Melungeon genetic roots

1 minute read

The AP is running a story about a recent genetic study probing the ancestry of the Melungeons.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) For years, varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies.
Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.

This is the most well-known of a fairly large number of groups of country folk in the southern U.S. with obscure genealogical origins. The story goes on to discuss speculation that their ancestry may derive from indentured servants (of both races) in 1600’s Virginia. Whether or not that specific suggestion is correct, shortly after their founding, the American colonies were a remarkably fortunate place for early immigrants. Poor and largely illiterate people who made the crossing had remarkable health, survival rates and fertility by Old World standards. Written history at the level of towns is sometimes surprisingly dense for the early colonies, but was produced by the literate, following their own concerns. Genetics may recapture the dynamics of the lost history of the early colonies, if not the details.