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Review of Science Writing and News Reports on DNA Testing and Popular Genetics

Behind the Numbers: Phyllis Starnes

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

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Phyllis Starnes:  Designer Genes

We interviewed Phyllis E. Starnes, assistant investigator, to find out what fascinates her about the field of DNA testing. Her story is the first in a series titled "Behind the Numbers" about the workers behind the scenes in our industry, from lab technicians to statisticians.


Interviewer:  How did you first get interested in DNA?

PES:  I went to the Melungeon Union in Kingsport [Tennessee, in 2002]. Beth Hirschman had her “stalk,” a diagram of her Melungeon family tree with all the names in her genealogy, many of which were also my surnames. I heard Dr. Yates speak at that meeting. They had their lines all pinpointed, thanks to DNA studies.

Interviewer:  What was your next step after that?

PES:  I came home and did a lot of genealogy research on the computer.

Interviewer: And then?

PES:  The first year DNA Consultants opened for business, which was 10 years ago, I ordered a Y chromosome test for my husband Billy. Other companies were offering the same product, but DNA Consultants was the only one to give you a full analysis and customized explanation of things. Then I ordered my own mitochondrial DNA test.

Interviewer:  Any surprises?

PES:  Billy’s top matches for his male line, the Starnes surname line, were Macedonia and Albania. My mitochondrial mutations matched Native Americans. I became the first of the “Anomalous Cherokees” whose female lineages didn’t fit in the traditional scheme of “Indians out of Asia.” In fact, my Hypervariable Region 2 mutations matched only one other sample in the world, and that was Dr. Yates, who is Cherokee in his direct female line.

Interviewer:  What did your husband and the rest of your family think?

PES:  Some were excited, as I was, but most were just not interested. My kids thought the strong Native American matches were very interesting.

Interviewer:  What other family members did you test?

PES:  As soon as autosomal testing arrived, with the DNA Fingerprint Test, I did Billy and myself, of course, Julia, Kiely and Holli (our three daughters), our granddaughter Keely, my Dad’s sister and Mother’s sister, an uncle and his wife, a niece and a cousin.

Interviewer:  What did you find out?

PES:  Within the immediate family, it was obvious who got which ancestry and trait from whom, and how they all resonated. One of the big surprises was my father’s side, which proved to have quite a bit of Native American and Iberian. The “First Peoples” gene came from his side and passed on down through our girls. On my mother’s side, 11 out of 20 matches was India.

Interviewer:   India!?

PES:  Yes, it appears we were finally seeing the extensive Romani/Gypsy heritage in her family. People had always told me I was like a Gypsy, from my clothes and jewelry to my attitude and outlook. When Billy was in the Navy, I told him one day, ‘I’m tired of being a Gypsy.’ I said I wanted to settle down in one place.

Interviewer:  Did you settle down?

PES:  Yes, we’ve lived in a small town in East Tennessee for almost 40 years. We moved here in 1973.

Interviewer:  Any other surprises in your DNA?

PES:  If you were to chart our geographical matches, both in terms of autosomal DNA as well as the female and male lines, it would surround the Mediterranean. That’s where Familial Mediterranean Fever comes in.

Interviewer:  Who has FMF in your family?

PES:  Billy, myself, Julia, Holli and a cousin. I’m sure others have it but it has not been diagnosed and they may call it instead fibromyalgia. Brent Kennedy [author of a book on Melungeons and their genetics] is a cousin many times over.

Interviewer:  What do you enjoy about your job?

PES:  It’s like a holiday every day. With customers coming out of North Carolina or East Tennessee, I see a lot of the same matches and genealogy I have personally encountered in my own experience with DNA testing. I recognize a lot of genetic cousins.

Interviewer:  When did you first hear the word “Melungeon”?

PES:  I grew up in Southwest Virginia in the little town where the Stony Creek Church is located. The church minutes contain the first written instance of the word. The register is all of mine and Billy’s ancestors, and part of Beth’s [Elizabeth Hirschman, author of books on Melungeons].

Interviewer:  What do you see in the future of DNA testing?

PES:  I think we’ve only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg so far, even though it’s been 10 years. We’ll continue to have new knowledge, new products. I highly recommend our customized approach.

Interviewer:  Any parting shots?

PES:  I’ve worked in sales all my life—jewelry management and design, my own interior decorating shop, running my own hair salon—but I have found something to be truly excited about in DNA. Funny I couldn’t get this excited about selling diamonds! If you think about it, your genes are the ultimate design for living.

Donald Yates and Elizabeth Hirschman speaking at Fourth Melungeon Union, Kingsport, Tenn., in June 2002. Hirschman, a professor at Rutgers University, went on to publish Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America. Yates, a professor at Georgia Southern University at the time, founded a service for evaluating DNA reports that became DNA Consultants. The two authors have collaborated on a number of books and articles, including Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America. 

