Regardless of their fame or fortune, no matter how many books or albums they've sold or level of influence they've achieved, never once had it occurred to me to be jealous of Reba McEntire or Rick Warren.

Yet there I sat, watching country singer McEntire on NBC'S Who Do You Think You Are? (Fridays, 8pm EST) and Pastor Warren on PBS's Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates (Sundays, 8pm EST), feeling the envy rise as they lived my dream—the dream of digging deep into family history.

if I had the spare change or moments, I'd sign up for Ancestry.com and whittle away the hours searching out my family tree. I'd travel to the American South like McEntire did, trying to piece together why my Danish great-grandfather moved his Swedish wife and young daughters out of Chicago, dragged them down to Alabama, and then disappeared. I'd head out West to Washington State to see if I could discern why my great-grandmother became a preacher—a Christian Scientist preacher. And then I'd explore the other side, heading back to Sweden, stopping only in Stockholm long enough to pick up my cousins so we could explore the island our grandmothers were raised on. The one that boasts royal summer residences and yet was the one on which my 10-year-old grandmother was sold to a neighboring farm. The one she fled from at age 16 to come to the United States. Alone.

I used to think it was the writer in me that wanted to know what happened there, so I could tell these stories, try to cull meaning from the bits of generation hurts and mysteries. But now I know differently: The longing to understand from whom and from whence we come is more than an artist's dream.

In an episode of Finding Your Roots—which premiered on PBS last month and runs ...

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