Hidden in the Genes
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps Rebecca Hall and Lee Daniels solve family mysteries through DNA detective work, illuminating both history and their own identities.
GATES: I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Welcome to "Finding Your Roots."
In this episode,
we'll meet television and film producer Lee Daniels
and actor/director Rebecca Hall.
Two people whose lives have been marked by
deep family mysteries.
HALL: I look at my mother...
She didn't look like everyone else's mother
in the English countryside.
DANIELS: There were certain things we just
didn't talk about.
DANIELS: And it's just passed down from
generation to generation.
GATES: These silences. DANIELS: Mmm-hmm.
DANIELS: Well the silence stops with me.
GATES: To uncover their roots, we've used every tool available.
Genealogists comb through the paper trail
their ancestors left behind,
while DNA experts utilized the latest advances in
genetic analysis to reveal secrets hundreds of years old.
And we've compiled everything into a book of life,
a record of all of our discoveries.
HALL: How do you find these?
DANIELS: No. No!
GATES: And a window into the hidden past.
HALL: Didn't see this coming.
DANIELS: Not only is it a history lesson
but it's personal. It is, uh, powerful.
Our people have gone through so much.
GATES: Lee and Rebecca grew up in families where secrets and
social conventions obscured their ancestry
behind thick veils.
In this episode, we're going to lift those veils and
reconstruct their roots,
revealing new aspects of their identities,
while shedding light on our nation's complex racial past.
(theme music plays)
GATES: Lee Daniels is a true pioneer.
The multi-talented producer, screenwriter,
and director has won international fame in a career
that's spanned more than three decades.
Along the way, he's continually pushed boundaries,
daring Hollywood to be more inclusive,
and leading the way via a string of groundbreaking hits.
From the hard-edged social drama "Precious",
to "Empire" the hip hop saga of ambition, talent and greed.
But to hear Lee tell it, all he's really done is hold up
a mirror to the people he knows best: his family.
DANIELS: I am them.
My family is everything that you see on screen.
DANIELS: I carry them proudly.
The trauma, the pain, the humor, the sexy.
DANIELS: The everything is celebrating them.
GATES: As Lee readily acknowledges trauma is at the
heart of his work, the family he so celebrates has not
always treated him so well.
Indeed his life has been a constant process of
adjustment and adaptation.
Lee grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
in a home where his father, William Daniels,
a police officer, frequently beat both Lee and his mother.
The abuse only ended when William was killed
trying to stop a robbery.
Lee was just 15 at the time, but he's still wrestling
with troubled memories of his father.
DANIELS: I went through a period of just in awe of this
man that was very literate who wanted to be a lawyer but had
to settle for being a cop because he had children.
DANIELS: The books and the literature that he had and the
poems that he wrote.
Uh, and his physical beauty, all of it was just something
that sticks out in my head when I think of my dad.
But he was abusive.
Uh, and I'm trying to understand, at 61, why?
Because I do believe that he was still somebody else's child.
GATES: Lee's questions may be unanswerable but he knows
full well why he's been able to carry on even as
those questions haunt him.
In the wake of his father's death,
Lee's mother struggled to raise him and ultimately made
a decision that would essentially reinvent them both.
She told Lee that they were going to use the address of a
wealthy acquaintance and pretend that they lived in the
suburbs, so that Lee could attend a better school.
DANIELS: It really changed the trajectory of
who it is that I am.
DANIELS: Because I learned how to navigate between an
all-Black world and an all-white world.
So, I was able to seamlessly go back and forth into, into
blossoming into who I am.
GATES: Did they treat you well?
DANIELS: Yeah, mmm-hmm.
The only time I was not treated well was when
I auditioned for "the sound of music" and
I couldn't understand why I couldn't play...
GATES: Von Trapp... DANIELS: The lead.
DANIELS: I was like what is the problem?
Because clearly that guy over there ain't as good as I am.
I know that for sure.
I didn't understand.
I think it was the first time I really understood race.
That I could not...
The teacher was looking at me like,
how do we tell this little Black boy?
GATES: My second guest is renowned actor Rebecca Hall,
who's given life to a slew of memorable characters in
a dizzying array of genres, from classical theater to
Rebecca was born to be on stage.
Her father was Sir Peter Hall, the legendary founder of
the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Her mother, Maria Louise Ewing,
was an international opera star of the 1970s and 80s,
and Rebecca grew up in London,
the theater capital of the world,
knowing that she wanted to follow in
her parents footsteps.
