finding your roots

A Show That’s Like a Surprise Party

Production Team April 15, 2012

Filming an interview for “Finding Your Roots” feels like throwing a surprise party. You spend months finding a venue, ordering food, planning the “dinner conversation”, calling up people to make the setting beautiful and scheduling those who will document it. You stay up all night with beer and Pad Thai making a gift (the Book of Life, a scrapbook of their family’s history) and party favors (scrolls of family trees).

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl

Angela Buchdahl is the first Asian American Rabbi or Cantor in the United States. Born to a Korean mother and a Jewish father, she grew up in Tacoma, Washington. I also grew up Jewish in the Pacific Northwest, in Portland, Oregon with a Jewish father and a worldly mother. My mother, just like Angela’s, is not Jewish but enjoyed weaving together the ancient traditions of my father’s side with those of her family. Hearing my colleagues as they pieced together Angela’s father’s family history, unearthing the stories of the amazing endurance and adaptability of her European Jewish family, felt a lot like piecing together my own history.

In the week leading up to the shoot we were still receiving information about Angela’s mother’s lineage. One of our Associate Producers asked her friend’s father to translate some Korean documents for us. He was so dedicated to this task that he stayed up for two days detailing every word. These documents contained some truly amazing information about Angela’s family. We printed the impressive family trees and headed to her Manhattan home for the big reveal.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. gets ready for his interview with Angela Buchdahl

We only have one major prop on this show: a heavy round oak table that we cart around to every shoot. We situated Angela and Dr. Gates at this table in her living room, surrounded by lights and three cameras. After all of this preparation, I took a seat on her living room floor and delighted in watching her learn about her father’s family’s history, the people to whom she has devoted her life’s work. However, it was Angela’s mother’s history which astounded her though. I found myself grinning at her reaction. Aha! What fun! Surprise!

Watch the full Finding Your Roots episode: Rick Warren, Angela Buchdahl, and Yasir Qadhi.

Author: Emily Chapman



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  • Dottie Hughes Rowland

    May 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    What a heartwarming program. I have been researching mine and my husband’s family history for over 30 years. A very satisfying project. I feel a kindred spirit with each and every person profiled by this program. I love seeing Dr. Gates’ face light up when the subject of the program sees the document that makes the connection with an ancestor, when a few more pieces of their own puzzle falls into place. I want to cry with joy with them.

  • Lydia G San Jose

    May 6, 2012 at 4:06 am

    I just love these program. Not only does he give important history information to his guest, he also goes out to the public and and opens up the eyes of the younger people. Dr. Gates face does light up when he’s presenting someone’s profile, even more so, is when he breaks down their blood line culture. I too have found out that I have many cultures running through my blood line. I thought I was indian some how and mexican, and now I know different. I love love this show.

  • May 6, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Just a suggestion. Why don’t you pick at random 3 regular everyday people to see where their roots take you. Don’t we see too much of celebrities and people of note. Give the 99% a chance.

    Open a phone book of any place in the USA and pull a name out randomly!!

    There are a million people out there that do not have the $ to get on Ancestry web site s and try to do it themselves.


    Art Morris

  • raleigh lawson

    May 7, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Best show and very uplifting. I’m sure Adam & Eve is comming soon !

  • Angela

    May 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    This is a wonderful show, I make a point of seeing it as often as possible. I believe that Professor Gates should win a Peace Prize for his works. This is the ultimate conversation in the US. History touches each of us and to historically and visually experience the intersection is just beyond belief. It all matters and we are all connect in someway. This is the family connection we’ve been waiting for and the roots run deep. Thanks so much! PS It is great to see how important Archivist and Librarians still are in our society :-)

  • Debra Mills

    May 14, 2012 at 12:10 am

    A suggestion – very little is said and talked about the Filipino immigration to America – the supposed “third Asiatic invasion “. They were persecuted and treated just terribly and deserve some recognition for the role they played in our nation’s history in the early 1900s. I would really love to see this brought to life and explored on your show. Thanks!

  • May 14, 2012 at 6:44 am

    It’s true. Even the research end is full of party games, like “family treasure hunt” and “pin the tail on the evidence.”

  • Carol Mancini

    May 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Finding Your Roots is now my favorite program on television; Dr. Gates is wonderful! My only suggestion is to spend more time with each person and research both sides of their family in depth. Thank you for this informative and entertaining programming!

  • Tamera Jensen

    May 15, 2012 at 11:15 am

    It’s an good show about a great subject however I find it interesting that every single show has something about slavery and slave owners or how indentured servants were white trash. Maybe they should call it…”Were any of your people slave owners?’ That seems to be the focus. Which is fine if that’s what you want to watch. Mr. Gates is a bit obsessed with it and appears to be a bit racist and because of that it influences each show.

  • Diane

    May 24, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Would love my russian/polish heritage researched.

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About the Series

The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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