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Show On All-Star’s Roots To Air Tonight

Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher amassing 18,355 yards over 14 NFL seasons, and last April he was in Mecklenburg and Halifax counties researching his family tree as part of NBC’s new series “Who Do You Think You Are?”

The show will air tonight on NBC at 8 p.m.

Smith, who gained fame with the Dallas Cowboys, is the only rushing back to win a Super Bowl, the NFL MVP Award, the NFL Rushing Crown, and the Super Bowl MVP Award, all in a single season (1993).

The former Florida Gator set dozens of school and NCAA records before moving on to the NFL, where he earned eight trips to the Pro Bowl and three Super Bowl Championship rings playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

Smith retired in 2006, but it wasn’t long before he was back in the spotlight; he and partner Cheryl Burke won the Season 3 championship of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Local historian John Cankipe acted as a researcher for the show and was Smith’s tour guide when he visited Cluster Springs and Boydton in April.

“Smith’s ancestors came first to Virginia, and then they came to Christiansville (now Chase City),” Cankipe said.

His decedents can be traced back to a Mecklenburg County slave trader named Samuel Puryear, Cankipe pointed out Puryear’s daughter, Mariah, is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother to Smith.

“When Samuel died he left Mariah to his youngest son, Alexander,” Cankipe said.  “And he was a trader in Alabama.”

According to Cankipe there were over 100,000 Puryears in the U.S., and the vast majority of them came from Mecklenburg County.

“In 1820, many headed south the Alabama territory, it was controlled by Senator Jones who was originally from Charlotte County,” Cankipe said.

Cankipe said he greatly enjoyed his eight hours showing Smith around Southside.

“He’s a wonderful, likable fellow and very genuine,” Cankipe said of Smith, and the highlight was seeing Smith’s awestruck reaction as he learned about his ancestors. 

“He was concerned about what he was going to learn, but he was excited by it.

“He’s absolutely glad he did what he did, and I would not be surprised if he came back for a visit,” Cankipe said, noting that Smith never got to make a visit to Chase City.

Smith’s wife is from the Hampton Roads area, so they already come to Virginia to visit family, Cankipe explained.

During his time here, Smith also stayed a Berry Hill and met with two other historians.

As for his experience, Cankipe said, “It’s a wonderful, wonderful show, but it’s a lot of work.”