Ann Curry says, as a child, she used to be embarrassed about “being different.”
“I wished I was like everybody else. I wished I had blue eyes and blonde hair,” she explains. “And now I recognize the thing that makes you different is the thing that makes you special.”
While participating in “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” the former “Today” show host learned plenty about her ancestors and the struggles they faced.
“A well of empathy awakens in you for people you don’t know but who are related to you,” Curry says.
Determined to find the identity of her biological grandfather, Curry put Gates and company to work. Family members were always curious but had no way of discovering. Using DNA, Gates says, “we were able to solve Ann’s mystery.”
Airing in 2019, the episode will connect the dots and give Curry closure.
“My father, his entire life, had a great sadness and a deep secret because he was considered an illegitimate child,” she says. “His whole life he wanted to know who his father was.”
Curry, 61, tried through conventional means but couldn’t answer the question. “And then he died of a terrible cancer,” she says. “As sick as he was toward the end, he talked a lot about wanting to know who his father was. That was the one sadness that I just couldn’t get over.”
The Gates team got the information and Curry gathered her family at her father’s gravesite. “We put out some blankets as if we were having a picnic. I brought a bottle of wine…and we announced to my father who his father was.”
The research turned up plenty – including the fact that her family had been in the country since the 1600s.
“For us, that was a revelation because I’m from a Japanese immigrant mother who came as a war bride after World War II,” Curry says. “All my life I’ve been asked, being a multi-racial person, ‘What are you anyway?’”
Among the information: Curry’s ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War.
“I know I’m French and German and Scottish and Irish and British and Japanese and who knows what else,” she says. “I’m from a long line of open-minded lovers.”
That “melting pot” background, she says, is far more common than some want to think. “There is actual science that says we all come from the same genetic Adam and Eve. You and I are genetically related to the same people. It’s a mind-blowing reality most people don’t recognize. It switches up how we think about each other.”
For her own series, “We’ll Meet Again,” Curry has the opportunity to bring together people whose lives intersected at some point.
In the new season, which begins Nov. 13 on PBS, she introduces audiences to a Cuban-American who escaped the 1980 Mariel boatlift and never forgot the skipper who piloted him to a new life, to a woman looking for the friend whose family shielded her during the Alaskan earthquake in 1964, to a Holocaust survivor who wanted to know what happened to a fellow survivor he befriended in a displaced-person camp.
“There were people all along the way, whatever your ancestors endured, who helped others survive – or you would not be here,” Curry says. “This is a story of us. That’s one reason why it has resonated so much.”
Although there’s plenty of rancor and division in the world today, Curry is confident change will come.
“We have an enormous capacity for empathy and light and we have an enormous capacity for darkness,” she says. “Fear and anger shut down our deepest wish to connect and empathize with others. The pendulum has swung and it will swing back. If you look at humankind through history, there’s one clear path – toward empathy. It’s important not to be myopic and think, ‘This is it.’ It’s never it. It constantly changes.”
“We’ll Meet Again” begins Nov. 13 on PBS. “Finding Your Roots” begins in January.