President Abe Lincoln, Actress Ava Gardner, Actor Tom Hanks, Actress Heather Locklear, Singer Elvis Presley and Comedian Steve Martin chances are you know who some of the luminaries on this list are, but did you know they all share a mysterious ancestry known as Melungeons? The identity, ancestry and origin of the Melungeons is a controversial subject. The Melungeons make up about 50,000 of the 22 million people living in the mountainous region of the eastern seaboard, most of them in the Appalachian region where Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky meet, according to a report in Wired magazine.
Melungeon ancestry has been one of the great mysteries of the American history. Many of the myths and legends surrounding the origin of the Melungeons claim they were sailors who arrived on the American continent before European settlement. These early sailors and explorers may have come from Spain, Portugal, or Carthage according to Rootsweb.com. Melungeons have also been described as the last tribe of Israel, or the lost colony of Roanoke, according to Wired magazine. The explanation most widely accepted of the origin of the Melungeons, is that they were a tri racial group, Native American, White European and Sub Shaharan African in genetic makeup that lived for cultural and economic reasons in relative isolation, reports Wikipedia.
The term Melungeon also has an unclear origin. Wired magazine reports, Melungeon might be a version of the French word for mix, melanage, or from the African word for shipmate, malungo, or from the Turkish for cursed soul, melun jinn. There is no question in that the word Melungeon was used pejoratively.
Wayne Winkler, President of the Melungeon Heritage Society, lists Mullins, Goins, Collins and Gibson as common Melungeon surnames. Having one of these surnames, even if the relative is from Appalachia, does not automatically mean you have Melungeon genes. If you suspect you may have Melungeon blood, I have found an ongoing study at the Family DNA Project website, you can sign up and they will send a kit with a cheek swab and within a month you will have some answers.
Kevin Jones, a molecular biologist at University of Virginia Wise conducted a two year study of DNA samples from Melungeons. The results of the study were presented in 2002 and definitely answer some of the mysteries of the origins of the Melungeons. The study of the Melungeons found African, European and Native American ancestry as well as genetic similarities with populations in Turkey and northern India according to the report on Rootsweb.com. Perhaps the most startling finding, woman of European/Asian ancestry were part of the original mixture that made up Melungeon ancestry. Legend always mentioned the possibility of men of Turkish ancestry intermarrying with Native American woman as a source of Melungeon people, now science has proven that woman of Turkish ancestry also came to America’s shores and their DNA is also found in Melungeon people today.