GATES: I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Welcome to "Finding Your Roots."
In this episode, we'll meet news anchor Erin Burnett, fashion journalist André Leon Talley, and actor Amy Carlson.
Three people who are about to retrace the perilous journeys that shaped their family trees.. BURNETT: To say I'm going to get on a ship where I don't know if I'm going to live, and there was a good chance you wouldn't, and go to another country where there was a good chance you wouldn't, and for seven years be an indentured servant to somebody else all for the hope that at the end of that, question mark?
BURNETT: That is pretty amazing to think about.
TALLEY: I never knew this.
My grandmother never told me the day she was married.
She kept it all bottled up.
This is amazing.
CARLSON: It was like a blank slate.
So just to have some idea of where my family came, is so interesting.
GATES: To uncover their roots, we've used every tool available.
Genealogists combed through the paper trail their ancestors left behind.
CARLSON: That's really cool.
GATES: While DNA experts utilized the latest advances in genetic analysis to reveal secrets hundreds of years old.
TALLEY: Oh my God.
GATES: And we've compiled everything into a book of life, a record of all of our discoveries.
BURNETT: This is.
This is pretty cool.
GATES: And a window into the hidden past... BURNETT: Every family has these stories.
GATES: Everybody has them.
BURNETT: Everybody has these stories, and we just don't think about the fact that we might be interesting, but the truth is everybody's interesting.
TALLEY: Knowledge is power.
TALLEY: And this is power.
GATES: My three guests share a common thread: each descends from women and men who faced daunting challenges.
In this episode, they'll discover how their ancestors met those challenges, hearing stories of sacrifice, courage, and survival, all hidden in the branches of their family trees.
(theme music plays).
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ GATES: Erin Burnett has seen it all.
The award-winning anchor, currently hosting her own show on CNN... BURNETT: Good evening I'm Erin Burnett.
Out front tonight... GATES: Has reported from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, immersing herself in a dizzying array of stories.
It's a skill that Erin traces back to her mother, who was a voracious reader with a keen sense of detail, and a charming way of showing it.
BURNETT: My mother was a great reader.
She read incredibly widely.
Also, she read, uh, newspaper articles, and she would clip them, and she would put them in the book they went with.
BURNETT: So, even now, she's, she's died, I will come upon a book that she had saved or something maybe about Saudi Arabia when I was doing a report there, and she would've put all these clippings in.
BURNETT: About various stories about Saudi Arabia or Mohammad Bin Salman.
I found an article about him stuffed in one of the books, so.
GATES: That's amazing.
BURNETT: But it would be sticking out, tattered, from all the books.
So, you know, kind of growing up with it, it was a little bit of an, oh, could we please clean this up, this place is always a disaster.
GATES: Though her mother clearly had the skills to be a reporter, Erin wasn't aware of any journalists on her family tree.
So, lacking a model, she would follow an idiosyncratic career path.
After college, she went to work on Wall Street, as an analyst for the powerhouse investment bank, Goldman Sachs, before realizing she'd taken a wrong step.
You ever think the road not traveled, you could be a hedge fund person flying around in your own jet?
BURNETT: You know if I could only remember who told me, and I know this is a really obvious thing to say, but I can't remember who it is that told me, they said you have to think ten years down the line, and look at the people who are in your job 10 years ahead of you and say do I want to be them?
And someone told that to me when I was at Goldman, and I looked at everybody 10 years ahead.
And I knew that that wasn't me.
GATES: You go, "I quit."
GATES: After leaving Goldman, Erin found herself adrift, and ended up taking a job at Citigroup, a job that changed her life, largely by accident.
Erin was hired to help market video interviews with business leaders, but quickly saw a way to expand her own role.
BURNETT: So I went in to do that, and as part of that, they said, well, okay, this is great, we can come up with a way to, how we're going to create these things and how we're going to distribute them and, but who's going to make them?
BURNETT: So, I said, oh, okay, I guess that, I'll make them.
But what happened there was nobody saw what I did.
BURNETT: And that was really good.
BURNETT: Because, you know, you're not good when you start off.
BURNETT: And I had to learn, uh, so I would go to these conferences and interview people, like Sumner Redstone and people like that, I would get to interview because of, you know, working for Citigroup, and I would get to learn how to, I would have to watch myself and see what I did, and then we'd put them, and distribute them.
GATES: Oh, that's good.
BURNETT: And then as I was doing that, I realized, okay, I like doing this, this is the part that I love.
BURNETT: I love doing the research, I love doing the interviews, and so then I decided to go into, into television.
GATES: When did you know, I've made it, this is what I'm meant to do?
BURNETT: That was there.
BURNETT: That was there.
BURNETT: That was where I really realized that I loved it, and it was, I wasn't, that was what I was meant to do.
GATES: My second guest is fashion icon André Leon Talley.
As the first African American creative director of Vogue magazine, André has helped shape taste from New York, to Paris, to Tokyo, and everywhere in between.
But André's own tastes were shaped in a very unlikely place: Durham, North Carolina, where his maternal grandmother took him to church every Sunday, without fail.
