"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness." -- Alex Haley, Roots
Alex Haley (August 11, 1921 – February 10, 1992) was an African-American writer known the world over for his novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, published in 1976.
I was but 13 years old when I watched the television miniseries with 130 million other viewers. It was my first introduction to genealogy, and it fired my interest in genealogy and reading historical novels based around real people.
After nearly 10 years of genealogy research, Haley declared he was the seventh descendant of Kunta Kinte. A young man kidnapped in The Gambia in 1767 and transported to the Province of Maryland where he was sold as a slave.
Alex Haley went to the village of Juffure, where Kunta Kinte grew up and which is still in existence, and listened to a tribal historian tell the story of Kinte's capture. Haley also traced the records of the ship, The Lord Ligonier, which he said carried his ancestor to America.
Roots was eventually published in 37 languages, and Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. However, Haley`s work would later come under scrutiny. Haley would make an out-of-court settlement with Harold Courlander, who sued him for plagiarism claiming passages from his own book The African had been directly used in Haley`s work.
In 1984 Genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills disputed Haley's research in the March issue of the National Genealogical Quarterly, ``The Genealogist`s Assessment of Alex Haley`s Roots.`` This article, is an analysis of the research and use of evidence provided by Haley for the basis of the book. It results in a discussion of oral history versus documentation. Genealogists have learned very quickly that oral history is a slippery slope without proper documentation.
In 2007,Roots: The Saga of an American Family celebrated its 30th Anniversary. Regardless of its later troubles, it cannot be denied it sparked an interest in genealogy for not only the African-American community but also the world. As a young teenager, I saw slavery for what it was outside of an emotionless paragraph in a history book. Roots also inspired my interest in genealogy that would fester until my adult years when I would finally act on it. As a genealogist and writer, Roots now represents for me everything rewarding and difficult when it comes to writing a family history.