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Falling Far from the Tree: Our Horizontal Ethnic Identities

Friday, November 09, 2012

Andrew Solomon in Far from the Tree, makes a distinction between vertical and horizontal inheritance or identity. Vertical inheritance is determined by the DNA you receive from your parents. Horizontal inheritance kicks in as we identify laterally with others who are not necessarily related to us. 

Horizontal identities thus supplement vertical ones imposed on us or expected of us by our parents. Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. Many born into such situations forge bonds of common culture with peers that take them farther from the family tree into surrogate families. 

We have witnessed this phenomenon with ancestry tests. One sibling will be more oriented toward Native American or Romani or Jewish than another even though both have the same DNA inheritance from their parents. Similarly, one sibling will readily accept an unusual ancestry (such as Melungeon) while another adamantly denies it. The sibling who embraces the offbeat identity often experiences the same sort of "coming out" anxiety as a gay or gifted person. The horizontal inheritance derived from friends and support groups becomes more important than blood ties. 

Amazon.com Review of Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon


Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: Anyone who’s ever said (or heard or thought) the adage “chip off the old block” might burrow into Andrew Solomon’s tome about the ways in which children are different from their parents--and what such differences do to our conventional ideas about family. Ruminative, personal, and reportorial all at once, Solomon--who won a National Book Award for his treatise on depression, The Noonday Demon--begins by describing his own experience as the gay son of heterosexual parents, then goes on to investigate the worlds of deaf children of hearing parents, dwarves born into “normal” families, and so on. His observations and conclusions are complex and not easily summarized, with one exception: The chapter on children of law-abiding parents who become criminals. Solomon rightly points out that this is a very different situation indeed: “to be or produce a schizophrenic...is generally deemed a misfortune,” he writes. “To...produce a criminal is often deemed a failure.” Still, parents must cope with or not, accept or not, the deeds or behaviors or syndromes of their offspring. How they do or do not do that makes for fascinating and disturbing reading. --Sara Nelson


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Autosomal DNA Video Interview

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
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Donald Yates is principal investigator and founder of DNA Consultants. In this video interview, he talks about the origin and potential of autosomal ancestry tests like the DNA Fingeprint Plus. It all began with the Melungeon mystery over 10 years ago. . . .


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Melungeons: Seeing Red, Seeing Black

Saturday, May 26, 2012
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Sorry, Jack, no cigar. Your Grandpa's Indians are not what you think. And it is not true "most free African American families that originated in colonial Virginia and Maryland descended from white servant women who had children by slaves or free Africans" (source). Negro males did not go around selectively "fathering" little man-children on "white servant women" in early America.

It is ironic that these fantasies should even emerge in the recently publicized report, "Melungeon DNA Study Reveals Ancestry, Upsets a 'Whole Lot of People.'" The authors of the report, Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson and Janet Lewis Crain, have spent the better part of ten years trying to prove they and others with Melungeon ancestry are just plain folks, that is, white folks.

Maybe they are just that, though. Among the conclusions of the report are that Melungeons aren't Portuguese, aren't Native American, aren't Jewish, aren't Romani/Gypsy, aren't . . . . On and on. They just have a teeny-tiny bit of Sub-Saharan African in some lines. Not to worry, though, it is just a little soupçon of non-white. And it goes back to a few heroic "negroes" (the report's language) who left a trace their Sub-Saharan African Y chromosomes in the fathers and sons and grandpas of three Melungeon families.

From an article published, lo! way back in 2002 in the Appalachian Quarterly, now sadly defunct,

Shalom and Hey, Y'all Shalom and Hey, Y'all (243 KB)

comes the true story of these "negroes" (the report's language) fathering "multiethnic" babies on innocent white indentured servant women.

In discussing the will of Indian trader James Adair, the author of the study remarks on the fact that Adair did not apparently approve of his daughter Agnes marrying John Gibson (from the selfsame Melungeon Gibson family that is creating all the brouhaha today). (Agnes, by the way, was not an indentured servant; her father had a considerable fortune.)

           "Notice the harsh treatment Adair accords his daughter Agnes, leaving her and her husband John Gibson the nominal sum of only one shilling (if he had left her nothing, she could have protested to the probate court that he simply forgot her). John was one of the “mulatto” Gibsons of the Great Pee Dee river valley region. Gideon Gibson stands large on the pages of history for his role in the so-called Regulators Revolt. The Gideon Glass Antiques Store today pays testimony to the “richest man in South Carolina” of his time. When members of the Gibson family first moved to the state in 1731, representatives in the House of Assembly complained “several free colored men with their white wives had immigrated from Virginia.” Governor Robert Johnson summoned Gibson and his family and reported:

            I have had them before me in Council and upon Examination find that they are not Negroes nor Slaves but Free people, That the Father of them here is named Gideon Gibson and his Father was also free, I have been informed by a person who has lived in Virginia that this Gibson has lived there Several Years in good Repute and by his papers that he has produced before me that his transactions there have been very regular. That he has for several years paid Taxes for two tracts of Land and had several Negroes of his own, That he is a Carpenter by Trade and is come hither for the support of his Family [Box 2, bundle:  S.C. Minutes of House of Burgesses (1730-35), 9, Parish Transcripts, N.Y. Hist. Soc. By Jordan, White over Black, 172.]


