Interest in genealogy and family history has skyrocketed, especially with the availability of tools like Ancestry.com, and now, the release of NBC’s fascinating new series, Roots Less Traveled, in which host Faruq Tauheed takes guests on a journey to new destinations to discover their past. THE VIVANT talked with Faruq about some of the most noteworthy and memorable parts of this series.
Faruq’s own journey began when he moved out to LA with his BFA degree looking to be an on-camera actor for TV and film, and you can see him in series like Cold Case, The Shield, NCIS and New Girl. Faruq has also been enjoying work as a host of more reality-based series like the hit show BattleBots, where he is the ring announcer, along with Roots Less Traveled.
“Roots Less Traveled is a journey we take two family members on, who are distant for one reason or another. And we take them on a journey to discover their ancestry, take them all around the world. I look at myself as more of a guide on a treasure hunt,” said Faruq. “I’m taking them around, helping them uncover things in their family history that’s truly valuable.”
Although the show is about a family history journey, one thing Faruq enjoys most is the exotic destinations, and he especially enjoyed going to Montana, and Martha’s Vineyard, Havana, and Mexico City. “They were new to me, so they were exciting in that way when you get to experience different cultures.” But Faruq’s favorite spot was Mexico City, where he visited during Dias de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. “It was something like I’ve never seen,” he told The Vivant. “The city was electric. There was celebration the entire time we were there, even in the rain. So Mexico City was definitely the most exciting culturally.”
We asked Faruq what he loves to do, with his guests and on his own, when visiting some of these exciting destinations. “I get there a couple days before to explore the city,” he told us. “Explore the foods. I love to travel myself, and traveling is the best way to really learn about a peoples’ culture. With the cast, it’s truly amazing to just go and experience personal things with them. When we were in Mexico City, we learned about making tamales. When we were in Nashville, we got to see how they make records. It’s a lot of great experiences.”
When you’re looking into family history, you may find someone famous, a horse thief or two, or someone who was truly a hero, and Faruq and his team have made some exciting discoveries as they take their guests to these exciting destinations. “In the last episode that just aired on NBC this past weekend, Paul and Kalina, a father and daughter, found that they had an ancestor that served in the Union Army during the Civil War, was captured, escaped, and then enslaved African Americans helped him along his journey to help him get back to freedom, to his troops. Those are the stories you don’t hear about in the history books.”
Another exciting discovery was in Mexico City in the first episode of the season. “Rob and Michelle had a real-life Titanic story!” Faruq told us. “They had a relative who was on the Titanic, a first-class passenger, who gave up their seat for a woman and he went down with the ship. And they had a relative who gave the key to the city to John F. Kennedy. It’s so enriching and powerful.”
We asked Faruq how people can get started to research their own histories. “I think the best place to get started is going to Ancestry.com, where you can get all those tools and everything you need to really navigate your family tree and share with family members. There are so many documents and research materials they have available to you, it’s a great place to start.” But it’s not always easy, and it can be a lot of work. “The researchers over at Ancestry, and my producing team, and truly amazing. It takes hundreds of hours to get a family tree, so it’s going to take some work, but it’s very exciting to know and very empowering to the family.”
Faruq takes people on their own journeys of discovery, so we asked him about his own. When he started investigating his own roots, he got lucky. “I had somebody ahead of me, a family member who already did the research on my dad’s side of the family, going back to my four-times great grandfather. To be able to go back four times is truly amazing.” Although he has not yet discovered any famous people in his own family tree, he’s still working on it. “I’m still working on my maternal side. I don’t know if it will lead to anyone famous, but I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s something in my DNA that led me to do what I’m doing now, so it will be interesting to go back and figure all that out.”
Faruq has two shows going at the same time, and while he’s not working on Roots Less Traveled, he is the ring announcer for BattleBots, which he describes as “one of those shows that’s perfect for me. I get to go in there and just be as crazy and silly and fun as I want to be. I can just do whatever I want, and it’s a great freedom and a great job to have. I get to just watch robots fight.”
Although the pandemic has slowed everything down, Faruq is looking forward to the fifth season of BattleBots. “It would be super amazing to get a second season of Roots Less Traveled, so I’m looking forward to getting word about that.” I asked Faruq what he would like to do next. “I would love to get back into some more game show hosting,” he said, “and some shows that deal directly with travel and food together.”
Watch Faruq take his guests on more fascinating journeys at Roots Less Traveled Saturdays on NBC.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.