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Melungeon Riddle Solved by Autosomal DNA Project

Thursday, September 16, 2010

After many years in development, the results of a DNA ancestry project enrolling 40 Melungeons were published and made public, marking the end of an attempt to solve the mystery of a Southern U.S. ethnic group with autosomal DNA.

Seeming to lay to rest an old controversy in American history about Melungeons, the scientific data supporting a genetic mixture of white, American Indian and Sub-Saharan African were placed online today by the organizers of DNA Consultants' Melungeon DNA Project.

The data report a sample of 40 Melungeons' DNA fingerprints. Population analysis of the participants' DNA fingerprints was used in an article for Appalachian Journal. Titled "Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Eastern Tennessee," the study was co-authored by Donald N. Yates, principal investigator of DNA Consultants, and Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman, a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

"This is a giant stride forward in understanding the mixed ancestry of Melungeons," said Donald Yates, co-author. "Never before has autosomal DNA been used in attacking the problem."

The 40 participants' names were:

Anonymous, Mabel Bentley, Judy Douglas Bloom, Leah Laura Bulgariev, John (Dick) Caldwell, John R. Caldwell, Sr. (deceased), Virginia Caldwell, William Collins, Mary Goodman, Floyd Milton Grimwood (deceased), Ann Reagan Haines, Linda Barnett Hall, Nancy E. Hammes, Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman, Pat Goin Jones, Brenda LaForce, Everett LaForce, Jessica Kiely Law, Bonnie J. Lyda, N. Brent Kennedy, Richard Kennedy, Margaret E. Kross, MeriDee Orvis Mahan, Karen Mattern, Sebenia Ann Milbacher, Nicolas J. Millington, Holli Starnes Molnar, Nancy Sparks Morrison, Teresa Panther-Yates, Billy Starnes, Julia Starnes, Keely Starnes, Phyllis Starnes, Richard Stewart, Doretha J. Thornton, Kaye M. Viars, Celia Wyckoff, Wayne Winkler, Betty Yates Adams, Donald N. Yates.

Participants were qualified by their genealogies and included many names familiar to those who follow Melungeon genealogy discussion groups on the Internet, including Brent Kennedy, author of the book 1996 book that started the Melungeon Movement, his brother Richard Kennedy; Elizabeth Hirschman, a native of Kingsport, Tenn., along with several members of her family; Wayne Winkler of the Melungeon Heritage Association and author of Walking Toward the Sunset; and Nancy Morrison, creator of the online Melungeon Health referral service.

More information on DNA Consultants' Melungeon DNA Studies page.


Melungeon family in Tennessee about 1900.


More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match


naturedoc commented on 17-Sep-2010 12:20 PM

You have a great blog! I enjoy your articles and they are well written.

Anonymous commented on 19-Sep-2010 01:28 PM

What exactly is the controversy about Melungeons? What's the big "mystery"? What can a Melungeon do with this info?

Karen Virginia commented on 11-Dec-2010 08:48 AM

Nice website: I really don't think this should mark the end "of an attempt to solve the mystery of a Southern U.S. ethnic group with autosomal DNA" though but I tend to see this leap as one of a great beginning, and not an end. Thanks for sharing

DJ Thornton commented on 11-May-2011 10:10 PM

This is quite a coup and I have great satisfaction in participating in this study along with many friends that became relatives over the last 10 years of researching and corresponding in discussion groups about this mystery. We all felt related and now
there is validation. I look forward to all the news that comes out of this research. I read the article in the Appalachian Journal Fall 2010 I recomend it as well search this blog to purchase

Bob Mitchell commented on 28-Sep-2011 08:51 AM

My Mother's family is from Hawkins County Tenn.I'm pretty sure we have some melungeon ancestry.I have shovel teeth,and the bump on the back of my head.My sister was diagnosed with some rare blood disease.They checked her DNA and found sub-saharan african
traits,,not real sure how much.We were always told we were part Indian.I think there's more to it than that.My mother was a Robinson.We are kin to the Lawsons,Rymores,Stapeltons Sizemores,Manis,ect.Not sure about the spelling on some of these sure names.I
want to know more about my own DNA,Heritage,and just where we come from and who are we.Richard Jessie Robinson was my Grandfather,and he raised me.But i think there was some things he never talked about.Lol! Would like to hear from other Melungeons who may
be able to help me on this path I have started down.I want to know who my people are.Anybody out there that might be able to help,or have suggestions,my e-mail is fenderbender6@yahoo.com. thank y'all.

