NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — For years, varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies.
Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.
And that report, which was published in April in the peer-reviewed journal, doesn't sit comfortably with some people who claim Melungeon ancestry.
This story reminds me of the PBS series hosted by Harvard professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. that traces the ancestral history of black Americans. I think the most interesting thing that all of the people learned, as did I, was that the majority of the participants had no idea they had as much European white ancestry roots, primarily from a white woman. Of course, as my daughter likes to say, we all came from Africa, it's where life started on this planet!