Did they try to dampen any theatrical inclination
that you had?
HALL: No, they were very accepting of it.
They were very tolerant, but I didn't really tell them
too much about it.
It was quite quiet about it for a long time.
I was like, yes.
I knew I was going to act forever and then
I didn't talk about it.
But I could hear them now: "she thinks we don't know."
HALL: Yes. I think that's definitely true.
GATES: Rebecca's parents may have been clear-eyed about
her ambitions, but when it came to helping her
understand her ancestry, well, that was another story.
Her mother was an American, born in Detroit, Michigan,
but she left the states behind to pursue her career,
and Rebecca never met her mother's father,
her own grandfather,
instead, she only heard rumors about him.
Rumors that raised questions about his ethnicity.
Those questions suddenly came into focus when Rebecca read
"Passing", a classic American novel about an
African American woman who pretends that she's white.
How did you discover the novel?
HALL: I was talking a lot to people
about the fact that
my mother intimated to me that there was
African American ancestry and that her father was
possibly Black, possibly Native American.
She wasn't entirely sure.
And someone gave me the book and said a lot of
the things that you're talking about,
a lot of the things, you know,
there was a term for what you're describing.
In your family and it was called passing.
HALL: I went, huh?
And they said read this book, and I read it and even though
I don't know the facts of this in my family and maybe you do
but I had a sort of
gut response to the material that felt
very powerful to me.
GATES: Rebecca was so taken by the novel that she
adapted it into a film,
all the while grappling with how this material
related to her own identity.
GATES: Did you get grief for being white or English?
GATES: I mean I can't believe that you didn't.
I mean when I was pitching it to people and
trying to get it made.
Everyone would kind of go, and then I'd say,
well, look, when I was growing up my mother would
say things to me like, well, you know we're Black.
And then another day she'd say I don't really know,
and I'd say tell me more.
What's the details of it?
She said, well, I don't really know.
And the more I started to think about it the more I
started to understand that while I have no experience of
what it is to be a Black person in America in my
day-to-day walking through the world,
what I do have experience of is being raised by people who
were being raised by people who did.
And so, I suppose people felt that my interest in it
GATES: My two guests come from very different backgrounds.
But as we began to research their roots
we found that their family stories overlapped
in very surprising ways
revealing secrets that had lain hidden for generations.
It was time to bring those secrets to light.
We started with Rebecca, and the questions that had swirled
around her mother since her childhood.
HALL: I look at my mother...
She was always very extraordinarily beautiful,
yes, but just she didn't look like everyone else's
mother in the English countryside so,
I think on some level I was always kind of,
fascinated in her, like,
what what's going on here?
GATES: So, how does your mother self-identify?
When she checks the census she does she check,
she would check white?
HALL: Yeah. GATES: Right.
As we set out to untangle her mother's identity,
we focused on the man at the center of all the confusion.
Rebecca's maternal grandfather, Norman Ewing.
Norman, by all accounts, was larger than life:
a talented musician who gave lectures and performances
centered around his Native American heritage.
But Norman died in 1968,
taking the details of that heritage with him
to the grave.
Rebecca knew absolutely nothing about his parents,
much less his deeper roots.
We uncovered a newspaper article from the year 1926
describing Norman's ties to the Dakota-Sioux nation,
ties that were far deeper than Rebecca had imagined.
HALL: "The Ithaca conservatory of music is about to graduate
its first American Indian.
A hereditary chief of the Sioux tribe,
a descendant of warriors who fought on the
Custer battlefield, he is Norman I. Ewing,
born on the Fort Peck Indian reservation at
Poplar, Montana 30 years ago.
He grew up amidst the tribal customs and ceremonials
of the Sioux.
At 13, he was left alone by the death of both parents and
has since made his own way."
GATES: Rebecca, according to this article,
your grandfather Norman was a chief of the Dakota,
one of the native American tribes.
Not only that, it appears that his and if true,
your ancestors fought in the battle of Little Big Horn,
also known as of course Custer's last stand.
Had you ever heard about this experience for your grandfather?
HALL: No, no.
GATES: What do you think of that?
HALL: It's very surprising.
GATES: We now set out to verify Norman's story.
According to this article, he was born in Poplar, Montana,
on what was known as the Fort Peck Indian reservation.
