The Mystery of the Melungeons
12/1/2003
Retelling the enigmatic dtory of the Melungeons.

One of the most fascinating genealogy stories to surface in the last decade is the enigmatic story of the Melungeons. Sometimes called the “Lost Tribe of Appalachia,” the Melungeons are people of mixed ethnicity who claim varying degrees of Portuguese, Turkish, Moorish, Arabic, Jewish, American Indian and African descent. Typically, the term Melungeon refers to people from eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee and southern West Virginia, according to the Melungeon Heritage Association (MHA) <www.melungeon.org>, but “related mixed-ancestry populations also include the Carmel Indians of southern Ohio; the Brown People of Kentucky; the Guineas of West Virginia; the We-Sorts of Maryland; the Nanticoke-Moors of Delaware; the Cubans and Portuguese of North Carolina; the Turks and Brass Ankles of South Carolina; and the Creoles and Redbones of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.”

Most families in Appalachia have some Melungeon roots, although many aren't aware of them — or try to keep them a family secret. After suffering from centuries of Anglo-American racism, many families have purposely buried their Melungeon ancestry, making genealogical research a challenge.