Henry Louis Gates, Jr. RootsTech Keynote

Fifteen thousand people gathered to hear the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. RootsTech keynote address in person. Countless others followed the live stream. And we were all rewarded with a presentation full of insight and laughter, plus a call to action. This is quite simply the best genealogy presentation I have ever heard. And if you missed it, here’s the YouTube video.

And here’s the Gates keynote from Rootstech’s site.

Multicultural Genealogy

I already admired Dr. Gates for his academic scholarship, and his calm yet direct manner. But most of all I applaud him for bringing multiculturalism to genealogy via his African American Lives, Faces of America, and most recently, Finding Your Roots tv series.

Forty years ago when I began as a genealogy librarian, the library users were exclusively white and mostly concerned with qualifying for lineage groups. I was happy to help library users with these goals. But deep down, a part of me felt that my (European) immigrant family was excluded from genealogy. Gradually, digital collections and the Internet changed this. Expanded access to European and Scandinavian records made it possible for people like me – whose ancestors arrived in the U.S. after 1880 – to research their families.

And now, because of Dr. Gates’s inclusive philosophy, and ability to convene many disciplines in creative ways, genealogy has expanded before our eyes. I am a faithful reader of his books and viewer of his tv shows. (I was hooked from the time I saw the episode featuring Yo-Yo Ma.) I always learn from his guests of many ethnicities and accomplishments, together with the primary source and genetic research Dr. Gates presents.

A Call to Action

In his presentation at RootsTech 2018, I heard from Professor Gates a clear call to use family history and genetic genealogy research as a way to bring people together, explore our commonalities, rejoice in our differences, and become united in these divisive times.

Perhaps what was once my weakness years ago, not being able to find immigrant ancestors, can now be my strength. I’m thinking of new ways to post and speak about the long and all-too-repetitive history of immigration in the United States.

Finding Your Roots Curriculum Project

Dr. Gates then presented information on the Finding Your Roots Curriculum Project. Designed to integrate family history and genetic genealogy into middle school curricula, this project also has a “larger aim of stimulating long-term interest in education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. Pilot programs are in development for students at both the middle school and college levels, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. RootsTech Keynote

“Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings”

Thirteen young people were selected to participate at a genetics and genealogy camp at Penn State using ideas from the Curriculum Project. The web series, “Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings”, documents their experiences “as they use science to answer the question “Who am I?” …Campers explore[d] their own family history and DNA ancestry with techniques never before used in an educational setting.” I’ve never wanted to go to camp so badly in my entire life.

View the first episode at this link.

In case you missed it, here’s the YouTube link to Professor Gates’ keynote. As I listened, I thought of the video on the web that explored DNA results with non-genealogists. As H.G. Wells said, “Our true nationality is [hu]mankind.”

I did a few other things at RootsTech 2018, including presenting, which is fodder for another post. In the meantime, I’d like to credit RootsTech for the featured image above (because I didn’t get that close to my tv boyfriend) and Utah PBS for the logo for the Seedlings series.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”


  1. Jan Hackett 6 March 2018 at 10:29 AM - Reply

    Great recap of a great keynote speaker. Every year, when RootsTech winds down and I head home I wonder how they will top this one and every year, they do it. I’m never disappointed with RootsTech. Overwhelmed, tired, and ready for my own bed, but always, always leave with head and heart full. Dr. Gates speech was the best!

    • Nancy Loe 9 March 2018 at 3:29 PM - Reply

      RootsTech is taking a beating in reviews I’ve seen because of poor crowd management and not paying speakers. But I’d stand in line anytime to hear Professor Gates. What he has done to make genealogy multicultural is incredible. Glald you got to see him too, Jan.

  2. Cari Thomas 5 March 2018 at 4:24 PM - Reply

    Hi Nancy, I was among those sitting at home enthralled by Dr. Gates’ presentation live screening across my computer monitor. Talk about feeling privileged!
    I’ve felt as I have watched his years of TV, that Dr. G was on the dry and a little stand-offish side, but not so this RootsTech Keynote. Here he was as warm and welcoming as a close friend, and not just a friend, but an all-inclusive buddy.
    Thanks Nancy, for your highlighting of that speech and its speaker..
    Cari Thomas
    BTW, I wish they’d have live streamed your talk, too. Would love to have had the opportunity to hear and see you, via RootsTech.

    • Nancy Loe 5 March 2018 at 4:41 PM - Reply

      Cari, I’m so glad you could be there virtually! I would love to have met him, but I fear I would have been completely tongue-tied. But in all ways, he works for good and genealogy is just the vehicle.

  3. Janice Hall 5 March 2018 at 3:28 PM - Reply

    You have said so eloquently exactly the way I also feel about Dr. Gates. Thank-you for that and for sharing your experience.

    • Nancy Loe 5 March 2018 at 3:54 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Janice. I was trying not to sound too much like a fangrrl but it’s difficult to avoid when talking about Professor Gates.

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