We found him there in 1916,
marrying a Native American woman named Maggie Culbertson.
Maggie died in the 1920s, and Norman began to travel the
country soon after, playing music and lecturing,
until the late 1930s, when he married Rebecca's grandmother
and settled in Detroit.
So far, the story checked out.
But in the 1934 census for the Fort Peck reservation,
we saw something curious next to Norman's name:
the letters "N.E.",
an abbreviation for "not enrolled"
which indicates that Norman was not technically
a member of the Dakota Sioux nation.
GATES: We talked to a scholar about this who said that it
was most likely because your grandfather could not
produce documentation or witnesses to substantiate
his claim to be a native person.
Now, why would a tribal chief have trouble proving
that he was, in fact, an indigenous person?
HALL: Because he wasn't?
GATES: Could you please turn the page?
GATES: Rebecca, this is your grandfather's 1939
application for Social Security.
Would you please read what it says?
HALL: "Norman Isaac Ewing, color or race, White.
Date of birth, May 7, 1894.
Place of birth, Falls Church, VA."
GATES: This application shows that Rebecca's grandfather was
a white man born in Virginia,
not a Native American from Montana.
It seemed like we solved our mystery but we were wrong.
Digging deeper, we found census records,
draft cards and other documents that show Norman was
willfully and quite creatively inconsistent
regarding his identity.
Sometimes he listed himself as white,
sometimes as Native American,
and his birthplace varied as well.
Desperate to find clarity, we turned to Rebecca's DNA.
We gave her an admixture test, which reveals a person's
ancestral heritage over roughly the last 500 years.
If her grandfather, in fact, had Native American DNA,
then Rebecca should have inherited some of it.
The moment of tRuth was at hand.
HALL: Yes. GATES: Please turn the page.
Rebecca Hall, would you please tell us how much
Native American genetic ancestry that you have in your genome?
HALL: Um, none.
GATES: None. Zero.
Yes, there's a large one pie with no pieces.
GATES: So, it would appear, at least according to your DNA,
that your grandfather fabricated the story of his origin.
What's it like to see that?
HALL: I sort of understand taking on that identity
because you married an indigenous woman and
that was your community.
I don't entirely understand how you could then become
an expert and live it so publicly like that.
GATES: Mm-hmm. HALL: Wow.
GATES: There was, of course, a question still in front of us:
was Norman an African American?
Rebecca had heard stories that he was,
and if those stories were true,
they would explain, at least in part,
his decision to hide his identity.
We found our answer in the 1910 census for Washington, DC,
where Norman and his parents and siblings are
listed as "mulattoes",
meaning that they were at least in part Black.
HALL: It's just moving to see it written down.
GATES: Oh yeah.
HALL: Because the weight of that.
HALL: I think, you know, it's confirmed,
I see something here. I mean, it's not confirm...
Sort of confirmed what I've always suspected and
yeah I just couldn't shake the feeling that there was
something being hidden in my growing up.
And honestly, it's a tremendous relief to just
get it out.
GATES: Norman was 15 years old when this census was recorded.
At that time, American racial relations were defined by
Jim Crow segregation.
Legally African Americans were second class citizens,
subjected to daily humiliations,
and vulnerable to the constant threat of violence.
We believe that Norman started listing himself as
Native American around the time he married
his first wife in 1916.
That decision now seemed understandable.
Embracing the myth of having noble Native American ancestry
was a way for Norman to break free of the anti-Black
racism that surrounded him.
Does knowing this make you think of your grandfather,
and your identity differently?
HALL: I mean I knew this on some level,
and I'm still grappling with what that means for who I am.
HALL: But I do think of my success in the world,
my existence in the world, on some level being
dependent on this choice.
HALL: And that's complicated.
GATES: That's very complicated.
It enabled a set of possibilities that resulted in
choices your mom could make, which would have been closed
to her otherwise, without a doubt.
HALL: Without a doubt.
Much like Rebecca, Lee Daniels was about to uncover a once
scandalous story now buried within his family tree.
It begins with his paternal grandfather-Otis Daniels,
who helped to raise Lee him and bring a measure of
happiness to a very troubled childhood.
DANIELS: He was a passive, wonderful man.
I think he had eight or nine kids.
He did many jobs.
He was a manager of a gas station to a manager of a
cinema house, movie theater.