TALLEY: My grandmother was a domestic worker at Duke University for 50 years but on the weekends she rose.
She rose to her regality, her regalness when she put on that hat and put that handkerchief in the handbag and those gloves matching her handbag and the handbag matching the shoes and that little black suit or that little navy-blue coat and we marched off into church, and I discovered fashion.
The color, fashion, attitude.
Attitude, it was the attitude.
Everyone with, in the church was a queen.
GATES: Everyone was.
TALLEY: Every sister, every niece, every woman, and every man.
GATES: André found himself in Durham because his parents separated when he was an infant, and it fell to his grandmother to raise him.
A precocious child, André began reading Vogue at the local library, developed a passion for French culture, and set his sights on an Ivy League education.
Perhaps surprisingly, his grandmother didn't stand in the way of his ambitions, quite the opposite, as she revealed on one memorable occasion.
TALLEY: My grandmother didn't drive, we had to be picked up by my cousin, Doris, and we were taken to church in the country, and she picked us up every Sunday without fail, she came in from across town.
And she came in once and asked her to have lunch and um, her husband Avon said, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
I said, "A fashion editor."
He said, "What?"
I said, "Well, I don't."
He says, "What is that?"
And I said "Well, I don't exactly know what it is but I'll show you a fashion magazine and then I'll let you."
He says, "Men don't do things like that."
And my grandmother was in the kitchen preparing food and she heard him, she says: "Leave him alone, he'll do anything he wants."
GATES: Oh, good for grandma.
TALLEY: She just, she was exceptional.
GATES: André told me that his grandmother was one of the two most important people in his life, the other being Diana Vreeland, the legendary fashion editor who helped launch his career.
Incredibly, these two great forces briefly came into conflict on Christmas Eve 1974 when André, then Vreeland's apprentice, stayed in New York City rather than return to North Carolina for the holidays, hoping to land a job in the new year.
TALLEY: I'd gone to see Mrs. Vreeland before she left for Christmas to go to de la Renta's for Christmas in the Dominican Republic and she said, don't leave, it'll work for you, it'll happen for you in the new year.
Don't leave New York, I will make it happen for you.
TALLEY: It's Christmas Eve, no food, hungry.
The phone rings, it's 11:30 at night, because my grandmother, always told her where I was.
I gave her my number.
The phone rings.
She says, I'm sending your father right now, he's here with me, right next to me, and he's coming up there.
He's leaving now, he'll be up there by 8 in the morning.
You're getting in the car and coming home for Christmas.
And I said: "Well, grandmother, I, Mrs. Vreeland said I have to stay here because it's going to happen in the new year.
It's, it's going to happen and this is where I want to be.
You've never been away from home for Christmas, you're coming.
Your father is driving up in the night and he will pick you up and bring you here for Christmas.
Do you understand?
I said grandmother, I told you who Mrs. Vreeland was.
She sat me down and told me it was going to happen for me in the new year, I have to stay here.
And I did not disagree with my grandmother, I had to listen to what she had to say.
I wasn't going to say, I'm not coming, I didn't talk like that.
So, then the phone went silent and I kept thinking to myself, why does she want me to come home so badly?
There's something behind it.
So, I said, "Grandmother, why, why is it you want me to come home so badly?"
"Because I know you're sleeping with a white woman."
Oh, that scream, and so I said oh, if you only knew.
And there I was sitting on the floor on an old horse blanket, going to bed on this plywood floor thinking this is so hilarious, and I stayed in New York and it happened in January of that year.
GATES: My third guest is actor Amy Carlson.
Like André and Erin, Amy found her calling in a circuitous manner.
Raised in suburban Illinois, the child of two school teachers, Amy started acting during her first year of college, when her older sister encouraged her to audition for a play and awakened something deep inside her... CARLSON: It was for the role of Shirley in 5th of July.
And Shirley really spoke to me because she was a dreamer about a bigger world but just didn't quite know how to get there.
And my sister played my mom in the play and after that I was totally hooked.
GATES: That's great.
How'd your parents feel about that decision?
CARLSON: They were, my dad, I don't know how many times my dad said to me like, you know, like, teaching is a really stable profession and I don't know.
GATES: And you could grow up and be like me.
You go, "I'm going to act."
CARLSON: I'm going to do my own thing, yeah.
GATES: For a time, Amy may have wished she'd followed her father's advice, she soon found herself in Chicago, looking for any job she could get, buoyed only by a strong work ethic, and an infectious sense of humor.
CARLSON: I knew no one.
I had no mentor.
I had nothing.
So I was making this all up from scratch.
So I, got a Pert Plus commercial.
And I thought... GATES: Pert is, uh, shampoo?
CARLSON: It's a shampoo and conditioner in one.
GATES: Oh, excuse me.
And it's green, right?
CARLSON: It's green, yeah.
GATES: Pretty good.
CARLSON: But I was the second banana.
I was just the girl next to the girl who was talking and shampooing her hair.
So I just stood and shampooed my hair until it was dry like a bale of hay on top of my head for eight hours in like, tepid water in a bodysuit, and I was like I'm going places!
