"It was my father's father, and my father took my brother and me up to look at his scrapbooks, which we didn't even know he kept, right after we had buried him," he says. "He had the obituary of the oldest Gates, Jane Gates, who died January 6, 1888. He showed us this obituary in the scrapbook, and it said, 'Jane Gates, an estimable colored woman.'"
That night, Dr. Gates says he looked up the definition of estimable—worthy of esteem or respect—in his red Webster's dictionary. "The next day, I started doing family trees," he says.
Decades later, Dr. Gates says he has the greatest job in the world. "I get to introduce people to ancestors who have been lost from their awareness," he says. "I get to bring back people from their past and let them experience them, meet them, encounter them and see themselves through these shadows from the past."