Um, just salt of the earth, great lemonade maker.
Um, beautiful man that I miss very much.
GATES: Clearly Lee loved his grandfather,
but he knew almost nothing about Otis's roots.
And as we started our research,
we began to understand why.
In the 1930 census for Durham, North Carolina,
we found Otis and his mother Ada living in
a very unusual household.
DANIELS: "Laura Hunter, head of household. Age, 35.
Widow. Occupation, maid at hotel.
Ada Daniels, mother. Age 49. Widow.
Occupation, worker at factory.
Otis Daniels, brother. Age, 17."
What is that?
GATES: That's Otis at the age of 17.
DANIELS: This is my grandfather? GATES: Mm-hmm.
With his mother, your great-grandmother, Ada Daniels,
living in the household of Otis's older sister.
DANIELS: Otis's older sister.
GATES: Yep, and her name was Laura Hunter.
Okay. You with me?
GATES: Does anything on that census strike you as odd?
DANIELS: Why isn't she living with her husband?
GATES: Lee's question gets to the heart of mystery:
where was Ada's husband, Otis' father?
We could find no records to guide us.
Otis' marriage license, filed in 1940,
lists his father as a man named "William Daniels",
and indicates that William was deceased.
But our search for William went nowhere.
GATES: Have you ever heard this name or heard anything
about William Daniels?
DANIELS: Uh-uh. GATES: Okay.
Well, Lee, we spent hours researching this and we found
no evidence whatsoever of a man named William Daniels that
he ever existed.
DANIELS: That's interesting. GATES: So, we turned to DNA.
GATES: And when we analyzed your DNA we found
that you have a number of matches who connect to you
through one man.
And that man is Otis's father.
That man, we discovered just using DNA analysis.
He is your great-grandfather.
You want to meet him?
DANIELS: Yeah. GATES: Please turn the page.
DANIELS: No! No!
GATES: Lee shares DNA with a network of people all tied to
a man named Rufus Hunter.
This was shocking because Rufus was the husband of
Otis's older sister Laura Hunter,
and the father of Otis' niece, Ruth.
So Rufus had children with both Ada Daniels
and with her daughter Laura,
and they all lived in the same house!
DANIELS: This is a gag. This is outrageous.
GATES: It is stunningly surprising.
GATES: Now, you grew up knowing Ruth.
You called her Aunt Ruth.
DANIELS: I did.
GATES: Did she ever share anything about her father's
relationship with either her mother Laura or
your great-grandmother Ada?
DANIELS: No. None of it.
GATES: Do you think that your grandfather knew
the identity of his father?
After all, he grew up in Rufus's household.
DANIELS: There were certain things we just didn't talk
about with our grandparents and my father,
I could plug my mother for a little bit but I could never,
there were certain things you just didn't,
if they didn't want to talk about it...
GATES: Right. DANIELS: It wasn't talked about.
GATES: Has anything that we've discussed changed
anything about the way you think of your father,
about who he was or how he became who he was?
DANIELS: It explains why he would never give me
information about my grandfather.
Though my grandfather was really loving,
why my grandfather would never give me information
about his father.
GATES: Right. DANIELS: You know?
DANIELS: It's just passed down from generation to generation
from one Black man to the next Black man
to the next Black man.
GATES: These silences.
DANIELS: Mm-hmm. GATES: Yeah.
DANIELS: Well, the silence stops with me,
which is a good thing.
GATES: Now that we'd identified Otis parents,
we could go further on this branch of Lee's family tree.
Otis' grandfather, Lee's great-great-grandfather,
was a man named "Novel Daniel".
Novel was born into slavery sometime around 1800,
likely in Wake County, North Carolina.
Searching for evidence of his life,
we noticed that in 1850, a white resident of Wake County
named "Zadock Daniel" filed a slave schedule indicating that
he owned ten human beings,
we wondered if Novel might be one of them.
So, he would have been between about 45 and 55 years old in
that year 1850.
So, read those slaves again.
DANIELS: 45, 40, and 39.
GATES: Lee, we believe that it's very likely that one of
these male slaves is your great-great-grandfather and
that he was owned by Zadock Daniel.
GATES: And think about this, if your
great-great-grandfather Novel was indeed Zadock's slave it
would mean that you carry the last name of the white man who
held your ancestor in bondage.
Have you given much thought to the origins of your last name?