"The Gibsons are discussed as Melungeons in Brent Kennedy and as true-to-form Sephardic Jews in Hirschman. Melungeon Gibsons derive their origins from the Chavis family, one of the oldest Portuguese-Jewish names in America. If they are Jewish, it is ironic—and probably funnier than any Fanny Brice skit—that historians trot them forth as shining examples of non-slave African American colonials owning land and marrying white women."

The moral of the story? Melungeons have often been hauled into court to prove they are not black. Now they are being dragged through the court of Internet opinion. The outcome is doubtful.

Now about those Indians . . . That will have to wait until another blog post.

Photo: Black Revolutionary soldier. Blackpast.org.

Article cited:  Donald N. Panther-Yates, “Shalom and Hey, Y’all:  Jewish-American Indian Chiefs in the Old South,” Appalachian Quarterly 7/2 (June 2002) 80-89.

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match
Melungeon DNA Fingerprint Plus
The War on Melungeons

Shalom and Hey, Y'all Shalom and Hey, Y'all (243 KB)

Brent Kennedy's book on Melungeons
Elizabeth Hirschman's book on Melungeons
Lisa Alther's new novel on Melungeons


Gale Torregrossa commented on 30-May-2012 08:01 PM

"Just not possible to to make an R1a or R1b baby out of an E-3 man and a white woman". This statement is bias, because if the daughter of the white woman marries a white man that is R1b, then her son will be the same as his father and will continue to
pass it along to his grandsons and so on. And the daughter will continue to pass along her white females mtdna to her daughters and grandaughters. I am a good example, my grandmother of the past was a white women and to this day my daughters and grand-daughters
carry European mtdna, because we are the offsprings of a white female. You do not have a lawsuit just hurt feelings and you should be ashamed at the way you describes black physical traits, because I have seen the same traits in white people and admixtures.
You are venting as a racist. . Even better take the Native American test. If you were a Native American Male you would be in Haplogroup "Q". R1b is European! Native females are haplogroups A, B, C, D or X, chill and be real!

Anonymous commented on 07-Jun-2012 02:20 PM

Seems like people of mixed Melungeon and American Indian descent have declared a war of their own . . . against Jack Goins and the authors of the study claiming Melungeons are black. http://freeamericanindiangenocidewatch.blogspot.com/2012/05/jack-goins-declares-war-on-indain.html

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Melungeons: Much Ado

Thursday, May 24, 2012
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Mountains will be in labor, and an absurd mouse will be born, meaning all that work and nothing to show for it.

In a previous post we drew attention to an online article "Melungeons, A multiethnic Population,"published by the International Society for Genetic Genealogy in Journal of Genetic Genetic Genealogy, its authors Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson and Janet Lewis Crain.

The article is a bit forbidding at some 100 pages and it fairly bristles with self-importance and DNA, so we will attempt to summarize it.

Here are some highlights from the summary in the article itself, with our comments in italics:


Many sources exist where the Melungeons identify themselves variously as Indians and Portuguese.  Only one family, the Goins, are identified orally as having negro heritage.  Given the physically dark appearance of the Melungeons, they have unquestionable heritage other than European.

This seems to be an unsurprising conclusion, until you realize that after limiting their sights to Melungeons who called themselves Portuguese, preferably only those in the 37869 zip code, and Goins who already identified themselves as having Sub-Saharan African (please, not the n-word in 2012, or at least capitalize it), the authors are going to draw a further veil on proceedings and deepen the mystery. Read on.

Every Melungeon core family is indentified in multiple records as being "of color".

We won't comment on the equivocation going on here. Please read on.

DNA evidence identifies several lines conclusively as having African roots, specifically, Bunch, Collins, Goins (3 separate lines), Minor and possibly Nichols.  Gibson has one line who has tested and shows haplogroup E1b1a, but they also match another Louisa County affiliated family, Donathan.


Of these families, the Collins family has four different haplogroups within the same family group, a situation not unexpected based on the commentary by Will Allen Dromgoole wherein she states that of the Collins that while "they all were not blood descendants of Old Vardy they had all fallen under his banner and appropriated his name."

