Dr. Gates is perhaps best known in genealogy circles for his current role as the host of Finding Your Roots, his groundbreaking genealogy series on PBS, now in its 4th season. The series combines traditional genealogical paper research with genetic Y-chromosome DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA to discover the family history of well-known Americans.
Gates has been engaged in genealogical and anthropological studies for most of his career. Prior to Finding Your Roots, he hosted and co-produced African American Lives 1 and 2, using genealogy and DNA to document the lineage of more than a dozen African Americans and hosted Faces of America, a four-part series examining the genealogy of 12 North Americans of diverse ancestry—also for PBS.
As an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, he has created 18 documentary films. His six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and NAACP Image Award.
Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University (first titled the W.E.B Institute for African and African American research)—a position he has held since he arrived at Harvard in 1991. During his first 15 years on campus, he chaired the Department of Afro-American Studies as it expanded into the Department of African and African American Studies with a full-fledged doctoral program.
He has authored or co-authored 22 books and is also hailed as a literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder. Professor Gates serves as chairman of TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine and chair of the Creative Board of FUSION TV. He also oversees the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource on the topic and, through a funding grant, has developed a Finding Your Roots curriculum to teach science through genetics and genealogy.
Gates received his B.A. in English language and literature summa cum laude, from Yale University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Cambridge in 1979. Since then he has received 55 honorary degrees and numerous prizes. In 1981 Dr. Gates was a member of the first class awarded “genius grants” by the MacArthur Foundation. In 1998, he became the first African American scholar awarded the National Humanities medal. He was named to Time’s 25 Most Influential Americans list in 1997, Ebony’s Power 150 list in 2009, and the magazine’s Power 100 list in 2010 and 2012.
He is currently a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and serves on a wide array of boards, including the New York Public Library, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Aspen Institute, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Library of America, and the Brookings Institution. In 2017, the Organization of American States named Gates a Goodwill Ambassador for the Rights of People of African Descent in the Americas.
RootsTech, hosted by FamilySearch, is a global conference celebrating families across generations, where people of all ages are inspired to discover and share their memories and connections. This annual event has become the largest of its kind in the world, attracting tens of thousands of participants worldwide.