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[Reviews] 'Finding Oprah's Roots'; a review


Here's my review of 'Finding Oprah's Roots'.

Finding Oprah's Roots: Finding Your Own (Hardcover)
by Henry Louis Jr Gates
Publisher: Crown (January 23, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0307382389
ISBN-13: 978-0307382382

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. latest book is fascinating and accessible.
Fascinating because of his research subject being Oprah Gail Winfrey.
Accessible because of his down to earth, talking to the lay person style.
Now mind you, you do know that you're being addressed by an esteemed professor of Harvard University by weight of his collaborations with historians and academicians.
And then there's Oprah who, surprisingly, really doesn't get in the way of the real focus of the book: helping the rest us find our own roots.

I'll say this up front, As a guide this book is great for beginners.
It's not on the level of Tony Burroughs' or Dee Palmer Woodtor's excellent texts.

Mr. Gates wants us to consider the actions and deeds of our Ancestors and what they teach to each successive generation.
Ok, we all know that Oprah is big, no huge, on education.
Is it in her genes? If so, then she gets it from her Ancestors and she let's them tell the story through records and documents.

An example...
Constantine Winfrey, her 2nd great grandfather was born a slave and became a landowner by negotiating with a white man (a deal was Struck and Honored). That's amazing, giving the times.
Constantine Winfrey, through sheer determination, learns to read. That's amazing, giving the times.
Constantine Winfrey goes even further when he had the Spring Hill Colored school - an entire school building- moved onto to his property so that the Black children in his community could continue to get an education.
Sound similar and familiar? There are other amazing connections between Oprah and her Ancestors that the research and documents reveal. I'll let you read and discover for yourself.

Warning! Henry Gates gets blown away by all this, and at times goes way over the top in his marveling. I found myself shouting at the pages 'enough! I got it!'
But honestly, I really didn't get it at first. It wasn't about Gates or his cadre of academicians and historians. It wasn't all about Oprah...

It was as much about we genealogists and lay family historians and what we can and should be looking for regarding our Ancestors!
We need to consider that our Ancestors are as remarkable as Oprah Winfrey's and that they have stories to tell as well.

Consider this statement from Gates; "Genealogy, in other words, is history from the gene up, history from its most particular manifestation to its broader implications.
Unless more African Americans tell their family's story, the full range of the larger narrative of our people's experiences as Americans cannot even begin to be told."

Bam! Isn't he talking to all of us at
Did he just ligitimize and endorse genealogists and family historians?

The book is divided into six parts with part five speaking to various aspects of DNA.
In the 'giving props' department, among the resources in the appendix is's Slave Research forum manager David E. Paterson.

The book's strength lies in what it throws out there into the universe.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. illuminates the Ancestry of one of our largest contemporary African Ancestored icons.
Along the way, he makes some bold statements. He puts historians on notice and he honors our efforts.
On that note, I can't help but recommend this book.

4 stars and 1/2 of a happy dance.
George Geder; 2007

Go to the AfriGeneas Book Store to order.

Go to WorldCat and find a nearby library that has a copy.
Go to the AfriGeneas Book Store to order.

Go to WorldCat and find a nearby library that has a copy.

"Guided by the Ancestors"

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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AfriGeneas ~ African Ancestored Genealogy