In the first episode of AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. begins to piece together the family histories of four of the participants, taking them on a journey through the lives of their recent ancestors. In doing so, the episode explores the post-World War I "Great Migration" of African American families from the South to northern cities like Detroit and Chicago, as well as the experiences of those families that stayed in the South during the period of Jim Crow segregation. Regardless of geography, each African American family, as relatives tell Dr. Gates, saw struggles and achievements that held their families together and put their children in a position to succeed. The participants describe their greater appreciation for the influence their families have had on their lives, and their eagerness to learn more. Dr. Gates also begins to examine his own family's past, recounting the discovery of a box of photographs and heirlooms at his grandfather's funeral that sparked an obsession with his ancestry.