The Melungeons: Who Are They?


The Melungeons:
Who Are They?

Nancy Sparks Morrison

by Nancy Sparks Morrison
April/May 2001

The opinions in this article are strictly my own, but have been based upon my reading and research of various materials noted herein. You may SHARE my work with anyone, but it is not to be sold or used for profit in any way, without my permission. I would be glad to have your site on my links page. Please e-mail me.



If you ask, ” Who are the 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 to find them through a connection to this group of people who are only now being researched with unbiased eyes. The Melungeons are a people of apparent Mediterranean descent who may have settled in the Appalachian wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1567.   (The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People; N. Brent Kennedy, Mercer University Press,Macon, GA, USA, 1997;   introduction, p. xiii) The Mediterrean includes areas of North Africa, southern Europe and Central Asia.

According to Dr. Kennedy, 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.’  Dr. Kennedy does not believe that the Melungeons can be called a `race of people.’  No dictionary definition of race fits with what we know of the Melungeons and recently, the American Anthropological Association, declared that `race,’ was an inaccurate, artificial way of defining a people and was no longer of any value.
Certain surnames are associated with the Melungeons. I will provide a list of those names. later on. Be aware, however, that many people bearing these surnames, even if  they come from the Appalachian area, are NOT connected to the Melungeons.  The surnames are to be used as an INDICATOR of POSSIBLE Melungeon ancestry. Also, note that many Melungeon women `out-married,’ carrying the heritage with them, but not the names. Not having one of these names DOES NOT mean that the family was not of Melungeon descent.

Finding out about the Melungeons and my possible connection to them is the MOST fascinating thing I have EVER run into in my 20 years of genealogical research. The `so-called,’ Melungeons were `discovered’ in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by English explorers and were described as being `dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people supposed to be of Moorish descent, who were neither Indian nor Negro, but had fine European features, and claimed to be Portuguese.” (Louise Davis, “The Mystery of the Melungeons.” Nashville Tennessean, 22 September, 1963, 16.)

In April of 1673, James Needham, an Englishman and Gabriel Arthur, possibly an indentured servant came with approximately eight Indians, as explorers to the Tennessee Valley. There, Needham described finding “hairy people …. (who) have a bell which is six foot over which they ring morning and evening and at that time a great number of people “congregrate togather and talkes” in a language not English nor any Indian dialect that the accompanying Indians knew. And yet these people seemingly looked European. Needham  described them as “hairy, white people which have long beards and whiskers and weares clothing.”  This bell seems to me to speak of a Latin influence among these people. Other, later explorers, found people who lived in log cabins with peculiar arched windows.  Dr. Kennedy says that by the late 1700’s  they were practicing  the Christian religion.

These people claimed that they were descended from a group of Portugese who had been shipwrecked or abandoned on the Atlantic coast. (Byron Stinson, “The Melungeons,” American History Illustrated, November, 1973:41) The term they used was `Portyghee.’ In other documents, some of these peoples were also described as having red hair and others with VERY distinctive blue or blue/green eyes. This description leads me to believe that these people were not Native American Indians. Altogether they must have been a striking looking people.

Most Americans have been taught in school about the Lost Colony and Jamestown in 1607, Plymouth in 1620, with a few Spaniards and a smattering of Viking thrown in for good measure. Where did these people come from? First of all, as the mixed-ancestry descendents of native Americans as well as other ethnic identities, many Melungeons will find this question to be offensive– many of their true ancestors were ALREADY here, prior to contact with European and African in-migrants, the Official Voice of the Second Union Planning Committee says.  But recent research is giving an interesting answer to  that question. And from the research I am led to believe that they  are a sizable mixed-ethnic population spread throughout the southeastern United States  and into southern Ohio and Indiana. While the term applied to those group members living in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and southern West Virginia, related mixed-ancestry populations also include the Carmel Indians of southern Ohio, the Brown People of Kentucky, the Guineas of West Virginia, the We-Sorts of Maryland, the Nanticoke-Moors of Delaware, the Cubans and Portuguese of North Carolina, the Turks and Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Creoles and Redbones of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