GATES: As it turns out, Amy was indeed "going places."
Within a year, she was cast on a soap opera, launching a career that would make her a mainstay of American television.
But for all she's accomplished, looking back, Amy still struggles to understand how she emerged from her upbringing.
What role has your family played, do you think in your success?
CARLSON: It's almost like I have felt a little bit like the unicorn.
Just kind of shocking them like, oh, you're doing that now, and they're kind of like, what are you doing?
So I think that just their love and their support, even though they might not think what I'm doing is the choice that they themselves would make, and it's probably crazy and just doing it anyway.
GATES: Each of my guests had made bold choices in their lives, setting themselves apart from the people who raised them.
But they're about to see that they're not the first in their families to make such choices.
I started with Erin Burnett.
In the archives of Boston, Massachusetts, we found a marriage certificate for her great-grandmother: Bridget Gannon.
Bridget was born in Ireland roughly a decade after the great potato famine, a time of immense hardship.
She left few traces of her life behind, but in the tiny town of Murrisk in County Mayo, we found something precious: the record of her baptism.
BURNETT: Hmm, it's really amazing, you know, from another, from another country and another place and yet tied directly to me.
BURNETT: Wow, and to know I've never known the part of Ireland, either.
GATES: That's it.
BURNETT: Over here.
GATES: What do you think it was like for her to go from that small, rural village to Boston, Massachusetts?
BURNETT: Oh, I always wonder because, you know, there's some part of, uh, like, you know, uh, uh, you romanticize, a little bit, your past.
You think, oh, Ireland, and it is a beautiful country.
I've been there, and you think why would you, you know, what, what a beautiful place, why would you leave?
And I know, obviously, there was, you know, famine and hardship and, but I wonder... GATES: Yeah, because you would die.
I wonder what it felt like for people going on these journeys.
GATES: Oh my god.
BURNETT: You know, and, and you're going because you have nothing to lose, right?
BURNETT: There'd be no other reason you would.
So, so just the situation that that you were in to make you go to begin with, and to leave everybody that you knew.
BURNETT: And know that, and really know you would never see them again.
GATES: And never see them again.
BURNETT: I know.
It's, it's sad.
GATES: Erin told me that she'd long wanted to learn more about this branch of her family tree, but had faced an obstacle common to many Irish Americans.
BURNETT: All I know is they, that there was a time in Ireland where there were a lot of, uh, church fires, and a lot of records were destroyed.
So, I've always been told that's why we don't know as much.
Well, let's see what we found.
Could you please turn the page?
GATES: This is Bridget's baptismal record that you saw on the last page.
GATES: But this time, we're showing another part of it.
GATES: Would you please read the word that we have highlighted?
Maybe that's why they say the records burned.
GATES: Record should've been burned.
GATES: According to this record, Bridget's mother, Erin's great-great-grandmother, was a woman named Anne Gavin.
Anne was born around 1845, at the height of the great famine.
We found no evidence that she ever married, meaning she likely raised Bridget as a single parent in rural Ireland, which cannot have been easy.
What's more: we soon discovered that Anne had faced challenges long before she became a mother.
Her parents were landless tenant farmers.
And she was arrested as a 12 year old, for a crime that's shocking to modern ears.
BURNETT: "Defendant, Anne Gavin, spinster, Murrisknaboll, cause of complaint, the defendant had in her possession, exposed and offered for sale, a salmon, fined 10 shillings, costs 1 shilling and sixpence, in default one fortnight in county jail without hard labor."
GATES: Your ancestor was sentenced to two weeks in jail for selling a fish that she had poached from the river out of season.
BURNETT: It's unbelievable.
I mean that, well, yeah, I guess that just goes to show what a hard, hard life it was.
So, at this point she's only, you said 12?
GATES: That's right, but at her age, Anne would barely have been considered a child.
She likely left school at ten years old to work, and at 12 could have legally married at the time in Ireland.
BURNETT: Wow, I guess that's why they write "spinster."
BURNETT: She's 12, but because she's not married, she's a spinster.
GATES: What's it like to imagine your ancestor being forced to grow up so young, overnight, basically?
BURNETT: Oh, it's, it's, it's, it's really tragic.
GATES: When Anne was arrested, juvenile detention in Ireland was becoming increasingly common, as many believed that impoverished children were better off behind bars.
So sadly, Anne's punishment was not unusual.
Nor would it be her last conflict with the law.
BURNETT: "Defendant did, on 22 May 1875, at Crott Mountain County of Mayo, willfully and maliciously cut, damage, and destroy hedge and rushes of complainant's property."
GATES: Anne was taken to court again for destroying a farmer's hedge.
GATES: Now, this story has not been passed down through family lore?
No, but it just, it shows her, her situation does never seem to have improved.
GATES: I can see the judge: "Anne, you're back."
BURNETT: You're, right, "seen you before."
GATES: There was a twist to this story.
Anne's crime may have been more than an act vandalism.
At the time, large-scale Irish farmers were deploying hedges to enclose land for their own use, thereby breaking up small farms and forcing the tenants who occupied them to move, essentially evicting them.