DANIELS: No, I was looking forward to this.
I've been looking forward to this for quite some time
and this is blowing my mind.
GATES: This record lists Zadock Daniel's
enslaved human beings by age, sex and color,
but not by name.
So, on its own, we can't be certain that one of these
marks actually represents Lee's ancestor.
But we soon found something that erased all doubts:
Zadock Daniel's will, in which he enumerates his
human property by name.
DANIELS: "to my beloved wife, Martha,
and my three children by her, Sarah B. Coakley,
Henderson l. Daniels, and Thomas P. Daniels,
to be divided in the following manner:
Three negroes, Novel, Harriet, and her child John,
two horses, her choice, three cows and calves and
two younger cattle, her choice, three sows and pigs and
as many young hogs to make
a sufficiency of pork for her family."
Just that we are able to be, you know,
that Black people were talked about with the same,
in the same, with the same
with cows and calves is disturbing.
GATES: It's horrible.
DANIELS: It's disturbing.
GATES: And they didn't even think about it because they
were property just like, and you read it,
the two horses, three cows and calves.
DANIELS: Three sows and a pig.
GATES: Sows and pigs and as many young hogs.
Oh, yeah, and three negroes.
So, you now know where the name Daniel came from and
you know who owned, the white man,
who owned your ancestors in slavery.
DANIELS: It's, uh, it's disturbing. Sad.
GATES: Novel's story doesn't end here.
He survived slavery, and started a family.
But like so many African Americans of his generation,
he was unable to accrue any wealth in the Jim Crow south.
He died a farmer, almost certainly a sharecropper,
likely in the same part of North Carolina where he had
spent decades in slavery.
Novel Daniels is also the oldest ancestor we could
identify on this branch of Lee's family tree.
Beyond him we could go no further.
Surveying how far we'd come, Lee found himself wondering
how so much of his history had been obscured,
or willfully forgotten.
DANIELS: I don't know why Black people,
why we kept information to ourselves.
DANIELS: I think, some of it. GATES: Right.
DANIELS: Embarrassment maybe.
GATES: Embarrassment, I agree.
If you say it out loud it makes it worse.
If I don't say it, it'll go away and of course
it never goes away.
GATES: We'd already reveled how Rebecca Hall's grandfather,
Norman Ewing, concealed his African American heritage
in an attempt to escape the racism of Jim Crow America.
Now we turned our attention to Norman's father,
Rebecca's great-grandfather, a man named John Ewing.
John was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1858,
meaning he was roughly seven years old when freedom came.
It was a time when many Black people were struggling
simply to survive.
And since his son Norman chose to disguise
his African American ancestry,
I suspected that John's life was severely limited
by those struggles too, but I was mistaken.
published in a Washington, DC newspaper in 1911,
is a litany of startling accomplishments.
HALL: "He came to the city in the fall of 1872 as a result
of a desire to see the national capitol.
Here he met President Grant, Frederick Douglass,
John M. Langston, and Horace Maynard,
who took a great interest in him and secured for him
a position in the United States Treasury Department,
which enabled him to enter
Howard University Preparatory Department.
Here he continued until the spring of 1875 when he went to
Constantinople with Mr. Horace Maynard,
who had been appointed United States minister to Turkey.
Mr. Ewing was always interested in anything
looking to the elevation of the race along
moral and educational lines."
Gosh. Excuse me. What?
And all of that is true, unlike the stories that
your grandfather confected.
HALL: Oh, my goodness.
This is the heritage your grandfather was
walking away from.
HALL: Oh, my, oh.
I don't really have any words.
GATES: We don't how he did it, but,
for a time, Rebecca's ancestor was one of the most prominent
African Americans in Washington
working for the federal government,
interacting with politicians and ambassadors,
and becoming a friend of Frederick Douglass.
One the greatest minds this country has ever produced and
the most famous Black man of the entire 19th century.
HALL: I mean, these are people I've read about...
GATES: Yes, of course. HALL: I've ready about,
obviously I have but it's truly mind-blowing.
GATES: Your great-grandfather was a big deal.
HALL: He was. He was.
I'm glad that we can celebrate him a little bit.
I want to show you one more thing.
Could you please turn the page?
GATES: That's your great-grandfather.
That's John William Ewing.
HALL: He was dashing, huh?
GATES: He was dashing.
He was brilliant and he was dashing.
