Funnywoman Wanda Sykes was able to trace her familial roots back to a 17th century White woman who had a child with a slave. Named Elizabeth Banks, she was punished with lashes and extended servitude for “fornication & Bastardy with a Negroe slave” according to a June 20, 1683, court document from York County, Va. The mulatto child of Elizabeth, Mary Banks, is said to have lived as a free person of color but under indentured servitude as well. Sykes. who was born and raised in Portsmouth, Va, is among many descendants of Banks in the area.
The comedian’s family heritage was researched on “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” set to premiere Sunday on PBS. Gates’ series finds the history of celebrities through genealogical tracking, often pre-dating the American Revolution. Sykes has the longest continuously documented family tree of any African-American they’ve ever researched.” Along with Sykes, Samuel L. Jackson, Barbara Walters, Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis and others will be in this new season. When asked by the New York Times what she thought of the discovery, Sykes replied “I was so disappointed he didn’t get me any casino money out of this…Come on Skip, tell me I’m a relative of Pocahontas. I would have retired.”
Should more of us take genealogy tests if we have the means to do so?