So Anne may have been trying to reclaim land for her community.
GATES: So... BURNETT: Well, that's good.
GATES: You could see Anne as a sort of Robin Hood.
GATES: Champion of the common people.
GATES: Looking back on Anne's life, your ancestor's life, what do you make of it?
BURNETT: Well, I like that version of it, that she was a, that she was a, you know that it wasn't just a move of personal desperation to get something, that it might've been trying to fight on behalf of a community.
BURNETT: Uh, and I know we'll never know, but certainly there's a, a level of, of bravery and boldness in her... GATES: Big time.
BURNETT: Because she has this child out of, out of wedlock.
Right, an illegitimate child that she raises and, and she still doesn't, is, after all of these things happen to her, she's in jail at one point as a child, she has an illegitimate child, she still doesn't step down.
GATES: That's right.
BURNETT: She goes and cuts those rushes.
GATES: I love that.
GATES: My second guest, André Leon Talley, was about to take us from rural Ireland to hardscrabble North Carolina, where he was raised by his grandmother, Francis Davis, under conditions that sound like something out of a Faulkner novel.
TALLEY: And I could see my grandmother and great-grandmother both kill chickens in the backyard.
GATES: Wow, just like... TALLEY: And these are women.
I've seen my grandmother get up and in, in, in, it's 7:00 in the morning and in her dressing gown and go in and, and chop wood... GATES: Oh, wow.
TALLEY: To put on the fire, and I've seen them uh, kill squirrels and skin the squirrels, although I've never eaten squirrels.
They did all this stuff and they didn't let me.
I said, I don't want to eat any squirrels because they were like pets and things out in the woods, I don't want any of that.
But she did that work with pride.
Because this is what folk did in the South.
TALLEY: These were rituals to survive.
GATES: While André has a seemingly bottomless well of stories about his beloved Francis, when it comes to her husband, André's grandfather, a man named John Davis, that well is dry.
John died of a heart attack in 1945, three years before André was born.
How did his passing do you think affect the course of your grandmother's life?
TALLEY: I think it became a, a very life of loneliness and a life of, of maybe despair, but then she, when I came along, she had something to devote her love to.
TALLEY: Turn her attention to all, to me.
Well, let's see what we found out about your grandfather.
What did you find out about my grandfather?
I know nothing of him.
GATES: Would you please turn the page?
André, this is from the National Archives in Washington.
Would you please read the transcribed section in that white box?
TALLEY: "Registration card.
Name in full, John Davis.
Date of birth, September 27, 1892.
What military service have you had?
Date of registration, June 5, 1917."
GATES: You're looking at your grandfather's draft card.
GATES: André's grandfather registered for the draft soon after the United States entered World War I.
14 months later, he would find himself on a troopship, one of roughly 350,000 African Americans who served in the war.
By coincidence, his ship was bound for a place that would be very dear to his grandson's heart, a place that had helped launch André's career in fashion.
Your grandfather shipped out to France.
You thought you were the first person in your family... TALLEY: Oh, that's amazing.
GATES: To set foot in... TALLEY: That's amazing.
GATES: And he went to France first.
TALLEY: Uh uh.
GATES: And your grandfather was 27 years old at the time.
How old were you, André?
TALLEY: He beat me to it.
He sort of did and, proud of this.
Did you ever imagine anyone... TALLEY: Never.
GATES: In your family had been in France before you?
TALLEY: Never, ever talked about this.
Never heard any of this.
Never saw any of this.
Well, were they segregated or were they integrated, they were segregated?
GATES: Segregated, definitely.
This is 1917.
According to this your grandfather served in Company K of the 370th Infantry Regiment in the 93rd Division.
You want to guess what he did in France when he was, during the war?
TALLEY: Peel potatoes?
GATES: That's a good guess.
André's guess was based on the fact that prior to integration, most African Americans in the United States military were relegated to service and supply duties.
But, it turns out, in this case, that guess was wrong.
André's grandfather was assigned to one of only two all-Black divisions to see combat in World War I.
And the combat that he saw was horrifying.
In August of 1918, his regiment was on the frontlines of the infamous western front.
We found a first-hand account, written by one of John's comrades, offering a glimpse of what he likely endured.
TALLEY: "We had to remove the dead Frenchmen that had been killed by indirect machine gun fire to find cover for ourselves.
About this time the German began throwing a box barrage.
The barrage creeped slowly to the ruins and shell-scarred buildings about us.
The noise of shells screamed through the air and their hissing sound carrying the omen of death, a flash of light, a stillness like death, a terrible noise, and the Earth rocks around us.
Around us lay the dead and dying.
GATES: Isn't that amazing?
GATES: In your grandfather's regimen there were 665 casualties and 105 men died of wounds right beside him.
TALLEY: That's astonishing.
GATES: Did your grandmother ever talk about this?
TALLEY: My grandmother never talked about any of this.
She probably never knew it.
Perhaps my grandfather never talked about it.
TALLEY: I mean, it's just extraordinary.
I don't think my grandmother ever, there was never a hint of this in my grandmother's recollection of her husband.
