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Exploration of family’s roots turns into new roles: Detective, author
Amateur genealogist earns measure of satisfaction
Published Thursday, February 20, 2020 9:00 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

David Cannady of Charlotte turned research into his family’s roots into a transcript he’s looking to publish.

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David Cannady turned detective to learn more about his family.

Cannady, a Mount Vernon, New York native who lives in Charlotte, has spent six years researching his North Carolina roots. It started in Granville County in northeastern North Carolina, which led Cannady to his great-great grandfather, Charles Cannady, who was born enslaved in 1813 and voted in the election of 1867 – a rarity for emancipated Southern blacks.

Cannady, like many African Americans in the 1970s, was inspired by Alex Haley’s “Roots,” a memoir and 1977 TV miniseries of his search for his family’s lineage to Africa. As a student at Howard University, he wanted to learn more about his ancestry.

“I had just graduated from Howard’s grad school, and I saw ‘Roots’ and I was fascinated by the history, oral tradition,” David Cannady said. “As a matter of fact, I learned something talking to the genealogist that ‘Roots’ was primarily based on oral tradition as opposed to documented archival records. So, I was fascinated about that.”

Because it’s often difficult to locate records – or relatives willing or capable of talking about family history – African American genealogy can be time-consuming and frustrating. Cannady, on the other hand, enjoyed the challenge, especially locating Granville County’s genealogy librarian, who led him to documents and people who helped his quest.

“It was frustrating not being able to find the records,” Cannady said. “…The infuriating part was I encountered some whites and they didn't give me, respect is probably too strong a word, but they didn't give me the amount of time and attention that I really wanted. I had to work through another Caucasian person who was able to get me what I need, who was able to work with others … to get me what I needed.”

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Among the assets Cannady was able to access was a 102-year-old who helped him find a near-dormant cemetery as well as a genealogist to help locate ancestral ties.
Cannady’s father, Robert, was all for the quest – as long as David handled the research on his own.

“I wanted to know about the family, but my father wouldn’t tell me anything,” Cannady said. “He said ‘you got to go South,’ so I’m fascinated. …I think he determined that he wasn't going to tell us something because I think the past was probably painful and I think that he probably thought I would appreciate it more if I found out myself. I think it was a little bit of a challenge, too. But that was it. That was the only conversation we had.”

Cannady, 67, spent 37 in corporate environments where data and analytics were part of his job. That experience came in handy as he took on the task of uncovering his family history.
“I was accustomed to sitting down for long hours at a time and just go into a range of data, plus I’m certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, so, I can put it all together,” he said. “But there were some aspects that were new to me, and I needed to find someone that could direct me.”

Cannady, who has lived in Charlotte 22 years, is proud of what his research accomplished, both in terms of the work required to learn more about his family history and the knowledge it’s possible to go from no information to creating a bond to the past.

“I think it's very rewarding,” he said. “I think to not know where you come from, and who preceded you is a travesty. To not know because you can't get the information, it’s a shame. I think there’s a lot of benefit to knowing.”


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