There is also new evidence or rather old evidences re-examined without prejudice, show a significant Spanish and Portuguese presence in sixteenth-century America, including the large South Carolina coastal colony of Santa Elena, as well as five outlying forts in what is now present day South Carolina, North Carolina, north Georgia, and east Tennessee. Additionally many of the Spanish and Portuguese newcomers were so-called `Conversos,’ – that is, ethnic Jewish and Moorish people who had converted to Catholicism prior to or during the Spanish Inquisition. Evidence is also strong (see the work of English historian David Beers Quinn) that in 1586 Sir Francis Drake deposited several hundred Turkish and Moorish sailors, liberated from the Spanish, in present-day Central America, on the coast of North Carolina at Roanoke Island. No trace was found of these people when later English vessels dropped anchor for re-supplying.

By the time that the first U.S. census was conducted, there had been 200 years of admixture and cultural fusing. This ensured that the story would remain hidden and buried, and that no amount of the census research could ever tell the story accurately. Traditional genealogy can not be used to find these people. There are are no written records, no censuses, no marriage or death notices.

Dr. Kennedy’s interest in the Melungeons began with an illness that took him to the emergency room in Atlanta, Georgia where he was diagnosed with erythema nodosum sarcoidosis. In researching his own illness, Dr. Kennedy found that it is a disease of primarily Middle Eastern and Mediterrean peoples, although it is not unknown among the Irish and Scandanavians.  He later discovered it was equally common among the Portuguese immigrants of New England, and both southeastern Blacks and Caucasians of seemingly unrelated backgrounds. He was told that he would just have to wait to see if he lived or died. How could a southerner, of Appalachian roots, have a Mediterrean disease? It was this question that Dr. Kennedy set out to answer, by tracing his family background, and in the process  he `rediscovered his heritage.’   His book, mentioned earlier, is not about historical research, but his family’s genealogy and theoretical problem.



There are some physiological characteristics which are called ethnic markers, that seem to be passed on through the lines of some Melungeon descendants. 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 and shape of half a golf ball or smaller. This is called an ANATOLIAN BUMP, and indicates ancestry from the Anatolian region of Turkey. 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.

This ridge is an enlargement of the base of the skull, which is called a Central Asian Cranial Ridge. My ridge is quite noticeable. It is larger than anyone else’s that I have felt, except my father’s.  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. ONLY people who live/d in the Anatolian region of Turkey or Central Asia also have this “bump/ridge.”

See the following diagram for the site of both the ridge and bump.

            Back of Head

     ears ( ___x___ ) ears      x marks the bump’s location
               \valley /                the ridge is the line __ shown
                 \      /  neck
                 /      \__shoulders

There is also a ridge on the back of the first four teeth – two front teeth and the ones on either side (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.

Many Indian descendants also have this type of teeth.  The back of the first four teeth of Northern European descendants are straight and flat.

An example of northern European teeth would be similar to this diagram:  \l

Shovel teeth look like this diagram. Back of teeth )/ front of teeth, straight.

SOME Melungeon 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.” Many Indian descendants also have these kinds of eyes.

    nose <    0    >
            ^  place your finger here and draw down gently

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.” The term for that in Turkiq is “AltI parmak.”  (pronounced “altah-par-mock) “AltI” ends with the undotted Turkish “i” which is pronounced as “uh.”

There is a region near Efes (Ephesus) called “AltI Parmak” – many of the people there have historically had six fingers.  Some families have even taken the last name of “AltIparmak.”

If your family has an Indian Grandmother(father) `myth’ which you have been unable to prove, an adoption story that is unprovable, or an orphan myth, 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.


Copyright © 2001 Nancy Sparks Morrison. All rights reserved.


  1. My name is Jeff Lawson my grandmother was a Williams they came from Tennessee and moved into Dent County Missouri. I have the knot on the back of my school as well as the dark deep blue eyes as is common with almost every Lawson in my family. My father said and our families the mood from the Smoky Mountains into the Mountains of the Ozarks. You did a DNA test through ancestry and they said we were of Samoan descent.

    1. Most of the Lawson’s in my family.( My grandma was one through her dad’s side.) Had dark hair,dark eyes,and light to medium brown or olive skin.
      Very few had or have blue eyes that I know of.
      Same with the Gibson’s and Collins in our family.

  2. I need to contact you for permission to use this information in Tribunal along with any other information your could provide.