The Collins and Gibson founding lines, meaning Vardy Collins and Shephard "Buck" Gibson were said to be Cherokee and stole the names of white men in Virginia.  Their DNA indicates that if they were Native, it was not via their paternal line. 

Comma splice. Hate to be petty. How do you steal a white man's name? I certainly hope no Melungeons are going to steal mine. This is one of the funniest conclusions I have read so far. But do continue, Gentle Reader.

Dromgoole reportedly stayed with Calloway Collins who stated that his grand-father was a Cherokee Chief.  His Collins grandfather was Benjamin Collins who lived on Newman's Ridge and did not remove in 1835.  There are no known Cherokee who lived on Newman's Ridge.  The Cherokee Nation was significantly further south prior to removal in 1835, as shown in Figure 12.

After making fun of other people who claim Cherokee chiefs and princesses in their family tree, the authors seem willing to entertain an exception with their own relatives, or friends. We will not quibble with their Cherokee history but would have said "farther" rather than "further." Maybe that is a regionalism, however. Don't give up yet.

The Mullins line was reputed to be Irish and is confirmed genetically to be European.  However, "Irish Jim", the progenitor is listed as a "free person of color", a very unusual classification for an immigrant from the British Isles.  Droomgoole states that the Mullins will "fight for their Indian blood."  No Indian heritage is evident in historical records or DNA.

We would like to remark that Irish, like other undesirables in early America, were often considered non-white and persons of color. Please purchase the book by Nell Irvin Painter for your local library, The History of White People

The Denham line was said to be Portuguese and oral history indicates that the line originated "further south" or possibly from a shipwreck, yet the Revolutionary War pension application of David Denham says he was born in Louisa County, Virginia.  The Denham line may connect with the Gibsons as early as 1627 in Charles City County.  The Denham DNA is European and the Denham descendant who DNA tested has no Spanish or Portuguese matches.  Denham is not Portuguese on the paternal Y-line.

Watch that distinction between "further" and "farther." The latter is to be used of distance; the former of degree or depth. I was born pretty far south but not fur.

A significant amount of oral history regarding Portuguese heritage exists, but no historical, genealogical or genetic evidence has been discovered to corroborate the oral history.  Some historical information refutes the oral history. 

Really? Who have you been talking to?

Claims of Portuguese ancestry are a pattern that stretches beyond the Melungeon families and is found explaining a "dark countenance" across the eastern half of the US, providing a European answer to the question of why. 

Oh, no. Now we have "dark countenances." Please buy that book I mentioned.

One possible source of the pervasive Portuguese oral history is that the Portuguese were heavily involved prior to 1642 in the early importation of African indentured servants, some of whom would eventually become free and some of whom would become slaves.

So that's it!

On the 1880 census, several Melungeon families claimed Portuguese as their race.  An analysis of the families so claiming reveals that none of them were descended from the Denham line.  Some, but not all were descended from the Sizemore and Riddle Native families.  Of the 22 adults listed initially as Portuguese, more than half, 12 are descended from either the Goins or Minor families with African haplogroups, 11 are descended from the Sizemore family, 4 from the Riddle family, 4 are not descended from any of the above and 3 are unknown. 

Tsk, tsk. The word "none" requires a singular verb. You should write, "None of them is..." I am not even going to attempt to straighten out your punctuation or sentence predication. Gentle reader, please persist. The best is yet to come.

Ironically, the Sizemore family is not identified as Melungeon in Hancock/Hawkins Counties, but is ancestral to many Melungeon families and settled there are well.  The Sizemore family is proven genetically to be Native, haplogroup Q1a3a.  Furthermore, there are two Native Sizemore lines, although only one is known to be ancestral to the Melungeon families.  A European Sizemore line also exists, and the Bolins match the European Sizemore lines, suggesting that these families may have had a common genesis or that these Sizemores may in fact be Bolins.  Both families are found in early Virginia along the North Carolina border.

I always wondered about that. Now I know less than I thought I did before.

A link has been found through the Goins family to the Lumbee.  The "Smiling" Goins family was not thought to be an original Lumbee family, but subsequent research has shown that even though the group in 1915 was thought to be an "outside" group, the ancestors of this group were found in 1770 with other founding Lumbee families.  The Moore and Cumberland County Pocket Creek Goins groups have always claimed kinship with the Lumbee.  Other links to the Lumbee have not yet been found.  The Lumbee Tribe has been reticent to support DNA testing and common surnames between the Lumbee and the Melungeon Core group have not all been tested.

I don't blame the Lumbee tribe for being reticent to support DNA testing. Most folks I know are pretty reticent about DNA. A better word would have been "reluctant."

