Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding Your Roots Review: Born Champions (S2 E2)

The second episode of the second season of Finding Your Roots ran on Tuesday, September 30. Again, I didn't get to watch it until the evening of Wednesday, October 1 online. Season 2 Episode 2 (S2E2) is available at

This episode, Born Champions, like the last, explored the ancestry of three celebrities. On this episode the celebrities were tennis star Billie Jean King, recently retired New York Yankee Derek Jeter, and basketball player Rebecca Lobo. 

The title of the episode led me to believe that we might see some evidence in their family trees that contributed to these individuals' great athleticism. That was not the case though. No one's ancestors seemed to be star athletes. Nonetheless, it was another fascinating episode.

The surprising thing to me is how the researchers for this program discover family heirlooms and photos. We are given the impression that these celebrities have some interest in the family history which makes me wonder how they do not know on their own that such treasures exist. For example, in Billie Jean King's "Book of Life" they revealed a page from a family bible. Billie did not know the bible existed. How does that happen?

In the instance of Derek Jeter, Louis Henry Gates, Jr. presented him with a photo of his great-great grandfather, Green Jeter. Now that I could understand finding a photo of him. Green was a minister. The church he built, which still stands, could have an archive of images unknown to the family; obviously the case. But for Rebecca Lobo, where did they find a photo of her great grandmother? Her great grandmother was not a prominent member of a community whose image was stored in some historical collection. Where did they get that?  And the diary of Lobo's other great grandmother, what relative was hiding that away? 

The inclusion of such family heirlooms amazed me. 

Each guest also had their DNA tested which is always the case on this program and is always so fascinating to me. The DNA results for King, whose real last name is Moffitt, refuted her family lore that she had Native American ancestry. Her ancestry is 100% European.

Lobo's test revealed that she has approximately 10% of her DNA derived from someone of Jewish origin. She had never heard of any Jewish ancestors but such a significant percentage suggests it could be inherited from an unknown great-grandfather. I think Gates was a little too convinced of that possibility. Autosomal DNA cannot exact the ancestor from which you derive a segment of your DNA. Only Y-DNA and mitochondrial-DNA testing is that specific. Y-DNA, which only men have, can only determine the most paternal line. And mitochondrial-DNA can only determine one's most maternal line. So Lobo's 10% Ashkenazi Jewish DNA coming from that unknown great-grandfather is good guess and very likely but still just a guess. 

Gates estimated that we get 12.5% of our DNA from each of our great-grandparents but the truth is we do not inherit out DNA equally for each of our ancestors. DNA its only equally inherited from our parents. In theory we get 25% from each grandparent which means in theory we get 12.5% from each great-grandparent - - In theory. Given the recombinant nature of DNA though, those percentages are only approximations. In the 50% I got from my dad, I did not necessarily get equal potions from each of his parents. DNA mixes itself up before it devised into the sex cells. So that 10% Jewish DNA probably, PROBABLY, is in part inherited from Lobo's unknown great-grandparent.

In the case of Derek Jeter's DNA testing, Y-DNA testing suggested that the slave owner also fathered Derek's great-great grandfather. Y-DNA is more exacting than autosomal testing but still not 100% proof. Comparing the Y-chromosome of a known direct male descendant to a possible direct male descendent can suggest who fathered a child. Direct male descendant means a pure male line; father to son to son to son... And this program was able to do that for Derek but brothers have the same Y-chromosome. [Insert shoulder shrug here.]

Tomorrow’s episode will feature journalist Anderson Cooper, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and actress/playwright/professor Anna Deavere Smith.

No comments:

Post a Comment