college degrees.

    I believe it is fair to say that their “celebrity” was well earned as their accomplishments have contributed greatly to American society, whether through entertainment, medicine, politics or whatever endeavors they undertook.

    I appreciate your desire to have a “reality show” based on discovering the ancestors of a “regular Joe”, but be honest, would you actually tune in to see it? And if so, would it impact you as strongly?

    Eva Longoria’s story is one that proves, you can’t assume every Hispanic person you see entered the country illegally. Many may have been here longer than your family. I’m not sure I’d remember that as strongly if the series had studied Eva’s cousin instead and never mentioned the relationship to Eva.

    The truth is, the celebrity gets us interested, but the lessons to be learned are potentially just as powerful. Celebrities are human, too.

  • TMJohson

    Wow!! This BYU series looks pretty kewl. Thank you for the tip. I have something else to keep me up at night and continue to give me inspiration to keep digging up my own ancestry.

  • TMJohson

    You may already have this part of your syllabus, but I’d also suggest Spencer Well’s book, The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. He also did a PBS/National Geographic documentary by the same name. I don’t think PBS has the video available to stream on their web site, but I do think they have the DVD for sale.

    If you, as an educator, have access to it, consider reviewing it for inclusion as a portion of your humanities course.

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