The Riddle family who is also ancestral to the Melungeon families is genetically European, haplogroup R1b1b2, but is documented historically to be Indian from a 1767 tax list where they are noted as such.  Furthermore, they are found in other "Indian Communities" such as Pocket Creek in Moore County, NC, tied to the Goins family.  In 1820 several Riddle families are found beside a Goins family whose first name is illegible.  In 1830 in Moore County, William Riddle is found beside both Levy and Edward Goins, believed to be the Goins family of the Lumbee. 

That Riddle family! And now we find out they are living next to "Smiling" Goins.

Edward Goins is later found in Sumter County, SC, a progenitor of one the Smiling Indian families in Sumter County, SC, also known as Red Bones.  This Goins family moved from Sumter County and settled in Robeson County, NC in 1907.  The progenitor of this line, Frederick Goen, is found with the Lumbee much earlier, on the 1770 Bladen County tax list. Testimony regarding this family in 1915 states that the father's line is Melungeon.

Are you sure this is the summary?!

The Goins family is found in multiple locations in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, several of which are involved with legal proceedings relative to their race.  There are three genetic Melungeon Goins family lines, two E1b1a and one haplogroup A, all three being of sub-Saharan African origin. 

Wait a minute. Aren't we just talking about male lines, and only one family at that, and only three cases at that. That doesn't seem like a fair summary.

In Hawkins/Hancock County, Tennessee, Sumter County, SC, and Spartanburg District (Georgetown County), SC these Goins families are referred to as Melungeon.  Genetically, they share a common ancestor, probably John Goins found in Hanover County in 1735.

Indeed! So to carry this to its logical conclusion, Jack Goins is descended from John Goins. John Goins was a white man. So is Jack Goins. Did I miss anything?

The Sumter County, SC Goins family is found in Bladen in 1770 . . . where Louisa County families later settled. [several paragraphs omitted for brevity's sake]

Turning to autosomal genetic testing, no Native heritage was found using marker D9S919, although this finding does not disprove Native heritage.

Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence. That's what my father always told me.

It is possible in some cases that haplogroup E1b1ba could be found in rare instances in Europe through historical invasions such as the Roman Legions. However, given the Louisa County cluster, it's unlikely that a large cluster of haplogroup E1b1a of European origin would be coincidentally found together in the colonies.  It's much more likely that this cluster is a result of people with a common bond living in close proximity and intermarrying.  Furthermore, if haplogroup E were to be found in Europe, it's much more likely to be E1b1b, the Berber haplogroup, not E1b1a.  No Melungeon families are found with haplogroup E1b1b or subclades.

Thank goodness those Roman legions didn't make it to Tennessee. But it seems like no North Africans did either, which is strange. See our post Right Church, Wrong Pew.

Marriage partners in colonial Virginia were legally restricted beginning in 1691 with the passage of a law that forbid the English intermarriage with Indians, mulattoes and negroes.  Prior to that, interracial marriages and encounters outside of marriage occurred regularly.  This restriction, along with increasingly severe penalties in the event that the intermarriage did occur was repeated in various laws in 1705, 1753 and 1792 in Virginia and in 1715 and 1741 in North Carolina, in essence requiring anyone who was other than white to intermarry within their own group or groups of racially similar individuals, meaning others "of color."  Legal marriages between whites and other races would have had to predate 1691, although illegitimacy certainly knew no boundaries.  In marriages occurring after 1691 in Virginia, in couples where one individual was "other than white," both partners could be presumed to have at least some recognizable non-European heritage.

This is one of the most hilarious and bigoted parts of this article, so be sure you read it several times to absorb it in all its unintended humor.

Given the proven Native ancestral families to the Melungeons combined with cultural styles that are perhaps suggestive of a maternal culture, Native or African, via illegitimacy, one would expect to find Native or African mitochondrial DNA.  However, all mitochondrial DNA to date has been European.  This was not expected given the very high levels of consanguity and intermarriage within this group from at least the mid 1700s through the mid-1900s.  However, Heinegg's analysis of mixed race families in early Virginia and his discovery that the predominant pattern of African or mixed men fathering children with white indentured female partners may explain these findings.

Typo:  consanguinity. And sorry, but we don't buy your and Heinegg's theory about African men "fathering children with white indentured female partners." Those weren't African men, for one thing. But that is a whole other story, and it happened in Spain, and besides the wench is dead.

No evidence, historical, oral, genealogical or genetic has been found to support a Turkish, Middle Eastern, Jewish or Gypsy heritage.

Paydirt! The end! So what are they? You're not going to cop out and tell me they are just plain old folks. Or are you? Shucks, I guess that would make sense, though. Start out with a bunch of plain old folks, test them, and you can prove they are plain old folks. Your conclusions come from your premises. And your premises come from your conclusions.

