Thursday, July 14, 2005

An Overview of my Melungeon Research

The following is an overview of my Melungeon research with some suggestions for further research and a LOT of URLs!! I hope this will be of help to you. Let me know if I can answer any questions.

Updated: July 14, 2005

NOTE: in the following material there are MANY websites given. If you find any of them that are no longer working simply go to The Way Back Machine at:

Input the URL which has been given and many times you will be able to find the internet site as it USED to be.

Who Are the Melungeons?

The Melungeons are an interesting group of people, some of who have a Mediterranean ancestry, that is ancestry that includes areas of North Africa, southern Europe and Central Asia. The Melungeons may have settled in the Appalachian wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1564 when they were found by English explorers. The explorers described these people as being 'dark-skinned with fine European features," (meaning they were not black) and as being 'a hairy people, who lived in log cabins with peculiar arched windows,' (meaning they were not Indians). They practiced the Christian religion, and told the explorers in broken Elizabethan English, that they were 'Portyghee,' but were described as being 'not white,' that is, not of Northern European stock, even though some of them had red hair and others had VERY striking blue or blue/green eyes. Recent DNA research has shown Melungeons to be 5% Native American, 5% black, and 90% Eurasian which includes all of Europe and as far east as northern India. This 90% includes 7% ancestry from the areas that are NOW, Syria, Turkey, and northern India. More information can be found at this URL: INTERRACIAL VOICE - Guest Editorial

New evidence also indicates that there is a probable connection to the Melungeons from a region in Angola, Africa called the Melange. The name of the area may be where the name Melungeon originally came from although there are several other candidates for the original meaning including Malengine, an old English word, which means 'trickster,' and an Arabic/Turqic word pronounced exactly as Melungeon (muh-LUNGE-uhn) is and which means 'cursed soul.' Newer research is also indicating a connection to the Croatians of Europe among who is found a tribe called the Melingi/Melingoi. The (g) in these two words is pronounced like the 'g' in Melungeon and according to speakersof this language the 'ian' ending is used to mean a person from that place. I find this information fascinating. The Melungeons in America were first found in the Cumberland Plateau areas of NC/VA/KY/TN/WV. They intermarried with people of the Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokee, Lumbee and Saponi Indians. "Cousin groups " of related mixed-ancestry populations also include, the Carmel Indians of southern Ohio, the Brown People of Kentucky, the Guineas of West Virginia, the We-Sorts of Maryland, the Nanticoke-Moors of Delaware, the Cubans and Portuguese of North Carolina, the Turks and Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Creoles and Redbones of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Researching Melungeon families is a great adventure. The road is not an easy one, but it is fascinating!!
:-) I have most of my Melungeon information on the internet now. There is a list of common Melungeon surnames, some physical characteristics of Melungeon descendants and much more which I hope will help you to self-identify your family as a Melungeon descended family. *SOME* Melungeon descendants *MAY* have inherited health problems. These are of utmost importance, so be sure to read that.

Please take a look at all the URLs noted here:

Melungeon Printed Resources:

ONE HUNDRED and Sixty-nine Melungeon and Associated Websites:

Melungeon Definition:
Also includes several URLs.

Melungeon Information :

Diagrams of physical characteristics

Shovel teeth picture:

Common Melungeon surnames

Fibromyalgia in YOUR family? Inherited? Maybe!!
Causes of Fibromyalgia, Nancy, Fibromyalgia

Sparks Genealogy:
(Select: Index/Nancy's Corner/The Melungeon Connection)
(Select: Index/The Melungeon Media Release)

I recommend that you go to:
(one of your common surnames) Genealogy+Melungeons (or MELUNGEON, different things come up.)
(Note spacing)
A lot of things should come up. Write to these folks and see if they can connect you to their lines. Repeat with any of your other suspected surnames that you have.

I have a  Melungeon mailing list, which I hope will grow to become the PRIME source of Melungeon info on the internet. It is well on the way now. Please come and join a group of friendly, family oriented folks who help one another and give support where needed. Send an e-mail to:

I am also suggesting that if you haven't done so, you read: The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People; N. Brent Kennedy, Mercer University Press, Macon, GA, USA, 1997. Or read a later edition for good background info on just what and who the Melungeons are, as well as Kennedy's family genealogy and some theories about Melungeon origins.

DNA research on some Melungeon descendants has been completed. The DNA proves the Mediterranean ancestry of Melungeons. The DNA testing of 100 women - the men's have not come back yet - shows that Melungeon descendants today have 5% Native American ancestry, 5% Black ancestry and 90% ancestry labeled Euroasian which includes all of northern Europe eastward to northern India. Included in this 90% there is a 7% grouping of lines from Turkey, northern India, Syria and Sephardic Jew.