    1. I had the prerequisite rumored “Cherokee princess great-grandmother” (my paternal grandfather looked like he was right off of an Indian-head nickle). My paternal line came from the Cumberland-gap area of Kentucky – Partins, Maidens, and perhaps some Gibsons.

      The kicker was when my very-Caucasian looking family (although very dark-haired) began DNA testing in the past few years, and my father and sister both discovered almost 5% African heritage – Nigerian, Congolese, miscellaneous east and west African, subsaharan, etc. There has never been any talk of it through family folklore (only of our Indian princess grandmother. ;) )

      I have teeth that are not flat on the back, but kind of shovel-shaped (I thought everyone’s teeth were like that). And there is the strange skull-thing (although it’s not hugely obvious on us.

      Thanks for shedding a little more light on what is most likely some part of my genetic heritage.

      1. My Mom, her Father, and my Brother all have the Indian Nickel profile to some degree, and Mom’s Dad is pictured on an Army horse in his uniform, “Smokey” hat with rifle, looking like a Scout for the Calvary in the Old West, but short, dark hair. I’m the only one that burns in the Sun compared with the rest of my Family, looking every bit Anglo-Saxon until I grew a moustache, then no longer a Gringo like my peers! Italians from Venezuela said I looked more like them at that point. We are a mixed bag of primarily European lineage, we were told, but my Parents are distant cousins by way of Bardados families in the Caribbean, whose kin migrated to Charlestown, Carolinas. DNA is sprinkled with Jewish, Central African, Irish, East European, and Scandinavian, but the Jewish line was linked through my Dad to Spain, & Judah Maccabee , who overthrew the Greek Seluecid Dynasty, to start the Jewish Hasmonean Dynasty. It is very peculiar that my brother, and Dad’s brother, who get mistaken as Sephardic Jews!

      2. So your families DNA tests did not demonstrate any Native American validating: “rumored Cherokee princess great-grandmother” ?

  3. I have the lump at the back of my skull, I actually have 6 shovel teeth, crooked pinky fingers, a weird nose and high cheekbones. My hair is thick and curly (unlike anything any hairdresser has ever seen) but I have been eyes, tan very well, and also have the lumps on my jawline. Can someone please help me out

  4. Well these are definitely my ancestors as you describe everything my dna showed, physical traits I have, and bloodline popping up all over in those physical areas of living. Explains a lot thank you. I also found out Chief Pontiac was my 16th great grandfather.

  5. I am frustrated that Greene isnt listed as a melungeoun surname on most sites. My grandad and dad were part melungeoun

  6. I have the teeth and head bump. Have very dark eyes,medium to dark hair,and very fair skin.
    My mom is medium skinned,while her siblings,aunts,uncles,mom,some cousins,and ect. Have dark hair,dark eyes,and medium to darker skin tones.
    We also come from both Gibson and Collins lines on my grandma’s side who lived in the areas they claim the Mulangeon or how ever it’s spelled are from.
    My DNA testing also shows Jewish,African,and Portugeese decent as well as Scottish, Irish,and many others.
    I also grew up being told by my grandma,who was told by her Grandma Collins that we are Indian aka Native American.
    So this ALL makes sense how it’s SO hard to find our Native Ancestors.

    1. DNA can’t show Jewish descent. It’s a religion not a race. Religion is not genetically transferred, lol.

      1. Ashkenazi Jews are actually one of the most easily identified ethnicities when it comes to DNA.

        Their lineage can be traced back to like a few hundred people.

      2. The Cohenin gene is the Levitical priestly genetic line that links people of Jewish ethnicity, but it is verified in my Dad’s particular line that goes to Sephardic Jews of Spain, and all the way back to Judah Maccabee, who overthrew the Greek Seluicid Dynasty to start the Hasmonean Dynasty. Some hundreds of years or more later, a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arithmathea, had secretly patronized Jesus, and lent use of the family tomb to bury the crucified Rabbi, Jesus. That Joseph, listed as Jose de Aritmatea, was in my Dad’s lineage. Oral history was typical.

    2. My paternal great grandfather and grandmother were from Rogersville Tennessee, he was a Lawson and she was a Mallet. My dad was dark complectic and had blues with black hair the same as me and one sister and brother.