I am normally all in favor of any DNA test or genealogy subscription or genealogical resource that can help the family researcher discover their ancestors. But "Melungeons, A multiethnic Population,"published by the International Society for Genetic Genealogy in Journal of Genetic Genetic Genealogy, by Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson and Janet Lewis Crain is without doubt one of the most pretentious, portentous and poorly conceived articles I have ever read in just about any field, and I will read almost anything. If you want a bitter laugh, though, check it out. You may find out why "Smilin' Goins" is smiling.

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match


Rebecca commented on 05-Nov-2014 11:04 AM

As someone just learning of this Melungeon heritage I appreciate this info. Thx, Rebecca

Danny Moore commented on 20-Jul-2015 03:52 PM

Hi Im just learning about Melungeon ancestry.Thank you for researching this topic.My family migrated from Moore Co. North Carolina from long ago. I'm finding this out by doing some family research.With this information from the past,I'm wondering could I be Melungeon?My family is naturally tan and all have black hair.I guess what I'm asking for is how do I research this even more.I think this stuff is very fun to learn about even if your not part of this lineage.We currently live in the south.We love all races of people and it's wonderful to find out that our lineage may cross with others.Thanks

Joan Gibson commented on 22-Nov-2015 09:07 PM

I understand the complexity of the origins of the melungeons, but, many of your comments and conclusions are simply wrong and it's not your fault. I am able to say this because I have oral family history, DNA testing that shows Spanish, Portugese and East Indian and African bloodlines (we are supposedly gypsy and may have originated out of the Madagascy Indian traders in Old Rappahannock Co, VA in the 1600's)and we have strong Native VA bloodlines. Bottomline, some UK First Emigrant named Gibson (Collins, and several others) very, very, very early in Jamestown mated with an Indian woman, probably a Pamunkey/Mattaponi or Chickahominy and the offspring and descendants became Free Persons of Colour and married into various non-white groups, including African (Ethiopian, Tanzanian and probably Anglolan - I speak of my Gibsons, only here re the specific African countries). So, what seems so absurd to you and others is not fable, but fact. And, I am here to tell the world. Jamestown was one crazy place, borderline phantasmal.

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Melungeons Forever

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
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As the sponsor of the only published study to date on the genes of Melungeons, "Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia," by Donald N. Yates and Elizabeth C. Hirschman, the owners of this blog naturally have an interest in Melungeons, a controversial American ethnic type.

Imagine our surprise at coming upon "Melungeons, A multiethnic Population," put online by the International Society for Genetic Genealogy in their Journal of Genetic Genetic Genealogy. The authors are Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson and Janet Lewis Crain. It appeared sometime this year.

Roberta J. Estes, the lead author of the new article about Melungeons, was honored with the Prestigious Paul Jehu Barringer, Jr. and Sr. Award of Excellence in grateful recognition of her Dedication and Devotion to Preserving and Perpetuating North Carolina’s Rich History. This award was conferred for her academic research paper,  Where Have All the Indians Gone?  Native American Eastern Seaboard Dispersal, Genealogy and DNA in Relation to Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony of Roanoke, published by the Journal of Genetic Genealogy.  It can be read here: http://www.jogg.info/52/index.html

We are glad to see Melungeons receiving long-overdue attention on the Internet but cannot recommend the new "review."

"Where have all the Indians gone"?! We're all still here, thank you very much.

But consider this excerpt from the "review":

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."

Concerning Melungeon heritage becoming "desirable and exotic," Estes et al., and our readers, may wish to consult the more recent study by Elizabeth Hirschman and Donald N. Yates,

Suddenly Melungeon! Reconstructing Consumer Identity across the Color Line," Consumer Culture Theory (Research in Consumer Behavior, Volume 11), ed. Russell W. Belk and John F. Sherry, Jr. Amsterdam:  Elsevier, 2007.  Pp. 241-59.

This study is exclusively concerned with this very point and appeared many years after Estes et al's online article citing Virginia DeMarce in their review.

More fundamentally, the co-authors and Virginia DeMarce are seriously in error if they think disadvantaged people go around trying to prove themselves to be of any given ethnicity. They've got the shoe on the other foot. Their language with its condescending mention of color tones is offensive. I, for one, am offended, and any sponsoring or supporting organization, ought to be. In fact, they ought not to allow such views to be published.

And that's my two cents' worth on Melungeons writing about Melungeons who don't believe they or anybody else is Melungeon.

Melungeons -- real people in history -- suffered enough to have their memory dishonored by a coverup and misunderstandings hundreds of years later. I believe the same about Native American peoples and the descendants of slaves. No one should be able to write the history of disadvantaged and disenfranchised people for them.

