The four-part Public Television miniseries Faces of America features Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., exploring American history through the family trees of 12 notable Americans, including musician Yo-Yo Ma, actress Eva Longoria, chef Mario Batali, Queen Noor, and figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.
You can watch the final episode on Georgia Public Broadcasting at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
If that whets your interest, check out Who Do You Think You Are? NBC’s seven-part miniseries will begin at 8 p.m. Friday.
The show will follow seven Americans – actors Matthew Broderick, Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Sarandon and Brooke Shields, director Spike Lee and NFL player Emmitt Smith – as they trace their family trees.
If you’ve wondered about your own family history but never knew where to start, contact the Augusta Genealogical Society or a local historical society. They have workshops designed for new researchers, a wealth of research materials and volunteers who are eager to help.
In need of inspiration? Here are stories from three area residents on what they found when they explored their family backgrounds:
On their honeymoon in 1943, Ralph Scott told his bride, Marjorie, that one day they would be laid to rest in a small cemetery next to Dothan Methodist Church in Morgana community in Edgefield County, S.C.
The couple bought land in Morgana in 1961 and made their home there. The church was on the adjoining property.
In 1991, Ralph Scott was buried in Morgana, and when her time comes, Jerry, as she prefers to be called, will join him.
She wonders what her husband’s great-grandfather, Hugh Henderson Scott, would think of her, a Yankee, being buried close enough to touch him.
“If you hear about an earthquake in Morgana, you’ll know why,” she said.
Scott has been tracing her and her husband’s ancestry since 1964.
During the Civil War, Hugh Henderson Scott served as a scout for the Confederacy with Gen. Wade Hampton and Matthew C. Butler.
“Do you know what a scout was in the war? Well, I didn’t, either,” Scott said. “A scout is a spy.”
Hugh Henderson Scott was born in 1843 in Colliers community, about four miles from Morgana.
He was about 18 when he joined the Confederates, and he recorded many of his experiences after the Civil War.
“He tells about the time the general sent him to see what the Yankees were doing,” Scott said.
Once, he went to a cabin where four or five Yankees were eating. Plain-clothed, Hugh joined them, posing as a Union soldier from another camp and asking for something to eat.
“After he left, he went back to his troops and told them where these people were. The Confederates that he was with captured those people and got their horses,” Scott said. “He was an interesting person and had many adventures during the war.”
Afterward, Hugh Scott married Harriet and moved to Morgana, where he farmed until he died in 1919.
Harriet Scott flew a Confederate flag over her husband’s grave until her death in 1930, Scott said.
Some old broken pottery in her father’s soybean fields piqued Jackie Bartley’s curiosity as a child.
She wanted to know who put them there.
Her father bought the land in the 1930s to farm it, not knowing or caring about who lived there before, but Bartley needed to know.
As an adult, she spent years researching the history of the area and coordinating archaeological digs on the property, which she now owns.
Through her research into the area’s history and her husband, Benny’s, research tracing the land ownership, Bartley learned that about half of her 300 acres was settled in 1736 by three Swiss brothers: Leonard, Ulric and Michael Meyer.
As she traced her ancestry, she was even more surprised to learn that the Meyers were her ancestors through her father’s line.
“It’s like history just comes back around,” she said.
She said reading about people in history breeds a curiosity about who they were.
“When you’re involved in history, you get involved in genealogy,” she said.
Bartley said the Meyers arrived in the Beech Island area in 1737 to settle 150 acres granted to them by King George II.
They were also given farming implements, and they took up an agrarian lifestyle.
She said life was hard for the early Swiss settlers. Many of them left families behind in Switzerland when they went in search of a better life.
They were used to living in a cooler climate, very different from the hot and humid summers of South Carolina.
About 40 settlers died the first summer, Bartley said.
“The strong ones survived, and that’s why we’re here,” she said.
“I don’t think I would have had the fortitude to get on a boat and leave everything and come here.”
LaRue Mangelly started tracing her family history in order to gain admittance into the Daughters of the American Revolution, which she joined in 1986.
"It's a fascinating subject, finding out who you are," she said.
Mangelly enjoyed it so much that she kept at it and found ties to William Bradford, who arrived in the New World on the Mayflower in 1620 and governed the Plymouth Colony for 35 years.
Tracing her ancestry that far back gained her entry into another exclusive club, the Mayflower Society, which she joined in 1996.
She sees no need to trace her ancestry back to England, though.
"I'll just let all that European royalty stay over there," she said.
Tracing her roots has led her to discover some connections to historic events or juicy tidbits about some of her ancestors.
For example, John Fuller was born in 1676 and was one of the most influential men in Salem, Mass., during the witch trials. Mangelly said she did not know many details of his involvement in the trials, only that he owned the most property in town at that time.
Another of her ancestors was Jacob Clearwater, who in 1749 traveled through Tennessee, South Carolina and New York, collecting wives as he went and bringing them along. There were three or four in all.
"We think he was a spy," she said. "(We think) he went home to New York to see family or carry a message."
She said it's been fun tracing her ancestry. She has learned not only family history but also customs surrounding the times in which they lived.
"What surprised me was so many had the same name for their sons," she said. "Why did they do that?"
She said she and other genealogists think they have figured it out. Often, these sons didn't live long enough to procreate. Giving sons the same name ensured that the family name would be carried on.
"What I'd like to find out was what were their nicknames," Mangelly said.