Jo Hendren commented on 16-Nov-2011 11:05 AM

I am writing in response to Bob Mitchell's post--I was surprised to find a cousin here. Like my cousin, I have shovel teeth and a bump on the back of my head, although very small. Neither one of our grandparents talked much about their ancestors. In fact,
my grandfther told me when pressed for information that when your family had mixed blood "you didn't talk about it back then." His family tree includes Robinson, Gonce, Rimer, Manis and Couch. His wife's family included Lawson, Stapleton, Singleton, Manis
and Sizemore I've been researching this family tree for years. So many roadblocks, particularly on the Robinson side. If anyone can shed some light on Robinson migration from North Carolina to Grayson County, Virginia to Hawkins County, Tennessee I would truly
appreciate it.

Autumn Bond commented on 28-Dec-2011 03:33 AM

i am very interested in finding out for sure if i have melungeon ancesrtery. I am from sw virginia, scott county . i would like to have a DNA done. i have the bump on the back of my head , i have dark hair, dark blue eyes and rh negative blood. however
my skin is very pale if anyone can lead me in the right direction, i have no idea where to begin, my email is autumnbond79@yahoo.com. thanks

Jim McCord-Denver commented on 03-Jan-2014 04:37 PM

Am trying to find anything on my grandmother from W Va. Cynthia (Cindy) Allie, or perhaps Collie. The odd thing is her husband, my granddad, Lewis McCord was in the Indiana KKK for a while. I had always been told that she was half indian and her Dad's pic hung in the entrance to her kitchen. Now, with only an aunt and an uncle left, no one admits that it was ever there nor do they admit she was part Indian. Melungeon was never mentioned. Any direction would be most appreciated.

Penelope Todd commented on 17-Feb-2016 12:19 PM

Hi...I'm not certain how to start here... but my family has/does live/d in Western North Carolina & surrounding mountain area currently & for many generations. Growing up my family & I were the unfortunate subjects for racist remarks, discrimination & antics although we assumed were Caucasian (mostly scots-irish with some grumblings about a Cherokee great-great grandma). Most people throughout my family's history have asked our ethnic origin & still do. Usually asking if we're Hispanic, native American, Jewish, Italian or Mediterranean. I remember cousin's on my dad's side of the family freaking me out as a kid because they had an extra toe or finger. On my mother's side most relatives are asked about Jewish ancestry. In my late 20's, a Geography professor handed me an article on Melungeon's although I didn't inquire or request information about it... much less knowing about or ever hearing of the topic of Melungeons. Forward to my early 30's, My brother brought home a friend to my parents house to visit. The friend walked in the door, stopped in his tracks & proclaimed, "If ya'll ain't Melungeons then there has to be some blood in your family". My family looked perplexed because they'd never met this guy but also had not really heard much about Melungeons. The guy, My brother's friend said HE SHOULD KNOE if someone might be Melungeon since he, himself just PARTICIPATED in a study ( I think in Knoxville, Tenn.) for Melungeons because he's considered Melungeon. The point is I keep hearing or running into this genetic puzzle...on top of the continual inquiries into my ethnicity so I'm not sure where to go with this question...Maybe find out if My family & I are Melungeons...This question came up again for me recently with a college teacher of human geography inquiring about suspicion's of potential Melungeon genetic's in my ancestry/appearance. Some of the old photo's I've seen of people considered " Melungeon" look similar to some of my family members however a few of us are even darker with more exotic features...Anyway, this keeps coming up for me without me seeking it out or the topic being on my radar. I figure I would finally act on the fact this Melungeon mystery/question keeps following me & popping up no matter where I live...Miami, Colorado etc... Any insight, help or direction would greatly appreciated.

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