The Melungeon Connection 
Are you familiar with the term Melungeon? If you answer, "Who or what are Melungeons," you are like most people. If you have been researching your family in the Cumberland Plateau of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee, during the early migration years, you may be able find them through a connection to this newly re-discovered group of people. The Melungeons are a people of apparent Mediterraneaan descent who may have settled in the Appalachian wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1567. According to Dr. N. Brent Kennedy, the author of 'The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People', the Melungeons were "a people who almost certainly intermarried with Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokees to form what some have called, perhaps a bit fancifully, 'a new race'."

Certain surnames are associated with this unusual and highly interesting group of people. This is absolutely THE MOST fascinating thing I have EVER run into in my 20 years of researching.

The Melungeons were 'discovered' in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by English explorers and were described as being 'dark-skinned with fine European features," (meaning they were not black) and as being 'a hairy people, who lived in log cabins with peculiar arched windows,' (meaning they were not Indians). They practiced the Christian religion, and told the explorers in broken Elizabethan English, that they were 'Portyghee,' but were described as being 'not white,' that is, not of Northern European stock, even though some of them had red hair and others had VERY striking blue or blue/green eyes. This is something I had never heard of. I mean, I learned in school about the Lost Colony and Jamestown in 1607, Plymouth in 1620, with a few Spaniards and a smattering of Vikings thrown in for good measure. Where did these people come from? Recent research is answering that question. And it appears that they may be a combination of Turks, Spaniards, Portugese, Moor, Berber, Jew and Arab.

The Melungeon descendants have some rather unique physiological characteristics. There is a bump on the back of the head of some descendants, that is located at mid-line, just above the juncture with the neck. It is about the size of half a golf ball or smaller. If you cannot find the bump, check to see if you like some descendants, including myself, have a ridge, located at the base of the head where it joins the neck, rather than the Anatolian bump. My ridge is quite noticeable. It is larger than anyone else's that I have felt. I can lay one finger under it and the ridge is as deep as my finger is thick. Other ridges are smaller. To find a ridge, place your hand at the base of your neck where it joins your shoulders, and on the center line of your spine. Run your fingers straight up your neck toward your head. If you have a ridge, it will stop your fingers from going on up and across your head.

There is also a ridge on the back of the first four teeth (upper and lower) of some descendants. If you place your fingernail at the gum line and gently draw (up or down) you can feel it and it makes a slight clicking sound. The back of the teeth also curve outward rather than straight as the descendants of anglo-saxon parentage do. Teeth like these are called Asian Shovel Teeth.

Some descendants have what is called an Asian eyefold. This is rather difficult to describe. At the inner corner of the eye, the upper lid attaches slightly lower than the lower lid. That is to say that it overlaps the bottom lid. If you place your finger just under the inner corner of the eye and gently pull down, a wrinkle will form which makes the fold more visible. Some people call these eyes, "sleepy eyes, dreamy eyes, bedroom eyes."

 Some families may have members with fairly dark skin who suffer with vitiligo, a loss of pigmentation, leaving the skin blotched with white patches. Some descendants have had six fingers or toes. There is a family of people in Turkey whose surname translated into English is "Six Fingered Ones."

There are some Mediterranean diseases which show up in some of the descendants of the Melungeons. Some of these diseases can be quite severe, even life threatening, and if you or a family member have suffered from a mysterious illness, I can give you the names of these, but there is ongoing research into some areas that are less severe, but which pose problems for some descendants who seem to suffer with them. Sleep problems, including periodic limb movement, shaky (restless/active) leg syndrome, and sleep apnea are among these. Allergies, including lactose intolerance, are another.

If your family has an Indian Grandmother (father) 'myth' which you have been unable to prove, and they have been hard to trace and they lived in NC, TN, KY, VA, WV areas in the early migration years or if they seem to have moved back and forth in these areas and if they share any of the mentioned surnames and characteristics, you may find a connection here. Some descendants do not show the physical characteristics and of course, there are many people with the surnames who are not connected to this group.

Dr. N. Brent Kennedy author of, 'The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People,' started the recent research into this group of people. His book is a must read for anyone who is connected to this group. Most bookstores can order this book in paperback for you. Dr. Kennedy documents his own family tree in the book and gives some startling theories which are being confirmed by current researchers. He mentions the need to hide the family connection to the Melungeon community as the main reason our Melungeon ancestors are so hard to find.

