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What Is a Melungeon?

Perhaps you have an ancestor in the family that was rumored to have been an Indian or has proved hard to trace and they lived in Appalachia. Here's a possible explanation for that elusive brick wall ancestor!


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Perhaps you have an ancestor in the family that was rumored to have been an Indian or has proved hard to trace and they lived in Appalachia. They could possibly have been of Melungeon ancestry. The word Melungeon is used to describe a little known group of people of mixed ethnic orgin that were found in the Appalachias, particularly in Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, southeastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Melungeons were often discriminated against because they were labeled as Indian, or black, or a host of other terms. Because of this they frequently lost their political rights. Very often they hid their ancestry to escape the harassment.

The Melungeon origins have many different suggested theories. Some say that they have roots with the Spanish or the Portuguese explorers. Other theories say that they descended form Middle Eastern or Mediterranean ancestry. Still another theory suggests that they are remnants of the lost colony of Roanoke. A wide variety of surnames have been linked to the Melungeons. For a list of surnames go to

Some Melungeons carry disticnct physical characteristics that have been handed down through generations. Frequently the presence of an Anatolian bump is noted, being about the size of half of a golf ball and located on the back of the head in the midline just above where the skull and the neck meet. The two front teeth and the two on either side have a ridge on the back near the gum line and also curve outward creating a shovel tooth while the front remains perfectly straight. Some Melungeons have been known to have six fingers or toes. They are described as being dark skinned, some with red hair and blue or green eyes. Some Mediterranean diseases also show up in persons of Melungeon ancestry. Some problems include sleep problems, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, allergies, and lactose intolerance; other more serious medical problems have been known to occur.

For further information on the Melungeons check The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People by N. Brent Kennedy. Also check this website for further Melungeon research links:

There are schools of thought that the Melungeon theory is nothing more that a social myth and is fraught with genealogical error. For a discussion of this theory see The purpose of this article is not to argue a point for either side, but to enlighten you to new genealogical possibility. This author leaves it up to the reader to decide how he or she feels about the information presented. Whether you agree or disagree, it is hoped that the discussion of the Melungeons opens your eyes to new realms of genealogical insight.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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