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match


Anonymous commented on 26-May-2012 07:44 PM

I don't know about the researchers' methodology, but I do not agree with the conclusion. Or I think they have it backwards: The Melungeons are Iberian/North African with possibly sub-Saharan as well. For example, one of my 5cM segments at 23andme is Melungeon
(Collins identified as a name). On this same segment is a distant cousin with four Greek grandparents. This is clearly a Sephardic segment. My question for the researchers is: why are so many Melungeon descendants testing positive with obvious ties to the
Iberian Peninsula and Hispanic territories? Please tell me if I can help your studies further. Ellin

Joseph commented on 16-Jul-2012 07:21 PM

If you compare the melungeon dna projects to the portugesse dna protects..you shall see a nearly 75 percent match to then projects...compare this with the portugesse ancestery the melungeosn stated..you have a match. http://www.ourfamilyorigins.com/portugal/dna.htm

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Melungeons Beginning to Emerge from Mists

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Describing himself as "a cultural geographer by training," Peter McCormick contributed an interesting chapter mentioning Melungeons to a recent volume of political science and anthropological essays. Titled Border Crossings:  Transnational Americanist Anthropology, the collection is edited by Kathleen Sue Fine-Dare and Steven Rubinson and published by the University of Nebraska Press (2009). It may be the first time a practicing academic historian has committed to a considered opinion on the subject since Melungeons first appeared on the radar of Americanists with Price's "tri-racial isolate" definition in the 1950s.

McCormick has a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma and is an associate professor of Southwest studies and Native American and indigenous studies at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. His most recent work has been on the autogeography and autohistory of his extended family in the plains, the Southwest, Appalachia, Iberia, South America and the Mediterranean.

Here's how he describes Melungeons (p. 286):

The Melungeon population of Appalachia has been the subject of a tremendous amount of interest and controversy lately. A consensus appears to be building that this population, once thought to be small, is rather large and is a result of the mixing of Iberian and Middle Eastern settlers who had been part of Spanish and English trading parties with the indigenous population of the American Southeast. Later migrations into the Piedmont and upper South by refugees of the Inquisition (Sephardic Jews and Moors) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries supplemented this population (see Hirschman 2005; Kennedy and Kennedy 1997). Our families were of this mixture.

Professor McCormick goes on to write about his personal Melungeon genealogy:

Sephardic names include Cuba, Pillo Monnis Callahin, Jorgas, Nassi, Khanadi, Rosa, David, Baez, Santos and Gascon. The families that were at one point crypto Jews include Kieffer, Mayabb, Dula D'Aultun, Baigne and Ball.  Our Melungeon families are Sizemore, Yates, Brashears, Collins, Lucas, Noel, Bass, Kennedy, Davis, Nash, Mullins, Center and Carrico. The family names on the Miller-Guion and Dawes rolls include Tunnell, Mabe, Waller, Yates and Doolin.

McCormick's testimony and evaluation of the evidence, together with his willingness to name names and self-identify as a Melungeon in academia, are important signs that the Melungeon thesis advanced by Kennedy and further documented by Hirschman and others is winning the day.

We thank McCormick for his part in bringing the true story of Jewish and Middle Eastern ancestry in Appalachia to a wider attention.

Review of Border Crossings
For anthropologists and social scientists working in North and South America, the past few decades have brought considerable change as issues such as repatriation, cultural jurisdiction, and revitalization movements have swept across the hemisphere. Today scholars are rethinking both how and why they study culture as they gain a new appreciation for the impact they have on the people they study. Key to this reassessment of the social sciences is a rethinking of the concept of borders: not only between cultures and nations but between disciplines such as archaeology and cultural anthropology, between past and present, and between anthropologists and indigenous peoples.

Border Crossings is a collection of fourteen essays about the evolving focus and perspective of anthropologists and the anthropology of North and South America over the past two decades. For a growing number of researchers, the realities of working in the Americas have changed the distinctions between being a “Latin,” “North,” or “Native” Americanist as these researchers turn their interests and expertise simultaneously homeward and out across the globe.

Melungeon DNA Studies

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
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Lynda Davis-Logan commented on 19-Feb-2012 12:10 PM

I was very interested to see some of my family names listed this article. I had already learned that Brassieur or Brashears, Tonnelier or Tunnell were Jewish names as they were Huguenot families who entered the US back in the 1600s in MD and they intermarried
with my Ball family - BUT I had never seen anyone say that BALL was also "crypto Jews" !!! Most interesting... to me!!! Another comment that caught my eye was "The family names on the Miller-Guion and Dawes rolls include Tunnell" I don't know that any of my
Tunnell ancestors were on the lists but we have all been searching diligently for my 5th great-grandmother - Sarah Mounts wife of James Wilson who finally settled in the Wayne Co. are of VA/WV...and both the Tunnell & Brashears lines come in - along with the
BALL line to one of Sarah's daughters - Sarah Wilson who m. Robert 'Robin' Ball.

