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Joseph Sinnott
Dr. Henry Louis Gates, left, and actor Samuel L. Jackson during the filming of "Finding Your Roots." The Washington Post and the New York Times have recently featured the show. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (l) and Samuel L. Jackson (r) during the filming of Finding Your Roots.

As geneaology websites increase in popularity, like ancestry.com with its 14 million users, TV shows are catching on to the family history wave and becoming hits not only in the U.S. but around the globe.

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” is a popular new 10-part PBS program. The Washington Post highlighted an episode about Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leading civil rights pioneer who found out that one of his ancestors had registered to vote shortly after the Civil War — a right Lewis had to fight for during his own lifetime. In 1965 he was beaten nearly to death by state troopers in Alabama during a voting rights protest march.

“I cried when that was revealed,” Lewis said. “It was just unbelievable. Maybe it was something in my DNA or bloodline or whatever you want to call it, but I couldn’t deviate from it. ... I had to pursue it. That was so powerful for me, and I just cried.”

The New York Times reported on actress Wanda Sykes, who found a free black ancestor born in 1683 when her ancestry was traced on “Finding Your Roots.”

“This is an extraordinary case and the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present,” said historian Ira Berlin, a professor at the University of Maryland known for his work on African-American history.

The popularity of Gates' genealogy projects has inspired other similar TV programs, including NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?The Wall Street Journal published an article that briefly compared the two. The show has featured guests such as Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow. Also, BBC has its own version of "Who Do You Think You Are?" for British viewers.

The Huffington Post covered the appearance of one of its editors-at-large, Rita Wilson, on “Who Do You Think You Are?" during which she learned about her family history in Greece and Bulgaria. Wilson is also an actress and is married to actor Tom Hanks.

European versions of genealogical research shows also have begun to pop up. A Roanoke, Va., news station briefly mentioned a local man traveling to Sweden to participate in “My Great Swedish Adventure,” a show that will allow him to discover more about his Swedish heritage. Auditions were recently held for a Danish version of the same show.

For information on how you can learn more about your ancestry, visit FamilySearch.org.

Email: mgarrett@desnews.com