GATES: World War I was fought with an array of terrifying new weapons.
From airplanes and tanks, to poison gas.
John likely witnessed them all, and then returned home to a country that was in the depths of Jim Crow segregation, a place where African Americans were subject to daily humiliations and the constant threat of violence.
But tracing back two generations, we came to someone who had survived an even greater ordeal.
John's grandfather, André's third great-grandfather, was a man named Simon Trice.
We found Simon in the 1837 estate records of a North Carolina slave-owner named John Daniel, the records show that when he was a child, Simon was bequeathed to Daniel's son-in-law, along with four other enslaved people.
TALLEY: So this is my great-great grandfather.
He's being bequeathed from one white person to... TALLEY: To another white person.
GATES: Another, like you'd leave a piano or a... TALLEY: Or, a car or something.
GATES: What's it like to see that?
TALLEY: I'm, I'm speechless.
I'm, I have no words to articulate what I feel now.
It's just suddenly, but um, it's, it's extraordinary to realize this history, that is this part of my history.
GATES: Yes, it's one thing in the abstract to know that our family was...
GATES: To see them Willed as property.
TALLEY: Willed, as willed as property, it's amazing.
Have you thought much about your ancestors who were enslaved, what their experience was like?
TALLEY: I've often thought about them and I thought that their, I thought about maybe mention my great grandmother in slavery or maybe not, but I just know that they were aware of being Black and indentured.
But you know it was just the way the world was and the way the world is and it's a sad thing.
GATES: Fortunately, this story has a happy ending, in the 1880 census for North Carolina, we located Simon and noticed that at least four of his neighbors had been listed as enslaved people in John Daniel's will, meaning that they were all likely members of the same family, and that when freedom came, they reunited.
TALLEY: "Dwelling number 30.
Head of household.
Dwelling number 31.
GATES: There's your great-great grandfather, Simon Trice, living next door to the man... TALLEY: Who has... GATES: Is most likely his father.
TALLEY: His father.
GATES: So, you just read the name of your great-great-great-grandfather.
GATES: Who's name was Ferry Daniel.
GATES: Who was named in the same 1837 will of John Daniel that you just saw, isn't that amazing?
GATES: What's it like to know?
Now, this is 1880.
Remember, we've gone from 1837... TALLEY: To 1880.
GATES: The family came together.
The family came back together 15 years after the end of slavery.
What's it like to see that, to know that?
There's so many stories, André, of... TALLEY: Speechless.
GATES: Our families being sold down the river.
TALLEY: Separated, we know nothing, nothing.
GATES: And, but we know in your case they had all come back together... TALLEY: Together.
GATES: 15 years after the Civil War.
TALLEY: And, this is strength, and this is strength and this is where the strength of the family comes from.
TALLEY: Everything was torn I just, not given to us, not our history.
GATES: What would your grandmother have thought to know all this?
TALLEY: She would have been pleased, and just been very pleased.
TALLEY: She wouldn't have said much about it but she would have been pleased, she would have understood.
TALLEY: And she would have been proud, you know?
She would've been very proud.
TALLEY: It's, knowledge is power.
TALLEY: And this is power.
GATES: Moving from a journey of survival to one of romance, we turned to Amy Carlson.
On May 25th 1868, a ship arrived in New York, onboard was Clara Palmquist, an 11 year old girl who was immigrating from Sweden with her parents and siblings.
By chance, one of her shipmates was a 14-year-old boy named Samuel Mainquist, a fellow Swede, traveling on his own.
Samuel and Clara are Amy's great-great-grandparents, and the story of their meeting sounds like something straight out of a fairy tale.
CARLSON: "On the ship coming over to the United States in 1868, Samuel met the Johannes Palmquist family.
One day, their oldest daughter Clara, who was 11, fell down, and Samuel helped her up.
He had no idea at the time she would later become his wife."
That's so sweet.
GATES: What's it like to learn that?
CARLSON: That's so sweet.
GATES: And look at that photo.
There they are.
There's Samuel and Clara.
GATES: Isn't that cool?
GATES: Totally by accident.
CARLSON: That's how life happens sometimes, right, just totally by accident.
GATES: Samuel and Clara's relationship would soon take a more traditional form.
In 1875, they married and started a family, less than a year later, when Samuel was just 22 years old, he purchased 80 acres of land in Montgomery County, Iowa for $1,250, about $30,000 today.
GATES: What's it like to see that in 1876, you know?
CARLSON: That is so cool.
That's a lot of land.
GATES: That's a lot of land, man.
That's a lot of money.
GATES: So what does this tell us about Samuel?
He came as a 14-year-old boy on his own... within seven years, he's got a wife, a child, and a farm.
CARLSON: Well, he was really a hard worker and just making his way.
Finding a way to make it work.
GATES: Yeah, and what does that tell us about America and immigration at that time?
CARLSON: It gave so much opportunity to people to come here with nothing, you know, and be able to make something of yourself.
GATES: Amy told me that she knew she has a great deal of Swedish ancestry but she had no idea where in Sweden these particular ancestors came from, we found the answer in the archives of Norra Ljunga, a parish about 250 miles southwest of Stockholm.
