Today’s descendants of early Appalachian settlers may not have the northern European ancestry they think they have. For years, some people from the Appalachian mountain region have claimed they have Melungeon ancestry, and a new study may prove them right. The term “Melungeon” often refers to dark-skinned people with European features who lived in the mountains of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia as early as the mid-1600s.
Brent Kennedy, a college administrator and the author of The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People (Mercer University Press), was tired of the naysayers who dismissed his (and others’) claims. So he arranged for a study that would analyze the DNA of 175 men and women with verifiable Melungeon genealogies. Kevin Jones, a molecular biologist at the University of Virginia at Wise, is directing the study, to be completed this fall. “My best guess is that our people will be shown to be a broad mix, including all races and many ethnicities,” Kennedy says. “But I also believe that evidence will emerge showing a basis for the Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and East Indian claims of our people.”