Melungeon is the name attributed to a group of tri- or multi-racial people who live, primarily, in regions of eastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia and Kentucky: an area known as the Cumberland Plateau. The origin of this ethnic group remains mysterious. Folklore and facts are intermingled, and the true beginnings of this oft maligned and more recently acclaimed group of people will likely remain a matter of speculation. But research is ongoing.

Trace your ancestry as far back as you can. Tracing ancestry is becoming a much easier task than it was in pre-Internet days. Thanks to electronic means of information dissemination, it is possible to research online census records, marriage records, tax records, death records and more. Vital statistics are extremely helpful in locating your ancestors. Sign up for a free genealogy search service or subscribe to one of the more popular ancestry research sites that have extensive databases. Document, document, document. There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet, as some genealogists, especially those who are just beginning, accept information without backup documentation. This can definitely lead you down the wrong path.

Determine whether you have ancestors from the small, localized area known as the Melungeons' home. According to recorded history, when Europeans pushed their way into the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond into eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and parts of Kentucky, they found dark skinned people with European features already inhabiting this area. One group of these introduced themselves as "Portyghee." These people built cabins, unlike the Indians of the area; they built cupolas over the graves of their loved ones -- a European custom -- and they had other European-like customs. Because of their dark skin, these people were ostracized by white Europeans, and were eventually driven off their land and forced into remote and rugged locations. Check census records to learn whether any of your ancestors were labeled "Port," "mulatto" or "black." Even though the Melungeons are thought to have intermarried with the Indians, they were not usually classified as Indians on official documents, as this would have changed their political standing.

Delve into your genetic past through medical records. Medical records can be a clue, along with your ancestral locations some 200 to 250 years ago. Certain genetically transmitted disorders are seldom if ever found in the northern European population, but known to occur in Mediterrean, Portugese, Turkish or Northern African populations. These disorders are also known to occur within the Melungeon population.

Study family photographs. If you have ancestors from the Cumberland Plateau, and if individuals in your family have dark skin and European features, you may have a clue to your Melungeon history. You understand about recessive and dominant genes, so you know that it is possible for a dark-skinned group of people to have blond and blue-eyed children when these dark-skinned people have intermingled with fair skinned individuals. Therefore, there is no single description of the Melugeon; however, typically people of Melungeon heritage have dark skin and dark hair. Their eyes are frequently blue, although they may very well be dark. Facial features include high cheekbones, a Mediterranean nose, and European-type facial features. Body build has been described as typically Mediterranean in appearance: Slender. Even if you have blond, blue-eyed ancestors, if you find dark-skinned people with no explanation for that dark skin and other trails, you may be on to something, and about to find Melungeon heritage.

Participate in a DNA test. Donating a hair or a few check cells, along with a couple hundred dollars, can be a small price to pay to learn of your true heritage.

Tip

  • There is speculation that Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Presley and Ava Gardner had Melungeon blood.

Tip

  • Census records are not always accurate. Keep in mind that census records were recorded by hand and copied by hand. As this task was done by humans, it is subject to error. Sometimes you will find differing information for the same census year, because different databases may have garnered their information from different copies of the census record for a given year.