This post was sent to our OLD Melungeon mailing list by Beth. I am placing it here for your perusal. It gives physical/behavorial characteristics etc of some Melungeon families:
Dear Melungeon Listers,
It would be very useful to have an operational definition of Melungeon
that met social science standards of validity, reliability and measurablity and
that was also compatible with the historic and current understandings of this
As I view it, Melungeon refers to an Appalachian ethnic group with
distinct physical, behavioral, historical and genetic characteristics. These
characteristics served to set Melungeons apart from other peoples dwelling in
southeastern North America from the 1500's onward.
PHYSICALLY, Melungeons were distinct in appearance from the other major
ethnic groups familiar to persons living in the Southeastern United States
from 1500 onward.
Thus, they would have had observable physical features which served to set
them apart from those whose ancestry was primarily sub-Saharan African, Native
American, or Northern European. From the various historical and contemporary
sources used to describe Melungeon physical features, these would be dark
straight or wavy hair, dark (but not black ) skin, high cheekbones, and
Mediterranean facial features. While some specific Melungeons might vary from these
traits, the overall group appearance would necessarily be physically homogeneous
and distinct from persons in other ethnic groups.
BEHAVIORALLY, Melungeons had distinctive food preparation, food
preference and food consumption practices. They ate some highly spiced foods, did not
consume blood products, did consume onion and leek based vegetables, fried
breads and other items that appear to be somewhat consistent with Mediterranean
Many observed a one year mourning period for deceased loved ones,
buried loved ones on an east-west axis in private burial grounds, gathered in the
cemeteries of their deceased loved ones once a year to re-mound and decorate
their graves, and belonged to the Primitive Baptist religious denomination.
Some of the women wore black hair coverings. Several of the men wore full beards.
Marriages were often performed in the homes of the bride's parents, rather
than in churches.
Melungeons also displayed marked pattterns of endogamy, marrying
cousins, including first cousins, over an extended period of time (in some cases 400
years). These marriage patterns are consistent with historic and contemporary
Sephardic Jewish and Muslim behavior.
Naming patterns also served to demarcate Melungeon ethnicity. Given names included not only 'Old Testament' Hebrew names, BUT ALSO Aramaic, Arabic, non-Biblical Hebrew, Greek, Italian, Spanish
and Portuguese names. These naming patterns are observable from the 1600's onward.
GENETICALLY, Melungeons and their descendants were and are distinctive.
They do not have primarily Northern European, sub-Saharan African, Native
American, or East Asian haplotypes/haplogroups. Intead they primarily carry DNA
patterns typical of the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and some
Central Asian and Indo-Pakistani populations.
Taken as a whole, the most parsimonious explanation for this set of Physical, Behavioral and
Genetic characteristics would appear to be a Sephardic Jewish and Muslim Moorish origin, likely
resulting from the historically documented expulsion of Jews and Muslims from various European,
Mediterranean and Central Asian countries from the 1500's onward, coupled with the establishment of
Spanish, Portuguese, British, French and Dutch settlements in North America post 1500.
It is also very likely that some persons of Melungeon descent would
have some sub-Saharan, Native American, Northern European or other (e.g.,
Roma) ancestry, as well, due to specific instances of exogamous marriage.