I am including a recent piece that Brent wrote to get you started off. This piece was originally on the following url:

Where we are today:
Comments on the state of Melungeon
By Brent Kennedy
The following is an except from an upcoming article by Brent Kennedy.
I wrote my book purposefully to inspire, encourage, or provoke mainstream academia into taking a more serious - and less dismissive and disparaging - look at not only the Melungeons, but also other American mixed-race populations. I stated my intent, my limitations, and my qualifications - and lack thereof - in the opening pages of the book. The book is a manifesto, not an "academic" work, as should be evident from the very first page. People identified with the book because they possessed the same family histories. We all don't fit neatly into either "white" (i.e., northern European), "black" (i.e., sub-Saharan African), Indian, or "mulatto." Some "whites" were not northern European, and some "blacks" were not sub-Saharan Africans." And the term "mulatto"carried different legal meanings from decade to decade. The Melungeons are a prime example of this often unspoken complexity, and yet the truth is a marvelous, racially unifying reality for those willing to think outside traditional boxes. Today, I believe even more firmly in the hypotheses espoused in the book, and I have absolutely no doubt that time and evidence will prove these hypotheses correct .

New archival evidence is indeed telling a more complex story of how - and by whom - our Nation was settled ("settled in the western sense, since it was already adequately settled from the Native American standpoint). Not only are we witnessing a re-evaluation of the events of the 16th and 17th centuries, but even longer held cherished truisms are crumbling. The "fall" of the so-called Clovis Theory is in and of itself a major breakthrough. But the point is that new evidence- and less prejudiced eyes- are making a major dent in what scholars have considered sacred law for decades. The "Melungeons" are simply the tip of a much bigger iceberg that will force America - and academia-to rethink many of its cherished origin theories.

I have never stated- in my book or elsewhere - that Melungeons or any other mixed-race group are "pure Turks" or "pure Portuguese" or "pure Jews" or anything else of the ilk. The Melungeons are indeed a wonderful mixture, and always have been. Likewise, I have never discounted the all-encompassing racial make-up of our people. What I have said -and most people have understood - is that, yes we are northern European, and yes, we are sub-Saharan African, but we are also much more. Some of us carry southern European genes, and some of us Turkish and central Asian, some of us Jewish, and some of us all of the above. Not all of us are the same, but in our family oral traditions and in our culture and in our genes this broad mixture still shows itself and it is incredibly insensitive to dismiss it our of hand.

This same sort of dismissal is, in good part, why the issue of "origins" remains with us today. It is NOT a question of origins: it is a question of respect for a people's right to self-identify. Past racists, and later unwitting academicians, have turned a normal declaration of self into a search for "origins" simply because they rejected the self-concepts and oral traditions espoused by the people in question. And in this case, the evidence backs up the oral traditions. Old records recently "discovered" in theVirginia Historical Society archives and elsewhere (see the Virginia Carolorum, as but one example) provide an absolute definitive proof of Turkish and Armenian silk and textile workers who were imported into Virginia beginning in the early 1600s. Other documents show 17th century Ottoman (Turkish) and Balkans Gypsies exiled from England of Jamestown as English settlers, with last names of Adams, Atkins, Green, Robinson, Sutherland, and so on-all, incidentally, surnames found in my family. The English were not only ridding themselves of the Ulstermen (now the "Scots-Irish") via the settlement of America, but were also equally intent on divesting themselves of Gypsies, Jews, and other non-European inhabitants. This was common practice, clear it seems to most foreign scholars but incredibly opaque for some American scholars.

The Scots-Irish connection, incidentally, brings up another interesting point. While I am nearly certain that I have Scots-Irish heritage as well, no one has ever asked me to prove it (which, incidentally, I cannot). Nor have they asked my brother to do so; despite his having a prototypical Arab phenotype. This is absolutely fascinating and says much about our national-and scholarly- predisposition toward certain racial and ethnic "acceptances" -even within the "progressive" confines of academia. The real "myth" issue in the Appalachians has nothing to do with various populations claming to be something other than, or in addition to, northern European, African, or Native American. Instead, it is the astounding ease in which we accept -even encourage- the unquestioned claim of a Scots-Irish heritage. For some reason, that oral tradition is acceptable on its face and needs no definitive proof. While I am exceedingly proud of any Scots-Irish heritage I may possess, I see no reason to subject other family lines to a more hostile reception.

Any reliance on written records alone has its pitfalls, and in this case the dam is finally about to break. A new book just released by Columbia University Press, Nabil Matar's Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery, provides a far more complex picture of English-Turkish relationships in the 1500s and 1600s and the spillover to the new World is both fascinating and documented. James Loewen's book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, is yet another source to drive home the importance of looking beyond the written record, especially when racist and/or nationalistic policies were driving the record-keeping systems. Many of the so-called Germans who came to this country were, in actuality, Jews and yet their descendants' genealogical charts, and even the census records, will never show this. But the memories and bits and pieces of the culture-and the genes - are there.