GATES: We now faced a new question.
In the 1910 census,
John Ewing is listed as being a mulatto,
meaning he likely had recent white ancestry.
We were curious about where it came from.
We knew that John's mother, Violet Ewing,
was born around 1832 in Virginia.
But that's as far as the paper trail could take us.
Then we noticed something in Rebecca's DNA.
She has multiple matches with people who can all
trace their ancestry back to one couple.
Samuel and Mary Ewing.
They were both born in Virginia in the 1780s,
and they were white.
What's more, they had relatives who owned slaves,
including relatives living in Tennessee,
where John was born.
So while we can't be certain,
we now had a compelling theory.
We think it's possible that Violet was enslaved by the
Ewing family in Virginia and she was moved,
quite possibly while still pregnant to the
Lincoln County, Tennessee area where members of the
extended Ewing family had been residing since the early-1800s,
which is why your family traces back to Tennessee.
So, think about this, if we're right,
in 1860 your great-great- grandmother Violet was
enslaved by the cousin of the man who had impregnated her.
What's it like to learn this?
HALL: It's so sad.
GATES: Incredibly sad.
HALL: I find it very very sad and I find it very moving that
you know that my mother,
that her sisters they don't really have full access
to this and yet they carry that name.
GATES: Mmm-hmm, yes.
HALL: And the history of that and everything that in it.
It deserves to be known I think.
GATES: We were not yet done with Rebecca's
African American roots, not by a long shot.
John Ewing's wife, Rebecca's great-grandmother,
was a woman named Harriet Norman.
Harriet was born around 1864, likely in Ohio,
and she descends from a long line of free Black people,
including, a man who was born around 1760,
in what was then the British colony of Maryland.
It's highly unusual for a Black person to able to
identify an ancestor from this era by name.
HALL: Bazabeel "Basil" Norman.
GATES: Bazabeel "Basil" Norman.
You have just met your fourth-great-grandfather.
Your great-great-great- great-grandfather.
HALL: Yeah, i...
GATES: Can you believe we've taken your mother's
family tree back this far?
HALL: No, I can't believe that you have done this,
found all this information.
It's just truly, truly remarkable.
And I understand how rare it is.
GATES: It is exceptionally rare,
but I want to tell you one little thing about
good old fourth-great- grandfather Bazabeel.
HALL: Yeah. Please do.
GATES: Could you please turn the page?
Rebecca, that document was written in 1818.
So, it was recorded more than 200 years ago.
Would you please read the transcribed section?
HALL: "Bazabeel Norman of the township of Roxbury,
County of Washington and State of Ohio,
I enlisted in the fall of the year 1777
into the company commanded by Captain Richard Anderson
as a private soldier and in the 7th regiment
commanded by Colonel John Gunby in the Maryland line and
served my country against the common enemy until the close
of the war on the continental establishment when I was
discharged under a general order."
GATES: Do you know what that means?
HALL: I think I do but I want you to tell me.
GATES: Rebecca, your fourth-great-grandfather
fought in the American Revolution.
HALL: Yeah. That's what I thought.
GATES: He was a patriot.
Now, when you were a school girl studying about the rebellion
of the colonies did you ever think you had an ancestor,
a, who fought with the patriots and
b, that he was Black?
HALL: No. No, I did not.
GATES: Scholars estimate that roughly 5,000 people of color
fought for our nation's independence.
And Rebecca's 4th great-grandfather was
one of them, often on the front lines!
He served in the 7th Maryland regiment of the continental
army, which fought up and down the eastern seaboard,
in a number of notable battles,
including the famed patriot victory at
Cowpens, South Carolina.
It was some of the most intense combat of
the entire war,
and Bazabeel was compensated for his courage by the
federal government with a land grant in Ohio.
You are looking at your family's land.
That is the very land that Bazabeel settled in 1820
as a reward for his heroic service during
the American Revolution.
HALL: Oh. Wow.
GATES: You have an extraordinarily detailed
paper trail for a person of African descent.
GATES: And you, my dear, are indeed a person
of African descent.
HALL: I'm very moved, obviously.
GATES: We had already explored Lee Daniels' father's
family tree, untangling the secrets of his
Now, turning to Lee's mother's roots,
we traced back two generations to his great-grandparents,
Edward and Mary Watson, and encountered a very different
kind of secret.
Now, I understand that there's a family story about them.
