“Genealogy Roadshow” is a PBS-TV show hosted by Kenyatta D. Berry, an expert genealogist who contributed to the groundbreaking “1619 Project” published by the New York Times. “Genealogy Roadshow” boasts over 1.5 million viewers per episode. Kenyatta has more than 20 years of genealogical research experience especially within the realm of historical content. She has been featured in numerous publications including Good Housekeeping, the Wall Street Journal, and Woman’s World. Kenyatta recently discussed her career and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for genealogy and how did you establish yourself in this field?
Kenyatta D. Berry (KDB): I started doing genealogy my first year of law school as a break from Torts and Contracts law. Unlike most genealogists, I did not start by researching my own family but started by researching an ex-boyfriend’s family. I found a fascinating biographical entry that included information on his second Great Grandfather who was enslaved and his father who enslaved him. After that I was hooked! I established myself in the field by focusing on enslaved genealogy which can be challenging and overwhelming. Most of the records related to the enslaved are legal documents and located in court houses. I have built my brand through Genealogy Roadshow, my book The Family Tree Toolkit and as a contributor to the groundbreaking New York Times, 1619 Project.
MM: You are also an expert in history, so how did you get into that field?
KDB: My interest in history grew as I delved deeper into genealogy. By focusing on enslaved genealogy, I knew it was critical to understand the business of slavery. This required me to take a scholarly approach to the study of slavery. It’s not enough to know names, dates and places but to understand how our ancestors’ stories are part of American history.
MM: What are some of the most fascinating discoveries you’ve made as you looked through your genealogy and the genealogy of others?
KDB: One of my favorite stories is Gail Lukasik from Genealogy Roadshow. She had researched her family history and discovered some shocking news. I was able to confirm what Gail had discovered on her own and provide additional information about her maternal ancestors. Gail wrote a book, White Like Her about her discovery and experience on Genealogy Roadshow.
MM: How did you get into working with PBS and how did you prepare yourself for the role of a TV host?
KDB: The production company was looking to hire genealogists in the Los Angeles area. They reached out to the Association of Professional Genealogists, and I was the President at the time. I met with two people from production for lunch. After talking for about an hour or so, they asked me to audition for the show. I was reluctant at first because I was employed full time in software sales and had never been a TV host. After some coaxing, I went home and did a Skype interview. A few months later they called and said PBS loves you and the rest is history! To be quite honest, I was not prepared to be a TV host. I wanted to do a good job and decided to learn everything I could about being on TV. I learned very quickly that being engaging is good television and I have worked hard at being engaging both on and off TV.
MM: Why do you think this program attracts so many viewers?
KDB: Genealogy Roadshow is popular because the average viewer can relate to the stories we share. The stories of everyday people help viewers walk away with tips for their own research and inspire them to discover their family history.
MM: What do you wish more people knew about genealogy?
KDB: Genealogy is more accessible than it was five years ago or even three years ago. The digitizing of records, DNA tests and genealogy as a TV genre has increased interest. For African Americans it is important to know that we can find our enslaved ancestors. The records exist and require some digging but they can be found. Everyone has a story and genealogy can help you find and share that story.
MM: Where do you hope your career is ten years from now?
KDB: I have never had a direct career path, from attorney to TV host to author. I suspect that in ten years, I will still be involved in genealogy, television and writing. I plan to use my knowledge of technology to develop products to help African Americans find their enslaved ancestors.
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
KDB: I have a number of projects coming up including a new book, my podcast “Conversations with Kenyatta,” and online genealogy courses. I launched my newsletter “Let’s Talk Ancestry” in the Fall and will continue to use that a platform to help researchers. Developing engaging content and increasing my social media presence is always part of my plan.
To learn more, visit her official website: https://kenyattaberry.com/