Why would anyone want to hide their family's background? These proud, strong, courageous, people were discriminated against by their Scots-Irish and English neighbors as they moved into the areas where the Melungeons lived. They wanted the rich valley lands occupied by the Melungeons they found residing there. They discriminated against the Melungeons because they were darker skinned than their own anglo-saxon ancestors and because this helped them obtain the lands they coveted. This discrimination carried into the 1940's-50's and perhaps even longer because of the work of a man called Plecker who was the state of Virginia's Director of Vital Statistics and an avowed racist. He labeled the Melungeons, calling them mongrels and other worse terms - some were labeled FPC - Free Person of Color in Virginia. This in turn led to their children being labeled as Mulatto (M) and both of those terms came to mean "BLACK." If you find such a term for any of your ancestors, it does not necessarily mean that they actually were black. Some Melungeon families married white, some black, some Indian, some a combination. But for all of them the terms led to rulings in which they couldn't own property, they couldn't vote, and they couldn't school their children. Is it any wonder that they became ANYTHING else in order to do these things? They hid their backgrounds with the Indian myth, with the orphan myth (my family are all dead) , and the adopted myth, and they changed either the spelling of their surnames or they picked an entirely new name, moving many times, anything to distance themselves from their Melungeon heritage. They became 'Black Dutch,' 'Black Irish,' or some other combination to hide their "otherness." Is it any wonder they are so hard to find?

My own Melungeon family were Collinses that were connected with the Cunningham family. It took me twenty years of searching to find only this little bit of information on them. I have this:

William Cunningham b. abt 1777 in VA, d. aft 1850, prob in Johnson Co.,KY m. Rachel ? (may be Countiss) b. abt 1791 in MD

Will Collins d. 1848-1850, m. Maca/Macha Cunningham b. abt 1826.

I have some additional information on my greatgrandmother Mary Arminta Musick Hager whose mother was Mary Collins. This information and a list of other surnames I am researching can be found at NANCY'S CORNER.

Below is a listing of common Melungeon surnames. Please be sure to contact me if you are researching any surnames in common with these.

I will look forward to hearing from you.


Common Melungeon Surname List ****North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky

Adams, Adkins, Allen, Allmond, Ashworth,

Barker, Barnes, Bass, Beckler, Bedgood, Bell, Bennett, Berry, Beverly, Biggs, Bolen/Bowlen/Bolling/Bowling, Boone, Bowman, Badby, Branham, Braveboy, Briger/Bridger, Brogan, Brooks, Brown, Bunch, Butler, Butters, Bullion, Burton, Buxton, Byrd,

Campell, Carrico, Carter, Casteel, Caudill, Chapman, Chavis, Clark, Cloud, Coal/Cole/Coles, Coffey, Coleman, Colley, Collier/Colyer, Collins, Collinsworth, Cook(e), Cooper, Cotman, Counts, Cox/Coxe, Criel, Croston, Crow, Cumba/Cumbo/Cumbow, Curry, Custalow,

Dalton, Dare, Davis, Denham, Dennis, Dial, Dorton, Doyle, Driggers, Dye, Dyess,

Ely, Epps, Evans, Fields, Freeman, French,

Gann, Garland, Gibbs, Gibson/Gipson, Goins/Goings, Gorvens, Gowan/Gowen, Graham, Green(e), Gwinn,

Hall, Hammon, Harmon, Harris, Harvie/Harvey, Hawkes, Hendricks/Hendrix, Hill, Hillman, Hogge, Holmes, Hopkins, Howe, Hyatt,

Jackson, James, Johnson, Jones,

Keith, Kennedy, Kiser,

Langston, Lasie, Lawson, Locklear, Lopes, Lowry, Lucas,

Maddox, Maggard, Major, Male/Mayle, Maloney, Marsh, Martin, Miles, Minard, Miner/Minor, Mizer, Moore, Morley, Mullins, Mursh,

Nash, Nelson, Newman, Niccans, Nichols, Noel, Norris,

Orr, Osborn/Osborne, Oxendine,

Page, Paine, Patterson, Perkins, Perry, Phelps, Phipps, Pinder, Polly, Powell, Powers, Pritchard, Pruitt,

Ramey, Rasnick, Reaves/Reeves, Revels, Richardson, Roberson/Robertson/Robinson, Russell,

Sammons, Sampson, Sawyer, Scott, Sexton, Shavis, Shepherd/Shephard, Short, Sizemore, Smiling, Smith, Stallard, Stanley, Steel, Stevens, Stewart, Strother, Sweat/Swett, Swindall,

Tally, Taylor, Thompson, Tolliver, Tuppance, Turner,

Vanover, Vicars/Viccars/ Vickers,

Ware, Watts, Weaver, White, Whited, Wilkins, Williams, Williamson, Willis, Wisby, Wise, Wood, Wright, Wyatt, Wynn

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