Sunday’s season finale of “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” on PBS focused on the Hispanic genealogy of political analyst Linda Chavez and actors Michelle Rodriguez and Adrian Grenier.
The trio shares Hispanic heritage, but each thought of him- or herself differently:
- Chavez considered herself of mixed European heritage. She had roots in Spain’s New World colonies going all the way back to the 1590s, when an ancestor sailed to Mexico. In a surprise discovery, she learned many of her family were “conversos,” Jews forced to convert to Catholicism, many of whom continued to practice Judaism in private. A large number of conversos left Spain during the Inquisition. Her grandmother’s custom of turning a religious statue to face the wall hinted at the surprise—you can read more about this custom in Chavez’ essay here.
- Grenier, who’d always identified with American Indian roots because of a story in his mother’s family, discovered he had a conquistador ancestor in Don Juan de Oñate ‘s army (kind of the opposite of having American Indian roots).
Grenier seemed shaken when his connection to American Indian heritage was in question, but Gates’ team did find a 1663 record at the New Mexico state archives identifying an ancestor as “Indio.” So he does have American Indian roots, just further back than he’d believed. I wonder if he’ll still identify himself as being American Indian?
- Rodriguez is Puerto Rican through her father and Dominican through her mother. Gates described her tree as a “tangled web,” provoking a hilarious reaction from Rodriguez. Her father’s family intermarried repeatedly, likely in an effort to preserve “pure” bloodlines. Three of her third-great-grandfathers were brothers, and her great-grandparents were first cousins.
Her surprise came on a trip to the Dominican Republic to learn more about her mom’s family from a great-aunt. The aunt’s parents—Rodriguez’s great-grandparents—weren’t married, it turns out. Her great-grandfather had a legal wife, and the two women raised the children together.
As in other episodes, DNA tests revealed guests’ percentages of maternal ancestry from various parts of the world. You can read more about the tests and each person’s results on the Your Genetic Genealogist blog.
Also as before, Gates emphasized that mixing between ancestral groups or “races”—in this case, colonial Spanish and American Indian peoples—was common. This is part of what makes the definition of American really pretty broad.
Good news: From Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with Gates in her Genealogy Gems Podcast, it sounds like a second season is already in production.