As I settle in with some popcorn to watch the show, I’m really interested to see if Emmitt Smith can make the jump from America to Africa like he’s hoping.
Emmitt Smith gets a DNA test done and goes home to Florida to talk to his family. His dad mentions a cousin with a genealogy website — that’s real luck! Emmitt’s next stop is Burnt Corn, Ala., where he stops at a general store and runs into a cousin.
It’s so nice to see Emmitt taking notes — it felt like all the info just fell into SJP’s lap. We’re getting into some heavy history at the Monroe County Courthouse as Emmitt encounters segregated turn-of-the-century vital records. The archivist says Emmitt’s ancestor Bill Watson was born into slavery; another researcher determines Bill’s wife’s maiden name.
Now we’re tracking down the name Prince Puryear — was it the surname of a slave owner? We hope to find out by digging into the 1870 census, the first to list African-Americans by name, researcher Marjorie Sholes tells Emmitt.
Emmitt finds a slave-owning family named Puryear in the 1850 census. Letters reveal the man was a slave trader, even. Emmitt finds Prince Puryear in a will — with a price. It’s clear Emmitt is totally blown away by this. The researcher points out that the cemetery they’re sitting in is only for white people — Emmitt’s black ancestors’ graves are grown over and forgotten in the woods.
Going into Virginia to track down the Puryears seems like it’s going to bear lots of fruit. Mecklenburg County, Va., was built by the Puryears, a historian says, and the slave trade was big business. They dig into the local records, and pull out deed book No. 22, which freaks Emmitt out! (His football jersey number was 22 through his entire career.)
Historian says the slave owners raised and bred their slaves like horses — but they treated the horses better. His ancestor Mariah appears on a deed at just 11 years old. It seems that slave trader Samuel Puryear is Emmitt’s fifth-great grandfather.
It seems that Mariah is as far back as Emmitt can go, as earlier records are difficult to find. But then Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak comes to the rescute with the results of Emmitt’s DNA test. She says Emmitt’s ancestry is about 81 percent African, 7 percent Native American and 12 percent European. She never sees people with 100% African ancestry, and his background is very strongly African.
Emmitt is going to Africa! Benin, specifically, part of West Africa’s former “Slave Coast.” But the past is drawn into the present — he’s told that trafficking of children is still happening in Benin. The orphans he’s meeting were sold by their parents for money.
Emmitt visits the courtyard where Africans were held before the strong ones were loaded onto slave ships. He has a teary reunion with his wife on the beach, where he tells her what he’s discovered. It’s an amazing example of how bringing history to light can change your life. Emmitt says, “History is my story right now.” That’s a wrap!