'Closer Look' Host Jim Burress Uncovers His Ancestry | WABE 90.1 FM

'Closer Look' Host Jim Burress Uncovers His Ancestry

Feb 17, 2016

This is part of WABE’s ongoing series “Finding Your Roots.”

“Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” airs Wednesday at 6 p.m. on PBA30 TV with an encore Saturday at 7 p.m. Watch a preview of Season 3, and see the full schedule at www.pba.org/roots

I had high hopes that, somewhere deep in my DNA, there was an untold story. A family secret. A trace of a mysterious, exotic past.


So there I sat, weeks after sending in my DNA sample, eager to learn my hidden story. And when the big reveal showed ... well, none of that ... I felt underwhelmed by it all.

One look at my pale, pasty white skin and distinctive red hair pretty much tells the story of my ancestry:  I’m about as WASPy as one can get. Half British. About a third Scottish. And the rest, a hodgepodge of nondescript Western European roots.

I’d expected this. My maternal grandmother, Sidney Tripplett-Harrell, protected with great care a family relic that told me as much. Colloquially known as the “Tripplett Book,” the old black hardback with yellowed pages and faded gold embossed “Tripplett” on the cover traced the family name to 1600. That’s when Rev. Dr. Thomas Triplett of London was born. According to the book’s author, one Mrs. Hortense Abbott, the good Reverend Doctor is buried at Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.  

The remaining 260-ish pages read like the begats in the Old Testament.  Names. Dates of birth. Offspring. Dates of death. Most of the Trippletts existed in Virginia and my home state of Kentucky. Nomads, we weren’t.

No such book exists on my father’s side (that I know of, anyway). The way I heard it told was we Burress’ trace our ancestry back to England and the English House of Commons. The title “Burgess” just meant you represented a borough in the British version of what we know today as Congress. Feasible story, no?

It’s not that my ancestry disappoints me. I’m proud of where I came and the people who make up my family tree. Part of the fun though of looking deep into your DNA is learning the secrets it carries. Although my test failed to unlock any of those secrets, I at least have certainty.   

Looks like the conversation I have with my family about the results will be a quick one!