• Share
  • Tweet
  • Share

When it came to discovering her roots, Maya Rudolph couldn't help but break down.

The Saturday Night Live alum is on Tuesday's episode of the PBS genealogy show Finding Your Roots, hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and came upon a heartbreaking realization.

Rudolph, a biracial daughter of the late soul singer Minnie Riperton and music composer and producer Richard Rudolph, was presented with an 1860 Kentucky census that documented the 32 slaves owned by a John Warren Grigsby.

Included in that census, is one of her maternal ancestors, who was listed without a name, and only by age—5 years old. "That breaks my heart," she tells Gates while breaking down in tears.

"I just think of my kids," she adds. "That's really hard to see...Wow, I just can't believe what I'm looking at. Just when I understood what the numbers were that I'm looking at, it's what broke my heart. You just don't think of details, because you don't have them. So, you can't think of…I see 5, and I think of my daughter." 

Rudolph asks, "How can you imagine anything like that?"

Additionally, Rudolph became aware of a third great-grandfather, who was a freed slave denied the compensation and liberty granted to him by his owner's will, something Gates explains occurred with many slaves at the time.

But the actress' ancestor wasn't about to just allow this to happen. In the 1830s, he challenged the owner's grandson in a court of law—and won.

"How is that even possible?" Rudolph asks. "I can't imagine what the odds could have been, and then they went in his favor. To me, that's tremendous courage."