CARLSON: "Born July 30, Samuel August Mainquist.
Parents: the farm owner, Anders Petersson and his wife Lena Beata Andersdotter."
GATES: Any idea what you're looking at?
GATES: That is Samuel's baptismal record.
CARLSON: This is the same guy that got on the boat?
GATES: You got it.
That is his baptism record, he was born July 30, 1853, and there's a photo of the church where he was baptized.
CARLSON: Oh, that's so cool.
GATES: That church dates back to the 12th century.
What's it like to see that?
CARLSON: It's powerful.
It brings me...
It makes me excited to go and be in that space.
GATES: Norra Ljunga is part of a Swedish province known as Smaland.
Amy has ancestors on multiple lines of her mother's family tree who lived in this province for centuries.
But we discovered that Samuel wasn't Amy's only ancestor to leave Smaland behind all on his own.
In 1716, Amy's 6th great-grandfather, a man named Jon Larsson Ekorne, joined the Swedish army, volunteering to take the place of a man in his town who'd been captured in battle, part of an allotment system that Sweden used to fill the ranks of its military.
Soldiers like your sixth great grandfather, Jon, would receive a cottage, a few acres of land, and a small income to feed their family in return for their service.
GATES: He was about 20 years old when he joined.
Do you think that's fair?
CARLSON: Yeah, I think it probably was fair trade, you know, they made an agreement that they made a pact and that the social contract, and that's what they decided that was right for them.
GATES: And there's a written record of your ancestor doing that.
Isn't that incredible?
CARLSON: Yeah, that's amazing.
GATES: Look at that picture over there.
CARLSON: Swedish colors.
GATES: That is an image of Swedish infantry soldiers.
CARLSON: God, that looks... GATES: What's it like to see that?
To think of your ancestor as one of those soldiers?
CARLSON: It's pretty amazing.
GATES: This is 304 years ago.
CARLSON: It also strikes me that it's so homogenized, like, they're so, you know, it's just all Swedes.
GATES: They had, shall we say, a self-contained gene pool.
CARLSON: Clearly, they all look like they could be brothers.
Jon's decision may have earned his family a home, but it sent him off on a hellish odyssey.
He joined the army during what is known as the Great Northern War, which pitted the then-mighty Swedish empire against an alliance led by Russia, Poland and Norway.
The war was a disaster for Sweden, bringing an end to its empire, and culminating in a humiliating winter time retreat from Norway, in which the army bore the body of its dead king home.
Can you imagine being there?
And carrying that this dead man who was their leader.
Well, nearly three years after Jon's regiment returned home, the war finally came to a close, it had lasted 21 years.
CARLSON: Oh my gosh.
GATES: And let's see what your ancestor did next.
Could you please turn the page?
This is another record from the Swedish military archives.
It's dated March 4, 1742.
We've now jumped ahead about 20 years, would you please read that translation?
"Jon Larsson Ekorne, 45 and two-thirds years old from Smaland, has served in the army for 26 years."
GATES: 26 years even after the Great Northern war was long over.
Your sixth great-grandfather Jon, was still serving in the military.
CARLSON: That takes a lot of courage.
GATES: Takes a lot of courage.
GATES: Or just desperation or craziness, you know, one or the other.
CARLSON: He just, yeah, no, yeah exactly.
GATES: Jon's service ultimately came to a tragic end, on July 20th, 1742, he perished on a Swedish naval ship, leaving behind a wife, Amy's sixth great-grandmother Elisabet, and at least two sons.
Ironically, his place in the army was taken by one of those sons.
After John's death, his son.
CARLSON: Oh, my gosh.
GATES: Hans replaced him in that same system.
CARLSON: They love to do that.
Can you imagine?
GATES: So, what do you think his mother, your sixth great-grandmother, Elisabet felt?
She had just lost her husband and then off goes her son.
CARLSON: There just has to be so much stoicism.
To be able to accept that.
I mean, it's just... Well now we know why Samuel got on that boat.
GATES: We aren't sure what happened to Hans, but we weren't done exploring Amy's Swedish roots.
In the archives of the city of Linköping, we found her 10th great-grandfather, a man named Johannes Hircinius.
Church records reveal that Johannes was a pastor, and that in the year 1641, he was the subject of an ominous complaint, filed by the sexton of his congregation.
CARLSON: Oh, God.
GATES: I want you to take a wild guess about what the sexton might have been upset about.
CARLSON: I am afraid to guess.
Would you please turn the page?
Would you please read the transcription?
CARLSON: "The sexton replied that some time ago, when Mr. Johannes's child was very ill, Mr. Johannes had a young oak cleaved and the baby pulled through it a few times, and after that was done, the oak was well wrapped, and bandaged with birch bark... this be a witchcraft."
GATES: This be a witchcraft.
Your ancestor was accused of practicing witchcraft.
CARLSON: Oh my gosh.
GATES: The charges against Amy's ancestor stem from what must have been an agonizing dilemma.
One of his children was sick and, at the time, it was believed that the illness could be cured by splitting a branch from an oak tree and passing the child through the gap.
