Titled “Born Champions,” last night’s episode of “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” examined the ancestries of recently retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (above, during the show), tennis legend Billie Jean King and WNBA star Rebecca Lobo.
Throughout the show, Gates emphasized how past generations’ character and decisions may have contributed to their descendants’ success.
Derek Jeter was on a kind of surname roller coaster when he first learned that the last name he’s carried all his life came from a slaveowner, then learned that the slaveowner was his third-great-grandfather—so he had a genetic connection to his name, after all. (Our African-American Slave Genealogy Guide can help you research your own black ancestors before the end of slavery.)
Gates pointed out how common it is for black Americans to have European ancestry. It’s not hard to see why, under an institution that gave one person absolute power over another. DNA testing of Jeter and known descendants of the slaveowner confirmed the relationship.
Jeter said during the show that he thought he was Black and Irish. (Note: This is updated. I originally thought I heard him say “Black Irish,” and a reader corrected me.) It turned out Jeter has a female ancestor from Ireland, whom the show mentioned in passing, and she married an Englishman.
Billie Jean King
King’s “Gammy,” her dad’s mom, was adopted as a baby. An aunt had a family Bible that recorded Gammy’s birth name, enabling Gates’ team to find her birth record and learn Gammy’s mother’s name.
King’s DNA test revealed no American Indian heritage, squashing King’s mother’s closely held belief that her family line included Seminole Indians.
Lobo has Spanish heritage on her father’s side. Her great-grandmother Amelia Gutierrez left a diary, which a cousin had, that told how her father Antonio escaped to Tangier after fighting to establish the first Spanish republic in 1873. When the family decided to emigrate in 1896, they arrived too late to catch their ship to Argentina, so they went to North America instead. (Find a guide to research in Spain, Portugal and the Basque region in our December 2011 Family Tree Magazine.)
Her DNA test revealed that she had just over 10 percent Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, which Gates said suggests a great-grandparent (based on the fact that you inherit approximately 12.5 percent of your autosomal DNA from each great-grandparent). Then through chromosome analysis, the research team could learn which of Lobos’ grandmothers contributed the Jewish DNA. Because there was no paper evidence of Jewish ancestry for that grandmother’s mother, Gates said it’s likely that the father—as yet unidentified—was Jewish.
I tell you what, I could really use a message or two from a sponsor in this show. As irritating as commercial interruptions can be, it’s hard to keep up (or go switch the laundry) when you don’t have any breaks.
Here, you can read genetic genealogy consultant CeCe Moore’s post about the DNA testing done for last week’s “Finding Your Roots” episode—including more on that loose end regarding the identity of Courtney Vance’s grandfather.