GATES: Can you tell me about this?
What you've heard.
DANIELS: I don't know whether it's a rumor or
how accurate it is.
But that grand, my great-grandfather.
GATES: Mm-hmm. Edward. DANIELS: Edward.
Shot my great-grandmother and killed her.
GATES: Okay. DANIELS: How accurate is that?
GATES: We're going to find out. DANIELS: Okay.
GATES: As it turns out, the family story was quite accurate.
We found its tragic details in an article published
in the "Philadelphia Inquirer" on March 30th, 1922.
DANIELS: "Negro kills wife. Shoots self.
Edward Watson, colored, 45 years old,
shot his wife Mary, 32 years old,
last evening in the drug store of Jerome Levinson,
19th and Fitzwater streets.
Mrs. Watson was hit below the heart and died later.
After shooting his wife, Watson fired into his
own mouth and it is expected that he will die."
GATES: Mmm. That's a lot to take in.
DANIELS: Mm-hmm. It's coming back to me now.
I think that she had had an affair.
GATES: Did you know that he turned the gun on himself?
I didn't know he tried to kill himself.
I mean this is the first time I'm actually
hearing this and seeing...
DANIELS: It in writing that this wasn't some sort of folklore.
GATES: Against all odds, Edward survived his own
suicide attempt, then stood trial for his wife's murder.
The court found him to be of unsound mind,
and sentenced him to a state-run hospital for the
criminally insane in Fairview, Pennsylvania.
But Edward didn't stay at Fairview.
When we found his discharge papers,
they showed that after six years,
Edward simply left the institution, without permission.
DANIELS: What do you mean he left?
GATES: He just walked away.
He just split after spending six years there.
DANIELS: Wait, so he kills my great-grandmother.
DANIELS: Goes into a mental institution.
GATES: Spends six years.
DANIELS: And just walks out.
GATES: And he walked away, man.
We don't know for sure.
We spoke to a Pennsylvania legal scholar and he said
that it was likely he just walked away and
simply never reported back.
What's it like to learn that?
DANIELS: Well, I was told,
again, folklore was told to me that
he never went to jail for it, for the murder.
GATES: Well, that's kind of right.
I mean he went to a mental institution,
six years and then he walked out.
DANIELS: Walked out. Wow.
GATES: Edward's story was about to take a final twist,
one that neither Lee nor I could fully understand.
After leaving Fairview, Edward returned to Philadelphia,
found a job at a newspaper,
and rebuilt his relationship with his children,
despite the fact that he'd murdered their mother.
GATES: Your mom remembered him as a sweet,
well-dressed, debonair man.
But her father would always tear up when she'd ask him
questions about his mother's death which is
DANIELS: It's complicated. GATES: It's complicated.
DANIELS: It's really complicated.
You know, I had this weird feeling as a kid if in fact
he did kill his wife that's bad because,
and so I think having my mother and father fighting
I think in the back of my head I always felt that something
like that could happen to my mother.
GATES: Oh, that's horrible to live in fear of that.
And so, uh, and yet his kids were so loving to him.
It was just a contradiction to,
and a forgiveness for killing their mother.
GATES: I was going to say they forgave him and they go,
well, you've got to move on.
Now's now and it's a terrible thing that happened
and they moved on.
That was a monumental act of forgiveness.
DANIELS: You just don't understand how people change
their whole, I look at my kids and I think about how they
view the world and how I view the world and how my parents
view the world and how their parents view the world,
viewed the world.
We all change.
What was normal for them is not normal right now.
GATES: No, no.
Generational, dramatic generational changes.
GATES: I had one more surprise for Lee.
He told me that, growing up, he'd felt a connection to his
mother's mother's family, the Leecans.
They were musical, he recalled,
and fun-loving, and he wanted to know more about them.
We traced this line back to Lee's third great-grandparents,
Peter and Mary Ann Collins.
They were listed, by name,
in the 1850 census for Philadelphia,
which tells us something very significant
about their status.
The only people listed by name in the 1850 census were free.
DANIELS: That's why they're so damn uppity, them Leecans.
GATES: This is 15 years...
DANIELS: They weren't slaves.
I come from some uppity people.
GATES: They were free. Did you have any idea?
DANIELS: No. And that's so fabulous to hear.
It explains their joie de vivre.
