The Melungeons blog

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Where Do We Come From?

Where Do We Come From?

A new generation of DNA genealogists stand ready to unearth our ancestors. We may not like what they find by Kathleen McGowan

Brent Kennedy's 19th-century ancestors stare out from his photo albums with dark eyes, high cheekbones, olive skin, and thick black hair—a genetic riddle waiting to be solved. It comes as no surprise that Elvis Presley, Ava Gardner, and Abraham Lincoln may be among their kin, yet the members of this tribe have never fitted properly into American racial categories. Depending on the census taker or tax man, they were classified as white, "free persons of color," or mulatto, often drifting across the color line as they moved from county to county.

Kennedy calls himself a Melungeon, but no one knows exactly what that means. There are perhaps as many as 200,000 Melungeons in the United States today, all descended from a mysterious colony of olive-skinned people who lived for centuries in the foothills of the Appalachians. Some say the Melungeons can be traced back to Portuguese sailors, shipwrecked in the 16th century, or to colonial-era Turkish silk workers. Others point to Gypsies, to Sir Francis Drake's lost colony of Roanoke, or to the ancient Phoenicians. It's not even clear where the word Melungeon comes from: It might be derived from the French mélange or even a corruption of an Arabic or Turkish term for "cursed souls."


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