‘Finding Your Roots’ – The favor Henry Louis Gates did for Richard Branson

Matching celebrity DNA on ‘Finding Your Roots’

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. of ‘Finding Your Roots’ Tuesday on PBS (check local listings)

Q: At the end of each show, you do that DNA comparison of people who have been on the show, and you’ve matched up several people that were distant cousins. Do you think that changes their relationship?

A: Well, with Bernie (Sanders) and Larry David, it definitely did. Larry David innocently doing this fabulous Bernie, right? And then it turns out that they’re DNA cousins. So some people and they’ve connected since then. And I’ve heard Bernie brag about it and I’ve heard Larry brag about it in person and on TV. Some people reach out to each other. Many people will ask if they can … continue research. …

Q: Have you had any guests whose lineage was easy to trace?

A: Yes. We did Richard Branson. … We were able to take him all the way back to (eighth century Western European ruler) Charlemagne. But we found here was a case where the magic of DNA is working. We found out that Richard had a significant percent of South Asian. … It means he had Indian ancestry. So I knew that had to be a mistake. Look at Richard Branson. He looks like an albino, right? So I went, wow, this is impossible. I go run the test again. It’s about three companies. Each of the companies had the same thing. We went back to the records in India. His family lived in India for a hundred years. His third or fourth great grandfather … had a child. You know what the birth certificate said? It gave the name of the Branson. The (mother) was identified as (an) Indian woman. They kept the baby as a Branson. Indian woman disappeared.

And, you know, he told me the story. He looked at me and I didn’t know if he was going to get up and walk out. I didn’t know how he felt about having Indian ancestry. … And he said, “You have just done my family an enormous favor.” And I said, “Why?” He said, “My son got married,” I don’t know, “two years before. He looks like me. His wife is blonde. And they had a baby and the baby’s brown.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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