We'd call this folk medicine.
The Swedish church called it witchcraft, and witchcraft was a serious charge.
Punishment ranged from fines, to imprisonment, to death!
So what do you think?
Was your 10th great grandfather, Reverend Johannes guilty as charged?
Do you descend from a witch?
CARLSON: I hope so.
GATES: Well, let's see what the church said.
CARLSON: Oh, God.
Do I turn the page?
GATES: You turn the page.
This is another section of the accusation record.
CARLSON: "Mr. Johannes could not deny that this was done by his wife, him completely ignorant."
Throw the woman under the bus.
GATES: Johannes protested his innocence, but claimed that it was his wife, Amy's 10th great-grandmother, Ingeborg, who was the guilty one, and that she had found a local farmer to split the oak.
This strategy, as dubious and as disloyal as it may have been, proved successful: husband and wife both were punished, but neither were executed.
How do you think this affected their marriage?
CARLSON: That was probably a pretty stressful time because it seems like she went with the farmer and not with him to do the work with the oak tree.
I bet you there was a lot of arguments about that.
I mean it was their child for goodness sake.
I mean to me, that's all you have to say that you're trying to save a child.
GATES: What do you make of this story?
I mean it was witchcraft.
They knew it was witchcraft.
You don't just cleave an oak tree by mistake... CARLSON: No.
GATES: Then pass your sick child through it.
Mothers will do anything for their children, so it just showed her love and desperation.
GATES: We don't know if Ingeborg's child survived, but her family did.
She and Johannes were born in the early 1600s, and we can connect them via a paper trail directly to Amy.
Indeed, they are the oldest ancestors we were able to identify on her family tree.
A tree that on almost every line, stretches deep into Sweden's past.
Surveying all that we'd seen, Amy was struck by a powerful sense of her own place within this shared history.
CARLSON: I just think it's really such a gift to kind of assimilate where you've come from into where I am today.
And to know that I wasn't the first one to do crazy things.
GATES: We'd already traced Erin Burnett's mother's roots back to Ireland, introducing her to ancestors whose struggles had been forgotten as the family immigrated to America.
Now, turning to Erin's father's ancestry, we encountered a woman whose struggles had been forgotten for very different reasons.
In the archives of New York City, we found the marriage record of Erin's great-great-grandmother: Jessie Burnett.
It indicates that her husband, Erin's great-great-grandfather Timothy Burnett, was a widower.
But the truth was more complicated.
Before he married Jessie, Timothy had been married to a woman named Sarah, a marriage that ended in shocking fashion.
BURNETT: The complaint alleges that the parties were married on December 8, 1859.
Soon after the marriage, so plaintiff says, her husband began to beat her harshly.
In March, 1875, or thereabouts, the defendant took on a new departure and threatened to kill his wife and child.
In his answer, Mr. Burnett denies all the allegations."
GATES: What do you make of that?
BURNETT: That's terrible.
And I certainly did not know about this.
GATES: I wondered if this had been passed down among family stories.
BURNETT: No, because you know how it is, uh, because his, his, then his next wife, right, that's the family that I know about.
BURNETT: Because that's where I came from.
So, it's like this never happened until I... GATES: Never happened.
GATES: Though the story may not have been passed down, the Burnett's divorce received a lot of attention in its day.
We found articles in multiple newspapers providing a blow-by-blow account of the case.
BURNETT: "The list of witnesses examined on both sides was a long one, Mrs. Burnett's friends testifying to Mr. Burnett's bad character and his friends giving testimony as to his excellent character and Christian conduct.
The incongruity of spirit seemed so great between the couple that Judge Reynolds had no alternative than to grant the plaintiff's prayer in favor of a limited divorce."
It is tragic.
It's, it's, it's like reading uh, a novel.
GATES: It is, isn't it?
In 1880, divorce rates in New York State were, you ready for this, 0.2%, 0.2%.
So, she, so, she, really, talk about courageous.
GATES: Yeah, big time.
BURNETT: This would not have been accepted by anyone.
GATES: No, and she called him out, you know?
She goes he beats me, and I'm not putting up with this.
GATES: Do you think Jessie was aware of her husband's marital history?
BURNETT: No, No.
I don't think so.
I'm guessing she didn't.
GATES: Yeah, either, or she turned a blind eye.
BURNETT: Right, or she, right, that's not the person I know, or something.
GATES: That, Mm-hmm.
Wasn't true, baby.
GATES: Sarah and Timothy were granted what was known as a "limited divorce", a separation that was to be supervised by the court.
The arrangement proved moot when Sarah died soon after, and Timothy married Jessie.
In 1888, the couple had a child, Erin's great-grandfather Edwin Burnett, but Timothy passed away just two years later, leaving Jessie a single mother.
She'd end up supporting herself and her son by running a boarding house.
So, what do you make of her story?
BURNETT: I mean, I think it's amazing that she was so, that-that she raised that child on her own.
BURNETT: Uh, but it is really disturbing to hear about the, the, my great-great-grandfather.
Uh, what he did, and I, I, I suppose, I'm just going to be honest here, if given the divorce rate is .2%.
