Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population

Congratulations to my co-authors Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson, and Janet Lewis Crain for the publication of our paper ‘Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population’ published in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, an academically peer reviewed publication.

I don’t know if many of our readers are familiar with the academic publishing process, but the peer review cycle is just brutal, often taking 18 months or so and many iterations before everyone is satisfied.  However, that cycle is intended to assure that the scientific evidence presented is sound, presented accurately without bias (intended or othewise) and has the blessing of the relevant academic scientific community.  Outside of academia, anyone can publish anything, but within the academic structure, certain scientific standards of evidence must be maintained, assuring the consuming public (as well as other academics and researchers) that they can have confidence in what has been published.  This is why we chose this route for publication.

The core Melungeon group themselves, as defined within the paper, does not have direct evidence of Native heritage using Y-line and mitochondrial DNA.  However, the Sizemore family is ancestral to some of these families, and the Sizemore line is genetically Native, although there is no traditional paper documentation.  Conversely, the Riddle family, also ancestral to some of the Melungeon families does have the paper documentation, but genetically proves to be of European origin.  Both of these families and several more are discussed within the paper.

Paper Abstract

Melungeon is a term applied historically to a group of persons, probably multiethnic, found primarily in Hawkins and Hancock Counties, Tennessee, and in adjoining southern Lee County, Virginia.  In this article we define the Melungeon population study group, then review the evidence from historical sources and DNA testing–Y-chromosome, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA–to gain insight into the origin of this mysterious group.

Paper Introduction

The Melungeons were a group of individuals found primarily in Hawkins and Hancock Counties of Tennessee and in the far southern portion of Lee County, Virginia which borders Hawkins and Hancock counties in Tennessee.  At one time isolated geographically on and near Newman’s Ridge and socially due to their dark countenance, they were known to their neighbors as Melungeons, a term applied as an epithet or in a pejorative manner.

As the stigma of a mixed racial heritage dimmed in the late 20th century and was replaced by a sense of pride, interest in the genealogy and history of the Melungeon people was born.  With the advent of the internet and popular press, the story of these people has become larger than life, with their ancestors being attributed to a myriad of exotic sources: Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony, Ottoman Turks, The Lost Tribes of Israel, Jews, Gypsies, descendants of Prince Madoc of Wales, Indians, escaped slaves, Portuguese, Sir Francis Drake’s rescued Caribbean Indians and Moorish slaves, Juan Pardo’s expedition, De Soto’s expedition, abandoned pirates and Black Dutch, among others.  Melungeon families themselves claimed to be Indian, white and Portuguese.

Furthermore, as having Melungeon heritage became desirable and exotic, the range of where these people were reportedly found has expanded to include nearly every state south of New England and east of the Mississippi, and in the words of Dr. Virginia DeMarce, Melungeon history has been erroneously expanded to provide “an exotic ancestry…that sweeps in virtually every olive, ruddy and brown-tinged ethnicity known or alleged to have appeared anywhere in the pre-Civil War Southeastern United States.

Formation of Melungeon DNA Project

The Core Melungeon DNA Project was formed at Family Tree DNA in July of 2005 with the goal of testing the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA of families identified as Melungeon.  The first step was to define which families were Melungeon and were eligible to be included.

The popular press has extended the definition of Melungeon dramatically.  The project administrators researched various records to determine where the label of Melungeon was actually applied, and to whom.  They found the word first recorded in 1810 and used for the next 100 years or so, primarily in Hawkins and Hancock Counties in Tennessee, and slightly into neighboring counties where the Melungeon family community reached over county and state boundaries into Claiborne County, Tennessee, and Lee, Scott and Russell Counties in Virginia.  The project was subsequently broken into Y-line and mitochondrial DNA projects, and in 2010, a Melungeon Family project was added with the advent of the Family Finder product.

The paper can be read/downloded here:

PDF Format:

HTML Format:

If you’d like to take a DNA test, click here.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Melungeon. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population

  1. Yvonne says:

    Congratulations! Good job!

  2. lj crabtree says:

    fascinating!! can’t wait to hear more….

  3. Larry Goins says:

    Great job Roberta, Jack, Penny and Janet. Larry Goins

  4. pdenisegarth says:

    Great great grandmother was Mahala Goings. Wonder if she was “malungu”.

  5. Lea says:

    I am a direct decedent of Valentine Collins. Can someone help me make sence of the DNA for him. I spent about 2 hours reading and skimming and have concluded some African. What else does all of this mean?

  6. Sheila Evans says:

    Dear Roberta, Jack, Penny and Janet … as usual you have all collaborated to produce a paper with great charts, documentation and examples to aid anyone interested in the topic of the Melungeons. Thank you for a wonderful paper to add to my files and to expand my knowledge of history and genealogy.

  7. Pingback: Portingals, Portuguese, Melungeons, Creoles, Moors, Mulattoes and the Banjo | Native Heritage Project

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.