Tiggy commented on 10-Mar-2012 05:47 PM

Why do so many of the Melungeon families you list above have Irish surnames? I.E. Yates, Collins, Noel, Bass, Kennedy, Mullins, Yates, Doolin.

Martha Taylor commented on 25-Mar-2012 02:03 PM

Hello, My name is Martha Taylor, I was adopted and found some of my birth family in recent years. Although I know some things about my family, I don't have any information on my fathers side. I did meet him as an adult, he always referred to us a Black
Dutch- which means Melungeon Indians. I would like to know about the Cline family in Grayson County Kentucky. Any information would be appreciated.

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Gene Surfing and the French-Canadian Frontier

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gene surfing is a process in population expansion whereby certain variations become prominent and dominant in a short time, appearing to skip the slow, steady, uniform accumulation of variegation and diversification. According to a study of the population structure and genealogies of Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean in Quebec, this type of drastic change accompanied the immigrant wave front that spread over the area in the 17th century. "Deep Human Genealogies Reveal a Selective Advantage to Be on an Expanding Wave Front" in Science magazine describes the resulting demographics.

Since their origin, human populations have colonized the whole planet, but the demographic processes governing range expansions are mostly unknown. We analyzed the genealogy of more than one million individuals resulting from a range expansion in Quebec between 1686 and 1960 and reconstructed the spatial dynamics of the expansion. We find that a majority of the present Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean population can be traced back to ancestors having lived directly on or close to the wave front. Ancestors located on the front contributed significantly more to the current gene pool than those from the range core, likely due to a 20% larger effective fertility of women on the wave front. This fitness component is heritable on the wave front and not in the core, implying that this life-history trait evolves during range expansions.

So gene surfing in an expanding colonization phase can produce a genetic revolution whose effects will be felt for hundreds or thousands of years downstream in history.

We wonder if the same wave front demographics might explain some of the following population phenomena:

  • Large scale triumph of Norman male lineages following the conquest of England in 1066.
  • Selective expansion of Middle Eastern genes in Tennessee (including Cherokee families, Jewish male and female lines and Melungeons)
  • Relatedness among Jews and "Jewish diseases"
  • Diversity-within-uniformity of Polynesians
  • Population replacement of Old European (U, N) by Middle Eastern genes (T, J)  in Europe as a result of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution

Many students of history are puzzled why old populations have the allele frequencies and heterozygosity clines they have. Genetic drift is only part of the answer. Gene surfing and selection in deep history are the rest of it.

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match


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Do You Have a Mental Foramen? You Might be Part Neanderthal

Thursday, November 10, 2011
A mental foramen is a small hole in the mandible whose purpose is to allow passage of nerves and vessels to the brain and probably also to relieve tension during chewing and gnawing. It has been identified as a sign of archaic humans, including Neanderthals. Do you have one?

I asked my dentist to look at my X rays on file and he confirmed I have a mental foramen. He has often told me I have "powerful" jaws. It is unclear whether there are normally two of them and what their typical positions are.

In a previous blog post, "Neanderthals in America," we discussed mental foramina (the plural of foramen), occipital bulges or bumps and other archaic skeletal traits. Melungeons seem to have many of these ancestral marks.

Do you? You might want to check with your dentist.

Studies show that Europeans have, on average, between 1 and 4 percent Neanderthal genes from an early out-of-Africa interbreeding period in the Middle East. Science has not decided to consider Neanderthals a separate species or sub-species in relation to H. sapiens sapiens (humans).

DNA Consultants offers an estimate of Neanderthal ancestry based on matches with other archaic humans called Neanderthal Index.

Line drawing of Neanderthal male ©DNA Consultants.

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match


Anonymous commented on 27-Dec-2011 06:06 PM

Apparently everybody has two mental foramina, one on each jaw, but the position and size are different for different people.

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Obama Shares Melungeon Ancestry with California Professor

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

San Diego State University professor D. Emily Hicks has traced some common ancestry with President Barack Obama. According to the professor of Chicana/o Studies, she and the President share Melungeon roots. Obama is a descendant of Mary Collins of Orange County, Virginia as well as of Nathaniel Bunch of Louisa County and John Bunch of New Kent--well known "feeder" counties for what became the Melungeon settlement described in Brent Kennedy's book, The Melungeons, The Resurrection of a Proud People.

Obama's Bunch line was found to carry E1b1a haplogroup, a sub-Saharan African male lineage. He is also supposed to have Cherokee ancestry in his mother's colonial genealogies.

Read the whole story at PRLOG.

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match


pamela commented on 07-Apr-2012 07:21 PM

hello i have been tracing my hertiage i am back 10 1595 and i am dirrectly linked to nathaniel bunch and john bunch my mothes maiden name is bunch john bunch was her great great grandfather and i am blonde hair blue eyed my mother looked native i am proud
to be a melundgeon and this is cool that i am related to obama

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