BURNETT: And his first, 0.2%, and she goes and, and fights for that, then I think that he was probably a pretty horrible person to her.
BURNETT: Uh, so... GATES: I mean it was a courageous thing.
GATES: And, and to put all that dirty laundry in the... BURNETT: You just wouldn't have done it.
BURNETT: It would've destroyed her.
I'm sure that's part of the reason that she did die as young as she did, that her life was so destroyed, and uh, so, I suppose, for, for Jessie's perspective, uh, her life, I'm sure it was very, obviously very difficult, but maybe it was better than being with somebody who would've probably treated her exactly the same way.
GATES: Moving back further along Jessie's line, we came to Erin's fourth great-grandfather: John Rockwell.
John was born in Connecticut in 1766, when Connecticut was still a British colony.
Erin was surprised to see she had such deep roots in America, but a greater surprise was still to come.
In 1820, John owned a hotel on the Hudson River, outside Albany, New York, and that wasn't all he owned.
BURNETT: "Household of John W. Rockwell, number of slaves, one, number of free colored persons, four."
BURNETT: Wow, and that's, I mean, obviously at that time there would've been slaves in New York, but... GATES: Your fourth great- grandfather was a slave owner.
Did you ever hear anything about this or have any idea?
I did not know this at all.
GATES: What's it like to see that?
BURNETT: I mean it's hard to hear because, on some level, as an American, you know that's a, a, a dark and ongoing part of our history in so many ways.
So, uh, you know, it, it's, it's part of my family, as well, but it is, it's hard to see it and to know it, to know that this is a part of me, uh, my family history, is, you know, it's, it's sad.
GATES: According to the 1820 census, John owned one slave and employed four other free people of color.
At the time, New York was on a very slow road to abolition, it would take until the year 1848 for every Black person in the state to be free.
And although Erin's ancestors would have no enslaved people in their home by 1830, this story left her wondering about their moral fiber.
BURNETT: I, I'm sort of stuck on this whole question, though, of uh, of how they have a slave... GATES: Mm-hmm.
BURNETT: And people of color who are not slaves and how they, how they felt.
GATES: Had their... BURNETT: You can't know what was in their heart, but... GATES: No.
BURNETT: Did they have some sort of a moral quandary when they look at one enslaved person and four?
GATES: Well, if I'd been the enslaved person, I'd have been reminding them every day.
You would think that they would realize the deep iniquity of it.
GATES: You would think.
You know massa, look at, John is free, right?
BURNETT: Wow, it's really incredible.
GATES: We had one more journey to share with Erin.
In the archives of the library of Virginia, we found a muster roll from the year 1624, it lists Erin's 10th great-grandfather, a man named Henry Carsley, as being a "servant."
Henry was born in England around 1602, meaning that he likely came to the new world as an indentured laborer, and worked for as many as seven years to gain his liberty.
What do you make of that?
BURNETT: Well, you know, you think, I mean, it's, it's hard to imagine yourself in another time because you don't know what would've motivated you or how you would've felt, but to imagine what, what you wanted to leave.
BURNETT: To say I'm going to get on a ship where I don't know if I'm going to live, and there was a good chance you wouldn't, and go to another country where there was a good chance you wouldn't, and for seven years be an indentured servant to somebody else all for the hope that at the end of that, question mark?
BURNETT: That, that is pretty amazing to think about.
GATES: It is, and that you would roll the dice.
BURNETT: Right, I don't, I can't imagine that I would be able to do something like that.
BURNETT: It's a pretty stunning thing.
GATES: The paper trail had run out for each of my guests, it was time to unfurl their full family trees.
BURNETT: This is amazing.
How many people!
GATES: Now filled with ancestors whose names they'd never heard before.
This is your family tree.
For all three, it was a moment of awe.
It's very overwhelming.
But I'm very proud.
GATES: A chance to see how their own identities had been forged by the women and men who came before them.
CARLSON: Oh, my gosh, there's so many.
BURNETT: It's opened up whole new, a whole new part of me and, what I now have are these, these touch-points that connect, you know, and when you connect to things, you, you, you ask more questions about them, and you learn more about them, and I think that that is actually a really empowering thing.
TALLEY: This has been a tremendous uh, moment and education for me to know that there is pride of an ancestor and that I come from strong uh, people and that my ancestors were probably people of great strength and dignity and regality.
GATES: Regality is the right word.
TALLEY: And regality is what I always see in my, in my strongest, my grandmother and my father, a sense of regal, regalness, a sense of pride that's intuitive.
It's not taught, you know?
TALLEY: It's not taught.
GATES: Has it changed anything about how you see yourself?
CARLSON: I think it makes me feel connected, my own strength, because sometimes I can lose sight of that, but when I see how my ancestors have really taken charge of their lives and made these incredible journeys for their own hopes and desires, it makes me feel like I can do whatever I want.
GATES: That's the end of our search for the ancestors of Amy Carlson, André Leon Talley and Erin Burnett.
Join me next time as we unlock the secrets of the past for new guests, on another episode of "Finding Your Roots."