Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose “African-American Lives” series have been popular on PBS, is working on another genealogy documentary series to air in February and March.
“Faces of America” uses genealogy and genetics to explore the family histories of 11 famous Americans, using their ancestors’ experiences to draw a picture of American history.
“The many stories [Gates] uncovers—of displacement and homecoming, of material success and dispossession, of assimilation and discrimination—illuminate the American experience,” states PBS’ announcement.
Four episodes look progressively further back in history. They cover America’s complicated relationship with new immigrants in the 20th century, the “Century of Immigration” and industrialization from the 1820s to 1924 (the year quotas sharply curtailed US immigration), the early settlement of the New World, and how DNA evidence links us to early geographical origins.
The ancestral origins of the show’s “cast” span the globe. Gates researches the family trees of poet Elizabeth Alexander (she composed and read the poem at President Obama’s inauguration), chef Mario Batali, comedian Stephen Colbert, novelist Louise Erdrich, writer Malcolm Gladwell, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, film director Mike Nichols, Queen Noor of Jordan, actresses Eva Longoria Parker and Meryl Streep, and figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.
The series airs 8 to 9 pm Wednesdays from Feb. 10 to March 3, but you can catch a few glimpses now: