GATES: I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Welcome to Finding Your Roots.
In this episode, we'll meet actors Billy Crudup and Tamera Mowry, each will explore America's complex history in a deeply personal way.
CRUDUP: It's coming rushing in, you know, the, um, feeling of being part of a literal tradition.
GATES: This is your family 151 years ago.
CRUDUP: Immediately, my imagination, um, is, ignited considering them as people.
MOWRY: This is what's crazy about being biracial.
I have blood that started it, and then I have blood that was enslaved by it.
GATES: To uncover their roots, we've used every tool available... Genealogists combed 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.
Your book of life.
And we've compiled it all into a book of life.
A record of all of our discoveries.
MOWRY: Oh, my God!
CRUDUP: How could this not have been passed down?
GATES: And a restoration of lost history.
This is the first Thanksgiving.
Your 13th great-grandfather was there.
MOWRY: Oh my gosh.
This is so, whoa.
CRUDUP: It's a gift to be handed something that says you should continue to take life seriously.
GATES: My guests have spent decades in the limelight, without knowing anything at all about the ancestors who helped get them there.
But that is about to change.
In this episode, Billy and Tamera are going to meet a cast of characters every bit as dramatic as the people they played on camera, all hidden in the branches of their family trees.
(theme music playing).
♪ ♪ (book closes) ♪ ♪ GATES: Actor Billy Crudup is the consummate craftsman.
Since he first came to fame in 1995 as the star of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Billy has moved fluidly between Broadway and Hollywood, creating a dizzying array of characters, with a meticulous precision.
Winning an Emmy, a Tony, and countless accolades.
From a distance, you might think Billy was born to the stage.
But the truth is more complicated.
Growing up, Billy was surrounded by drama, but of the wrong kind.
During his childhood, his parents divorced and re-married twice, largely because his father was prone to some highly erratic behavior.
CRUDUP: My dad, you know, as much as he wanted to, was not capable of being a reliable, responsible parent.
Uh, he was loving, and empathetic, and joyous and all those things, but um, that left a big burden on my mom, my mom really like, she did it all.
GATES: Was it devastating more the second time or the first time?
CRUDUP: The second time, yeah.
GATES: The second time.
CRUDUP: Yeah, for sure.
I can remember it.
The first time I don't remember so much, but the remarriage felt kind of like a dream.
I remember getting a call from my dad saying, you know, hey, how would you feel about it if we got remarried, and of course, we're like that would be amazing.
CRUDUP: But you could see pretty quickly why it wasn't going to be amazing, once they did.
Uh, you know, he gambled, and he was a loan shark and a bookie, and um, so there were a lot of things that left uh, were, were left to be desired for, from my mom's perspective.
GATES: If you take me back, I'll change, I'll change, baby, I promise.
And nobody changes.
CRUDUP: And he was always saying it was happening.
Well, and then, meanwhile, you know, we'd be in the middle of dinner and the lights would go out and he'd be "Ah, that mail, ah, dagnabbit, I sent the check and I'll be!
And you can hear my mom stomping up the stairs, you know.
GATES: The chaos of his parents' marriage was compounded by the fact that the family was constantly on the move.
Billy recalls attending at least eight different schools in Texas, New York, and Florida before finally heading off to college at the University of North Carolina.
Through it all, he received little career guidance, and came to embrace his acting talents almost by chance.
CRUDUP: Whenever a teacher, from as far back as I can remember, would say we're going to do the pageant of so and so, who wants to put the, uh, costume on, it was, oh, my hand was up, always, first.
So there was a part of performing that was woven into much of my childhood.
CRUDUP: But when I got to the University of North Carolina, I didn't know what my major was going to be, so I started with business because apparently my dad was a businessman, and um, it didn't take more than a semester to realize that I was not going to achieve uh, the expected grades uh, as a business major.
And at the same time, I was taking, I took a class called oral interpretation of prose and poetry.
GATES: Oh, yeah?
CRUDUP: In the speech communications department.
GATES: Oh, that's cool.
CRUDUP: And I discovered that there was an outlet for this creative expression that I, um, was drawn to.
CRUDUP: You know, I felt for the first time like, oh yeah, this is what I'm supposed to be doing.
GATES: You felt at home.
Billy's discovery would prove transformative... over the last three decades, he's become legendary for his ability to immerse himself in any role, from a capricious rock star, to a scheming TV executive, from a Russian intellectual, to the Elephant Man.
But to hear Billy tell it, he's only following his instincts, and his achievements are happy accidents, the byproduct of his devotion to his quixotic profession.
CRUDUP: I think the life of an actor is you, you, you know you can make it, and then, you feel you can never make it, and then, you are confident you can make it, and then, you should retire.
That's the sort of like, you can count on it like the motion of the stars.
Those feelings are going to, um, ebb and flow, and you never really know, you just kinda discover at a certain point that you've been able to make a career for yourself, most of the bills are paid, you, um, have been engaged in things that have lifted your spirit and drawn aspects of your, um, expression out of you that you didn't think were possible, and um, that you're 53 and in a position to get to talk to you, and I think, my gosh, you know, that is, um, it's, uh, it's incredibly gratifying.
GATES: My second guest is actor and talk show host Tamera Mowry.
Unlike Billy, Tamera took a very direct path to fame.
Growing up on an army base in Texas, Tamera and her twin sister Tia became fascinated by show business as children, soon, the two were pressuring their mother for opportunities.
But when Tamera began performing in beauty pageants, she quickly realized that they were a dead end, and set her sights higher.
MOWRY: I only did it for about two or three years because I saw that it was fixed.
MOWRY: Like, the same people were winning over and over again, and I knew, at a very young age, wait, they're not picking any Black people.
GATES: Oh, right.
MOWRY: This doesn't feel good.
Uh, so I said I didn't want to do that anymore.
I wanted to now act, and that's when my mom, and Tia wanted to do it, too.
We packed up our bags.
She quit her job, and we moved to Los Angeles.
I was 11 years old.
GATES: Because she recognized that you had some talent?
GATES: She believed that you could pull this off?
She made a bet with us, actually.
GATES: What was the bet?
MOWRY: The bet was you want me to quit my job.
And move somewhere, you know, Texas, we could afford, because we were in the Army, government housing and all that.
MOWRY: You want me to quit my job, so we can go out to a more expensive place, and do what?
MOWRY: I need to make sure we are doing this wisely.
So, she said I'm going to give you girls a month.
You go out there.
I'll save money.
You go out there.
You book one, like, national commercial, one like big job, then I know we can do this.
And we did.
GATES: Tamera and her sister booked a Chrysler commercial, and the family resettled in Los Angeles, with the girls' mother as their manager, but landing a commercial was one thing, building a career quite another.
When ABC approached the twins about appearing together in a sitcom, Tamera discovered that she still had a lot to learn.
MOWRY: They had us do a presentation, and it was bad.
(laughing) I'm not going to lie.
I was, I was young, and I was like, oh, I got some work to do.
Why was it bad?
MOWRY: The acting.
It was not, like, at a very young age, I could see... GATES: Were you reading your lines like this?
It was just, it wasn't natural.
How about that?
MOWRY: And but this is the cool thing.
ABC saw our potential.
They saw the talent and I guess the, the, the spark, the 'it factor', in these two girls, we were 14.
MOWRY: And they gave us a shot.
GATES: That's amazing.
MOWRY: And boom.
GATES: ABC knew what it was doing.
Tamera and Tia were soon starring in Sister, Sister, a hit sitcom that ran for six seasons.
When it ended Tamera was just 20 years old, but unlike many young stars, her career wasn't over.
A string of television and film roles followed, along with a reality series, and an Emmy-award winning talk show.
But looking back on it all, Tamera thinks her greatest success has been a private one.
MOWRY: I'm proud the business hasn't changed me... GATES: Mm-hm.
MOWRY: As a person, because being a child actor, there's so many different avenues I, I could've, I could've taken, and there are a lot of bad paths, because you go from people appearing to care, and then, all of a sudden, you don't have that show, to them not.
GATES: What kept you grounded?
MOWRY: I would say our faith, and our home life.
One thing about our parents is they were very proud that we achieved our dream at a very young age, but they taught us the importance of not letting it define who we are.
Our character does that.
GATES: My two guests come from very different backgrounds, but share a common dilemma.
both grew up in families that were closed off to the past, either by choice or by circumstance.
as a result, both came to me with fundamental questions about their family trees.
It was time to provide some answers.
I started with Billy, and with his father, Thomas Crudup, a mercurial man who, despite all his flaws, had a powerful influence on his son.
CRUDUP: He loved learning about somebody in a way that he was unpredictable to him.
Tell me your story.
I'd be really interested to hear what your story is.
CRUDUP: Uh, introduced himself, like we would go sit down at a diner when we were, you know, on some road trip with him, inevitably, he was, there was some scam going on, but he packaged it as a vacation for us, um, and um, you know we'd roll up to the Howard Johnson's or the Best Western, Denny's, whatever it was and sit down for a dinner and he'd say tell me your name.
Rosalyn, I want to introduce you to Tommy.
That is my oldest there, we call him Quatro, number four.
Right there in the middle, that's, that's my middle one.
Disco we call him.
He likes to dance.
Right there, bringing up the rear is Brooks.
Uh, so your attitude will be reflected in your gratuity.
Tell me something about yourself.
That was everywhere, all the time, and he was so interested in people, and I've inherited some of that.
Certainly, the curiosity with characters and the character work.
Uh, he's able to find that with somebody in a room and I need to go into a room myself with a character to find it but it's, I think they're different sides of the same coin.
GATES: While Billy may have inherited his father's curiosity, it didn't extend to the subject of their family history.
Indeed, Billy knew almost nothing about his father's roots beyond the fact that they lay in North Carolina.
We focused first on Billy's grandmother, a woman named Priscilla Parham.
Priscilla was born in Henderson, North Carolina in 1922, moving back two generations, we came to her grandfather, Samuel Parham... Samuel was born in that same state in 1834, meaning that he was roughly 26 years old when the Civil War broke out.
We wondered how he responded, and found the answer in the National Archives.
CRUDUP: "Confederate, Samuel J. Parham.
Captain, 54th Regiment, North Carolina infantry.
Period, three years or the war."
GATES: Samuel joined the Confederate Army.
CRUDUP: This is my grandmother's grandfather?
GATES: So, is it a surprise?
CRUDUP: It's not a, a surprise, I mean, it doesn't take much imaginative speculation to think that they must have participated in the Civil War one way or the other, and if you were in North Carolina, it was likely that you were going to be on the Confederate side.
CRUDUP: But my grandmother's grandfather?
GATES: Grandfather, yeah.
CRUDUP: To think about that.
The stories that she heard.
CRUDUP: And what she inherited, um, they never, never passed down.
That was not a part of our, um, dialogue.
GATES: Samuel served as a captain in the North Carolina infantry for over a year.
During that time, he fought in at least one major battle and in the records of his father, a man named Asa Parham, we saw exactly what Samuel was fighting for.
His family's human property.
CRUDUP: "I, Asa Parham, do grant to the said Thomas V. Bobbitt and his heirs the following slaves to wit, a Negro girl by the name of Sally now about the age of 15 or 17 years, a Negro girl by the name of Susan about 10 or 12 years old, to have and to hold the said slaves Sally and Susan to him, the said Thomas V. Bobbitt and his heirs forever.
Asa Parham, your third great-grandfather was a slave owner.
In this document, he's giving his son-in-law, a man named Thomas Bobbitt, two enslaved females: Sally and Susan.
What's it like to see that?
CRUDUP: It's obviously incredibly moving, and, and um, heart wrenching to see the, the actual writing, the handwriting, of somebody who is, doing that is, it's pretty astonishing.
GATES: This document led us to a remarkable discovery.
In 1933, Sally Parham, the enslaved woman whom Asa gifted to his son in-law, was interviewed for an article in a North Carolina newspaper.
At the time, Sally was over 90 years old.
In her interview, she describes how she worked for the Parham family her entire life, both during and after slavery, and claims that she thought well of them.
Articles like this were not uncommon during the Jim Crow era.
But even so, Sally's words were shocking to read.
CRUDUP: "Black mammy tells graphic story of slavery.
Her name is Sally Parham, and she belonged to Asa Parham, who owned a large plantation five miles from Oxford.
She has served five generations of the family, and now, totally blind, is being cared for by a great-granddaughter of her master."
GATES: After the South lost the war, they engaged in the narrative war.
The war of interpretation.
GATES: One of the crucial aspects was that slavery wasn't that bad.
GATES: The slaves loved their masters, masters weren't cruel.
GATES: So what's it like to read this?
CRUDUP: Well, I'm having, obviously, a lot of different reactions.
Part of it, um, is a personal experience I'm having processing the story and, and then, there's the material thing of actually thinking of her as a, a girl being sold to my great-great-great-grandfather, um, as a child and being so, um, entrenched in that system that there could be parts of her that were clinging to it still... GATES: Absolutely.
CRUDUP: As it was falling apart.
GATES: Yeah, and 60 odd years later, she's still working for the same family.
CRUDUP: Exactly, and getting into characters and thinking about people, and if you're Asa, you've got two ways of imagining slavery, that I can think of.
One, you diminish the people who you're enslaving.
The other is you tell yourself you're a good person and that your slavery exists and you're doing the best version of it possible, so I'm imagining that... for even this to be reported, he must have been selling the story to himself and others that he was one of the good.
GATES: Yeah, indeed, that's a great way to put it.
CRUDUP: Slavery must have been a kind of religion in some way.
To be able to believe that you could, uh, that somebody was less of a person enough that you could own them, that's a kind of leap of faith, uh, that seems fanatical to me.
GATES: Yeah, absolutely.
CRUDUP: But that's part of our legacy.
GATES: Asa Parham embodies one of the ugliest chapters in our nation's past, but we soon saw a far nobler side of that past emerge on a different branch of Billy's father's family.
The story concerns Billy's fifth great-grandfather, a man named Nathan Boddie... Nathan was born in colonial Virginia in 1732, so he was in his early 40's when the American Revolution began.
It was a time of great uncertainty in the colonies, but not for Nathan.
He embraced the patriot cause wholeheartedly, voting for what became known as the Halifax Resolves, the first official state action for independence in the colonies.
It was a bold decision, and a dangerous one.
If he'd been captured by the British, Nathan would likely have been hanged, And knowing this left Billy with a host of questions about his ancestor.
CRUDUP: What could he have possibly been thinking?
GATES: Yeah, right.
Did he have a vested interest in some property that he wanted to protect?
Was it the notion of, uh, escaping some kind of religious persecution?
Uh, was it the ideals of freedom that they would start to manifest in documents over the coming years?
Uh, my wish would be that it's the latter of those, but who knows.
GATES: Who knows?
CRUDUP: And he's in his 40's, so he's not going to be as fit a fighter as the people who he's going to be battling against.
GATES: That's true.
CRUDUP: And I wonder what was in his head.
GATES: After the revolution, Nathan continued to make history.
He ultimately helped found what became Nash County, North Carolina, first by working to build a courthouse to act as the county seat, then by serving as the county's justice of the peace and representing it as a member of the North Carolina state legislature.
CRUDUP: Wow, he really had a profound impact on the, the... codifying of an American community.
GATES: He did.
So, what's it like to learn this?
CRUDUP: It's incredible to see the agency and I'm flabbergasted that this was not the lead from the time I was born.
GATES: I know.
CRUDUP: I mean, I feel like they would've put me in that costume as soon as I came out of the womb and say never forget that this happened, okay.
GATES: Why do you think that was lost?
CRUDUP: That's a great question, I, I...
There's a quote in the Tom Stoppard play Arcadia that I always reflect upon in moments of this when the young girl that I'm tutoring is in absolute despair imagining all that was lost in the Library of Alexandria, and so, as the tutor, I explain to her that in the march of humanity, it's all progress and some things are dropped along the way but they'll be picked up by generations that come, so there is no information on our um, our journey that is ever lost forever, but I suspect there are some that are dropped for a while and you have picked it up and returned it, uh, in a way that uh, I'm profoundly grateful.
GATES: My second guest, Tamera Mowry, came to me knowing little about her family tree beyond the fact that it was diverse.
Her mother's roots stretch to Africa via the Bahamas, her father is of European descent, and while Tamera has always been comfortable with her identity, she hasn't always been able to explain it to others.
So, when people ask you, do you say uh I'm part West Indian, I'm part Bahamian, or I'm mixed, or, you know because you could be from the Mediterranean.
You could be from the Dominican Republic.
I bet you get that a lot, you know?
MOWRY: Oh my gosh!
What I would say is I am, you know, I identify, I'm Black.
But when I visited Egypt, literally, they would go Egyptian, Egyptian?
GATES: Oh, yeah.
MOWRY: And I'm like no.
Then when I would go to Italy, they're like do you have Italian in you?
I'm like no.
And when I would go to New York, they would always say... GATES: You'd be Puerto Rican.
MOWRY: They're like you're Boriqua, huh?
I'm like, no.
They're like, no, you're Puerto Rican.
I'm like, "I swear I'm not."
GATES: So, you spent a lot of time saying, no, I'm not, no, I'm not.
Well, we're going to see what you are, what you are.
GATES: We began with the maternal side of Tamera's family tree.
She knew that her mother's mother, a woman named Cloretha Flowers, had roots in the Bahamas.
And we were able to identify the man who brought those roots to America: Tamera's great-grandfather, Rolly Flowers.
We found him on the passenger manifest of a ship that arrived in Miami on February 23rd, 1917.
MOWRY: "Name, Rolle Flowers, age, 23, occupation, farm laborer, nationality, Bahamas, Bahamian, race, African.
MOWRY: Whether going to join a relative or a friend, none, whether in possession of $50 and if less, how much, $7."
GATES: He had $7 in his pocket when he migrated to the United States.
MOWRY: And he was by himself?
GATES: He was all by himself.
He arrived in this country alone, at the age of 23... MOWRY: Oh my gosh, this is so cool!
GATES: This manifest would prove a gold mine to our research.
It told us that Raleigh was from Andros Island, the largest of the roughly 700 islands that make up the Bahamas.
And in the archives of Andros, we uncovered Raleigh's baptismal certificate, which lists the names of his parents: Joshua and Christiana Flowers.
They're Tamera's great-great-grandparents, and learning their names opened a window onto their lives.
MOWRY: "1895 marriages solemnized at Mangrove Cay in the Parish of All Saints, Andros Island, when married, July 10, 1895, Joshua Cuthbert Flowers, age, 27, bachelor, rank or profession, sponger?"
MOWRY: "Christiana Monica Hall, age, 26, spinster."
That means she was single.
I was like, whoa, she, whoa, what was that?
GATES: This is a marriage certificate for your great-great-grandparents.
(screams) MOWRY: Oh my gosh!
GATES: And as you could see, your great-great-grandfather's occupation was listed as a sponger.
GATES: And since I had no idea what a sponger was.
GATES: And from your expression, you have no idea.
GATES: Turn the page, and we're going to find out about spongers.
MOWRY: Okay, spongers.
GATES: Simply put: a sponger was a man with a grueling job.
Sponges were plentiful in the waters around the Bahamas, but to make a living harvesting them was no easy task.
Thousands of local men spent months every year in small boats, armed with 30 foot poles, spearing sponges on the open sea, and that was just the beginning of an arduous process.
MOWRY: "On their return, all hands enter the crawl and beat out the now rotted fleshly parts of the sponges.
When enough sponges have been gathered and cleaned, they are sorted by the crew, strung in rings from one to two dozen.
In this way, they are sold at auction in the sponge exchange."
GATES: That's how you get sponges.
You know they are organic life, and somebody has to harvest these.
And that's one hell of a job.
MOWRY: Wait a minute.
I didn't know.
MOWRY: I didn't know that.
And the sponge industry was one of the largest industries in the Bahamas from the middle of the 19th century until the 1930s.
What's it like to learn this to imagine that your ancestor made a living by harvesting sponges with a pole?
MOWRY: I would've never thought that in a million years.
GATES: This story was about to darken significantly.
Moving back one generation, we came to Joshua's mother, a woman named Margaret Rolle.
She was born around 1825, when the Bahamas was a part of the British empire, with an economy driven by slave labor.
And searching for evidence of Margaret's life, we discovered that she was a victim of that economy.
MOWRY: "Return of slaves on the 31st day of July, 1834, number 136, Margaret Rolle, age, 9 years and 7 months, Black, Creole, field laborer on owner's land."
GATES: What's it like to see a 9-year-old child listed as a field laborer on an official document?
MOWRY: You know, when you're that young, I know my kids, you want to protect them, keep that, you want them to keep that innocence.
MOWRY: But for Margaret, that, that did not exist.
GATES: That innocence was long gone.
GATES: Slavery was abolished throughout the British empire the year that this document was recorded, but Margaret's life likely didn't change much, at least not at first.
The law that freed her also established an "apprenticeship" period, four years during which formerly enslaved people had to work for their former owners with no pay.
So Margaret was likely at least 13 years old before she was able to truly experience emancipation.
GATES: Let me ask you this.
What do you think Margaret would've made of you?
MOWRY: She'd be proud.
GATES: Oh, no question, she would be proud.
MOWRY: But you just feel so, you know, she had to go through that.
MOWRY: As a child.
You know, I wonder what she did to escape her current situation.
MOWRY: What were her thoughts of hope?
GATES: What's her flights of fancy?
GATES: Yeah, you know?
MOWRY: Yeah, and then to, you know, finally be free, and what that felt like.
That first breath.
GATES: Uh-huh, and she was old enough to be conscious of... MOWRY: That's, yes.
GATES: I was this.
MOWRY: Was this, and now there's this.
GATES: And now, I'm that.
MOWRY: And that's what I'm feeling, right now.
MOWRY: You know just that, that moment of... (deep breath) GATES: We had one more detail to share with Tamera regarding this branch of her mother's family.
Records show that Margaret was enslaved by a British Baron named John Rolle, her parents, Tamera's unnamed fourth-great-grandparents, were likely enslaved by Rolle as well.
And this ties Tamera's family to a major historical event.
In 1830, enslaved people on Rolle's estate rose up in what became known as Pompey's revolt.
Though they didn't win their freedom, the rebels won some concessions, and their actions lived on in memory providing inspiration and hope to generations.
But what's it like to learn this, to think that your ancestors lived through this important moment in the history of the Bahamas?
This is like Nat Turner's rebellion.
GATES: Well, the enslaved people, maybe including your fourth great-grandparents on Rolle's estate continued to resist their condition after Pompey's revolt.
They refused to work, openly spoke up against their condition, were found to have gathered arms and ammunition, and even assaulted their overseer, requiring troops to be sent to the island on multiple occasions.
GATES: So, they were some rebellious Negroes.
GATES: Do you think that this will change the way you see yourself?
MOWRY: You know when you always say "I got it from my mama"?
There you go.
MOWRY: Well, I definitely see that line of strength picking up and carrying on.
MOWRY: That's, that's, that's what I get out of all of this.
GATES: We'd already traced Billy Crudup's father's roots, telling stories of slave-owners and patriots.
Now, turning to his mother's ancestry, we encountered a very different cast of characters.
Billy's great-grandfather, a man named Walter Beisler, was a chemical engineer with a degree from Princeton University, his father Anthony Beisler was a jeweler.
And in the 1870 census for New Jersey we found Anthony living in the household of his parents, Billy's 3rd great-grandparents, both of whom were immigrants.
CRUDUP: "John Beisler, age 39.
Catharina, age 33.
Occupation, keeping house.
Born Nassau, Germany."
Anton, age three.
Born New Jersey."
GATES: There is your great-great-grandfather Anthony, here named Anton, as a three-year-old boy living with his five siblings and his parents, and as you can see, his father was a shoemaker.
How about that?
CRUDUP: Wow, wow.
GATES: Are you into shoes?
Do you like shoes?
CRUDUP: Not really.
GATES: Could you, did you ever imagine you had a shoemaker in your family tree?
Not for a second, and he, he would've been mortified by the shoes that I chose to wear for the first part of my career.
GATES: According to this census, John and his wife Catharina were from a region in central Europe that's now part of Germany.
Combing through the archives of this region, we were able to trace the couple from the German city of Mainz to London, where, in November of 1857, John and Catharina boarded a ship for New York, the beginning of a journey that would forever transform Billy's family.
CRUDUP: That's them coming to?
GATES: Leaving for the United States together.
GATES: What's it like to see that?
CRUDUP: Well, I mean... Part of what I was sort of endowed with, when I was growing up, was that I'm an American, and that's a big part of my sense of identity, and there's a kind of blurry fiction to the rest of like, oh yeah, somebody must have come here at some point.
CRUDUP: But without the stories, you know, to reference, how would you ever know?
So, to see that focus become sharp into a very specific thing like a shoemaker leaving, um, from London, it's cold.
November 5, 1857, he and his wife with some idea to make a better life for themselves in New Jersey or maybe to leave something behind, I don't know what their story is, but I'm, immediately, my imagination, um, is, um, ignited considering them as people.
GATES: Our researchers soon discovered that Billy's ancestors actually had a very unusual story, one that was more complicated than he likely could've imagined.
Though John and Catharina immigrated to America together, records show that Catharina was traveling under the surname "Lauer", her maiden name, which could only mean one thing.
Your ancestors were not yet married when they got on that ship.
CRUDUP: I'll be darned.
GATES: Do you have any idea why they'd be traveling together as an unmarried couple?
CRUDUP: No, no idea at all.
GATES: Well, as it turns out at this time, in this part of Germany, a marriage typically required government permission, and if the groom could not prove that he would be able to support a family, permission would be denied, so these regulations were intended to protect communities from having to support poor families, and we believe that this is likely what prevented your ancestors from getting married in Germany.
GATES: John's troubles may have begun a generation earlier as his father, a man named Christoph Beisler, seems to have had financial struggles of his own.
We found a contract that suggests that Christoph was forced to borrow significant sums of money from his relatives in order to run an inn in the small town of Salmünster.
To make matters worse, the business was actually owned by another man, and Christoph was gambling on its success.
He was leasing the inn.
He didn't own it.
GATES: So, it seems likely to us that he took out a loan to help him pay the lease.
GATES: Because he was just trying to get a leg up, and he needed some capital.
Most definitely, and um, my dad made a living doing this, I mean, he was always getting loans to try to, and one of the loans that he got was to open a sports bar.
GATES: Oh, no kidding?
CRUDUP: Yeah, in Dallas.
CRUDUP: What is that feature?
I guess that there's an aspect of it, which is, um, ambitious, and idealist, and self-confident, and... GATES: Yeah.
CRUDUP: It seems insane in so many other regards.
GATES: But somebody has to stake you.
GATES: You know, somebody staked Bill Gates, you know, somebody's gotta give you a leg up, right?
But not everybody imagines that they can get a leg up even if they asked.
GATES: That's true.
CRUDUP: So, there's, um, got to be something that says it's okay enough to ask.
GATES: Christoph's efforts were not entirely in vain: the inn that he leased is still open today, but, tragically, Christoph was not able to reap the rewards of its success.
CRUDUP: "Residence street and house number.
Inn Salmünster Number 11.
Name, Status, Origin of Deceased.
Christoph Anton Beisler.
Date and time of death, 8th of April at 3:00 in the afternoon.
Time of burial, on the 10th of this month at 8:00 in the morning."
GATES: Mmm, that's Christoph's death record.
He was 39 years old.
Your third great-grandfather, John, was only six when he lost his father.
CRUDUP: Awe, yeah.
GATES: What's it like to think that this tragedy, at least in part, drove your family to America.
After all, if Christoph lives, maybe he turns everything around and becomes a wealthy man.
GATES: Maybe then, John never gets on that boat.
CRUDUP: These are the, um... the forces that shape our lives, you know, the unpredictable forces that shape our lives.
GATES: There is a final beat to this story, in the archives of Salmünster, we uncovered the oldest record we could find for Billy's third-great-grandfather adding a poignant note to his ancestors' journey.
Billy, we're back to 1797.
This is Christoph's baptism record.
It's in Latin but we translated it for you.
Would you please read it?
CRUDUP: "Christophorus Antonius, illegitimate son, wow, right there, of Maria Eva Beislerin in Salmünster.
Born and baptized on the 13th of June, 1796."
GATES: Christoph was illegitimate.
CRUDUP: And who, who was the father?
GATES: We don't know, the record doesn't name his father.
CRUDUP: Oh, wow.
GATES: And we know that your fifth great-grandmother, Maria Eva Beisler never married.
GATES: Billy, think about this, your line starts here with an illegitimate child and ends up with a Princeton educated chemist, and then, you, a world class actor.
You remember Don King.
Remember Don King?
Who could forget Don King?
GATES: Only in America.
CRUDUP: Only in America.
One of the reasons why I wanted to be here, Skip.
It feels like a uniquely American story in a lot of ways.
GATES: Isn't that incredible?
CRUDUP: That's really, uh, that's really incredible.
Uh, I'm left, rendered speechless, as I'm sure many of your guests are.
GATES: We'd already traced Tamera Mowry's mother's roots in the Bahamas, a place she'd long associated with her family.
Now, turning to Tamera's father's ancestry, we found ourselves on unfamiliar terrain, in Nottinghamshire, England, in the early 1600s.
Here, a man named William Brewster, who we believe to be Tamera's 13th great-grandfather, began using his home as a church for an underground religious group known as the "separatists".
Tamera, who's passionate about her own faith, was eager to hear more.
The Separatists determined that the Church of England was corrupt, and they wanted to break away and form a new denomination.
He was a religious radical.
What's it like to find out that you had a religious radical in your family tree?
MOWRY: I feel seen.
GATES: Please turn the page.
Take a look at this.
It comes from the court records of York, England.
Read it for me.
MOWRY: "Office of the Lord versus William Brewster of Scrooby."
"1 December 1607, information is given that he is disobedient in matters, in matters of religion, said Lord decreed the apprehension of the said William Brewster."
GATES: In December 1607, county officials got wind of the secret services that were taking place at your ancestor's home.
They came after him and the others who practiced at his home.
MOWRY: Oh my gosh.
GATES: Your 13th-great grandfather was a wanted man.
MOWRY: In the name of religion?
GATES: In the name of religion.
GATES: William and his fellow separatists would go to great lengths to worship as they chose.
After English authorities discovered their church, they were arrested and briefly imprisoned.
Upon release, they fled to Holland.
But they didn't remain there for long.
We next found William, along with his wife Mary and two of their sons, on the passenger list of a ship bound for the new world.
Any idea what you're looking at?
GATES: You just read a list of passengers who sailed on the Mayflower.
MOWRY: You, I'm, I'm done.
(Gates laughing) GATES: You're descended from the original English people who came on the Mayflower, direct.
Your 13th great-grandfather, William Brewster, and his family, William's wife, Mary, is your 13th great-grandmother.
They were there on the Mayflower.
They were Pilgrims.
They were here at ground zero for White people.
MOWRY: This is what's crazy about being biracial.
I have blood that started it, and then I have blood that was enslaved by it.
GATES: Yeah, you represent in your family tree the complexity of race in the history of the United States.
MOWRY: That's crazy.
GATES: As it turns out, Tamera's ancestor was not just any Mayflower passenger, he was a leader.
By the time the ship arrived in the new world, William had been selected as the separatist's ruling elder, the man they would look to for spiritual guidance.
It proved to be a daunting task.
William and his fellow settlers were entirely unprepared for the climate of New England.
In their first four months in America, nearly half of them perished.
MOWRY: "Mr. Ed.
Winslow, his wife died the first winter, Mr. Allerton, his wife died with the first, John Crackston died in the first mortality, Captain Standish, his wife died in the first sickness, Mr. Martin, he and all his died in the first infection, Mr. Mullins and his wife, his son, and his servant died the first winter, Mr. White and his two servants died soon after their landing."
GATES: Your 13th great-grandfather watched helplessly as people perished all around him, and as the Pilgrims' trusted elder, he likely ministered to the dying.
Can you imagine what that had to be like?
GATES: So, let's see what happened.
Can you please turn the page?
MOWRY: Oh, geez.
It's like a movie.
GATES: After the winters finally subsided, the pilgrims were able to gain a foothold.
They built homes on the shores of Plymouth Bay, and despite some serious tensions, the local members of the Wampanoag tribe helped teach them how to hunt, farm, and fish, and the colony stabilized.
This letter you're about to read describes an event that took place in Plymouth later that year, would you please read it?
MOWRY: "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors, many of the Indians coming amongst us, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they killed five deer, which they bestowed on our Governor, and although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want."
GATES: This is, this is a description of what's known as the first Thanksgiving.
And your 13th great-grandfather was there.
And he most likely led the group in prayer because he was, you know, the elder.
And that is the famous depiction of the first Thanksgiving, and you see the man standing up with his hands raised in prayer?
GATES: That is William Brewster.
MOWRY: You are kidding me.
MOWRY: Oh my gosh, this is so whoa, okay mind blown.
GATES: The paper trail had now run out for each of my guests, it was time to show them their full family trees.
Now filled with ancestors whose names they'd never heard before.
MOWRY: Oh my god!
GATES: For each it was a moment of wonder.
CRUDUP: What a treasure.
GATES: Providing a chance to reflect on the sacrifices made.
CRUDUP: Skip, what a treasure.
GATES: By generation after generation.
MOWRY: Oh my goodness.
GATES: To lay the groundwork for their own success.
MOWRY: This is awesome.
GATES: My time with my guests was drawing to a close, but I had one more surprise to share.
When we compared Billy's DNA to that of other people who have been in our series, we found a match, evidence of a distant cousin, a man who he'd never imagined might be part of his family.
CRUDUP: Get out of here.
GATES: Terry Crews.
CRUDUP: Are you kidding me?
GATES: Your DNA cousin is actor and former pro football player Terry Crews.
Have you ever met?
CRUDUP: No, we haven't, but my son absolutely adores him.
He was on Brooklyn 99, and um, when he hears this, he's going... this will be by far the most exciting portion of this.
GATES: Billy and Terry share an identical stretch of DNA on their 16th chromosomes.
The source of this connection can glimpsed in Terry's admixture, which indicates that over the past five centuries, 15% of his ancestors were European, with many of them living in the same places as Billy's ancestors: Scotland, Ireland, and England.
CRUDUP: And we shared an ancestor 500 years ago, uh?
GATES: Within the last 500 years, we just don't know but the evidence is inscribed on your 16th chromosome, and as the brothers say on the street, DNA don't lie.
CRUDUP: That is, uh, that's incredible, um.
And the fact that the first of his name is 'Cru', we now got the 'Cru' crew.
GATES: That's the end of our journey with Billy Crudup and Tamera Mowry.
Join me next time when we unlock the secrets of the past for new guests on another episode of Finding Your Roots.