On a mountaintop in Wise County, Virginia, I can visit graves of two of my relatives who were born in the early part of the nineteenth century. I knew very little about this line when I published my book, so their lives and photographs were not included. Both tombstones carry purely Old Testament verses and intricately carved Stars of David. Both men carried typical Jewish names, and both men looked Semitic. Their sister was my great-great grandmother, and a recently acquired photograph likewise suggests something other than northern European ancestry, though that is, of course, anecdotal and hardly conclusive. Old legends in the family hint that they were indeed Jewish in origin, but today they have become" Scots-Irish". Were they Jews? While they obviously thought they were, American records say not, and scholars support this stance. And while I have no proof either way, I choose not to dismiss the possibility. And that is one crux of the Melungeon controversy: I can claim for them a Scots-Irish heritage with no difficulty and with no questions asked. But to suggest Jewish….then I am "myth building."

Finally, from a health standpoint alone we need to know who we are. Within the documented Melungeon population we have hundreds of confirmed cases of thallasemia (both alpha and beta, a clear Mediterranean connection), as well as Behcet's Disease, Machado-Joseph Disease, sarcoidosis, and Familial Mediterranean Fever. I have sarcoidosis, but I also was diagnosed at NIH in 1998 with Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), which requires a recessive gene from BOTH parents. FMF is considered by the medical establishment as an ethnically restricted disease, believed to have first mutated several thousand year ago in what today is Israel/Palestine, and is found among North African (non-Ashkenazi/Sephardic) Jews, Turks, Armenians, and Arabs (particularly the Arab Druze).

I have cousins on BOTH sides who have been diagnosed with FMF as well, Including one diagnosed more than 20 years ago, unbeknownst to me. According to both DeMarce and Henige, based on their "reviews" of my work and genealogies, I cannot possibly have this eastern Mediterranean disease. And yet I do.So,do I trust their judgements, which rely on traditional American historical documents, or Do I trust my family's oral traditions, backed up by physical appearance, medical conditions, and DNA? To me, there's no real debate here. If the theories of my critics conflict with my DNA, then perhaps it's their theories that need revising.

From a health standpoint alone this matter is far too critical to shove in the background simply because of some silly game of academic "one-ups-manship." As a result of the proper diagnosis, I was taken off all the anti-inflammatory drugs I've been experimenting with -to no avail-and placed on a single table of colchicine -a wonder drug for FMF. I can now walk without a cane and my fever bouts are virtually gone. And, importantly, my chances of dying of kidney amyloidosis have been drastically reduced. It is important to know who we are. For me, I don't care HOW my genes came to be here. IT is irrelevant whether they came via shipwrecked, Portuguese, abandoned Turks, or Turkish and Armenian textile workers, or Ottoman Gypsies with English surnames. What is important is that the genes are indeed here and, thankfully, that my doctors are aware of it. Scholars can debate for the next century how these genes may have arrived, but they can no longer debate whether or not they arrived. Henige and DeMarce are wrong. I -and other Melungeon descendants-are living proof of their error. Mediterranean heritage, I am also totally confident that I possess Native American, northern European, and African ancestry. I can be ALL these things and claiming one should not force me to deny the others. But this is precisely what we are being asked -and often told -to do. I refuse to do it, regardless of the "historical documents" presented, because I know better.

Today, much good work is underway. While the Melungeon Research Committee, always an ad hoc effort, was dissolved after my return to the Appalachians, the Melungeon Heritage Association continues the work of the original committee and a growing number of scholars here and abroad continue to research Melungeon roots. From the beginning the Committee was a diverse group, with few of us agreeing on any one theory. For good reason in my opinion, since no one theory works. My own thoughts changed over time, leading me away from the narrower, traditional interpretations to embrace the more diverse admixture that others and I now propose. The full answers will probably always eludeus, for each family has its own unique ancestry. While my own genetics confirm of my and my parents at least a partial eastern Mediterranean heritage, this will certainly not be the case for all Melungeon descendants. Some of us are more European, some more Native American, and still others more African. And one can choose to more closely identify with any of these larger ethnic groups without sacrificing one's general "Melungeon" heritage. Those who have worked directly with the Melungeon Heritage Association, or attended our conferences or festivals, know this. And they also know we live by our creed of "One People" All Colors."

The Melungeon "movement" is not a movement intent on defining, or even further refining, racial boundaries, but instead on blurring them. We believe in one human "race" and that by being permitted to embrace our full multi-racial and multi-cultural heritage, we can more quickly make this dream a reality. We also recognize that some few will always miss the point. We can live with that, as we have now for a long, long time.
I hope you found Kennedy's views of interest and that it explained a little more fully what is going on with Melungeon research at this time.

Hope this helps, and let me know if I can answer any questions.  You can reach me via e-mail from any of my websites noted in this peice.



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