GATES: When Peter and Mary Ann lived in Philadelphia,
it was a center of free Black life in the United States,
a place where African Americans could raise families
in relative security.
The city had thriving Black churches,
Black business, and an array of Black social organizations.
But Lee's ancestors weren't originally from Philadelphia.
They were both born in Delaware,
just miles to the south, and a world away.
In Delaware, free people of color were subject to a
restrictive series of laws that limited their rights,
and threatened them with terrible punishments.
It could result in being sold into servitude.
DANIELS: So free but sort of?
GATES: Free but sort of.
On the edge and if you made one mistake you could be
sold back into slavery.
DANIELS: You think that's the reason why they skipped town
and went over to Pennsylvania?
GATES: My brother, Philadelphia must have
seemed like heaven, like quite an oasis.
They go, I'm outta here.
It was the nearest free city to the southern slave states.
What's it like to learn this?
DANIELS: Not only is it a history lesson but
it's personal. It is, uh, powerful.
Our people have gone through so much.
GATES: When the Civil War ended,
Philadelphia had that largest Black population of
any city in the north.
But it was by no means a paradise for African Americans.
Black people were at the bottom of a rapidly changing
social structure, competing for work with recent immigrants
and facing a rising tide of Jim Crow racism.
Lee's ancestors found themselves living in
largely Black neighborhoods,
filled with poor tenement housing and poor schools.
Lee's third great-grandfather Peter worked as a
manual laborer, and struggled to make a living
in this environment.
Struggles his children would inherit,
leaving Lee filled with gratitude at the thought of
all they endured.
DANIELS: How dare I complain.
How dare I complain or feel bad or woe is me.
DANIELS: For whatever small problem that I have right now.
They are looking down from the heavens and they are so proud.
And it fills me with pride that I know I made them happy.
GATES: That's great.
Can you imagine them sitting around Philly going,
man, we're going to have an ancestor.
He's going to be rich. He's going to be famous.
Pass me the bourbon isn't that great?
GATES: The paper trail had run out for each of my guests.
It was time to unfurl their full family trees.
HALL: It just keeps on going.
DANIELS: My tribe.
GATES: And see what DNA could tell us
about their deeper roots.
For Rebecca, this meant seeing her hidden heritage quantified.
She's 9% sub-saharan African,
finally bringing closure to the mystery that had hung
over her family for more than a century.
What is the first thing you are going to tell your mother?
HALL: I don't know.
I'm probably going to say, you know,
ma, not only are we Black. Like, we're really Black.
GATES: You're really Black. You have deep...
HALL: Deep and the stories.
You're not going to believe it.
HALL: She probably won't.
GATES: Lee Daniels' DNA echoed Rebecca's in showing just how
blended African Americans and europeans actually are,
and how often we seek to hide that fact.
Indeed Lee he thought he might have a significant amount of
Native American ancestry, but his admixture test told
a different story.
DANIELS: 1% of Native American, I'm completely wrong.
GATES: Completely wrong.
DANIELS: I thought, for some reason,
I don't know where my family get's that...
Cause you look at my family, they look like Indians.
The Leecans especially.
They look like they got a whole lot of Indian up in them.
GATES: The reason they look like it is because of
all that European ancestry you have.
Look at that, you're a third European. Almost.
DANIELS: 19% England. Who'd have thunk that.
GATES: You are just under a third of white.
This surprise would soon yield another.
When we compared Lee's DNA to that of everyone who's
been in our series, we found a significant match,
evidence of a cousin he didn't know he had,
one who almost certainly shares his European heritage.
Would you please turn the page?
DANIELS: No. No!
GATES: Yes. Absolutely.
DANIELS: How is this possible?
GATES: Because of that 29% white ancestry you have.
DANIELS: Mia Farrow?
GATES: Your DNA cousin is Mia Farrow.
DANIELS: Ain't that something!
GATES: Lee and Mia share a small identical segment of DNA
on their fourth chromosomes,
meaning they have a distant common ancestor
somewhere in their family trees.
We don't know where. We don't know their name.
But the DNA don't lie.
DANIELS: Isn't that something. Hey, cousin.
GATES: Isn't that great?
DANIELS: Beautiful. It's really beautiful, Skip.
GATES: That's the end of our journey with
Lee Daniels and Rebecca Hall.
Please join me next time when we unlock the
secrets of the past for new guests on another episode of
"Finding Your Roots".