      1. My great grandmother married a Lawson and they were all from Rogersville TN. Recently, my DNA uncovered African, Native American, Spanish, and Ashkanazi Jewish bits. This is really exciting. Because my great grandmother was adopted, I don’t know her original surname.

  7. My great grandfather was Goins, talking about hard to trace all my life i heard native american history in family.. or black dutch? Myself and my father and his family dark hair with some curl so.e are tan looking or tan easy, brown eyes high cheekbones.. i believe my greatgrandfather lived in Rhea county Tn. As an adult.

    1. My mother is from a Goins line, grand father and great grandfather are both Goins from Chattanooga tn area. I also was told black Dutch and melungeon ancestry, I wish I could find out more about it.

    2. I’m obviously a Goens, and I have the dark hair, light eyes, and the bump on my head. My dad and his brothers (and my grandfather) all look darker in skin tone and have the same features as me (except my grandfather Goens who had brown eyes). My Goens fam came from Georgia into Alabama.

  8. I am a Wilson whose grandad came from Chattanooga.We are descendants of the heltons,goins,and Owl family. My grandfather was white but had a large black afro.If you look up The Telstars drummer in the 60s you will see a picture. I have the bump on the back of my head and ridges on my teeth.My DNA shows irish,scottish,English but also iberian peninsula…I wonder if that is the Melongeon bloodline.Thank you for the information. It is golden!

  9. My dad is from Indianapolis and was always told he was native American but our genealogy says we are Jewish. His family is largely from Ohio and Kentucky, and there are few names I only see in the US. Hysong, Searfoss, Enggass. He was an only child and I have never met anyone from his side of the family. So I am very curious any information would be very exciting

  10. I have the bump, the teeth and the eyes. My brothers and mother have the bump as well. My grandmother (moms mom) has always said we were European but never new specifically. I am also Native American and Mexican from my dad, but we all have tan skin and dark hair. My grandmother (moms mom) is white, dark hair and crystal blue eyes. She always said we were part native on her side but I never believed her. This is extremely fascinating. I am convinced these are my people. Wow

  11. Hello my name is Constance. I have been doing some research on my family. What I do know is I have a great great gma that is full Cherokee from Cherokee North Carolina. I am almost 25 percent African American and an European. I have what I call a ridge that sticks out at the base of my sull. How else do you search melungeon heritage?

  12. I was once told that my baby toes are from the line of Melungeon. The toe nail is barely there. Tiny toe. Toe nail is almost bent in half. My grandmother also had the same toe. Does anyone know if this is a true trait of the Melungeons

      1. This is the same with my twin sister and I. Our baby toenails just about aren’t there and are bent upwards. My biological mother (My twin and I were adopted at 2 weeks old) is a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina and my biological father is English/Welsh. We both have almost black curly hair and bright green eyes with olive skin.. I have read that Lumbee Indians may be the same dna as Melungeon. These similarities that we have make me believe that it may be true!

      2. I am related to the goins, collins, cole and watkins lineage and all of my toe nails except my big toe, dont grow out straight but upwards like they are a flower reaching out towards the sun. I barely have a pinky toe nail and its not really down deep in the skin because i have had people step on my pinky toe and it has popped right off and it will grow back but im always looking at feet when i meet someone in my family for the first time because no one in my family has toes like mine where the last link where the toe nail is. They are always pointing up even standing flat footed so where did i get my feet, black hair and coal black eyes?

  13. Have always had that bump but just now discovered what it is. My DNA came back nearly half Italian and the rest French. My parents are from up-state New York but, I am the only one in my entire family that is half Italian so not sure who my blood father is. I have red hair and blue eyes. Brother and sister, black hair and brown eyes. Who in the hell am I?

  14. We have bunches, Goodmans, Gibson‘s, Magowans, Collins. We have Indians and mulatto’s. I don’t know how we couldn’t be part of that line

  15. Hey my grandfather has 6 fingers and blue eyes hes 75 and he has 2 children 16 and younger also with 6 fingers …

  16. Hello, I’ve had a very deep indented ridge on the back of my head exactly as you describe. My sister first notion me when I was about 10 or 11 and she was braiding my hair. I also have the ridged gums. My little brother was born with 6 fingers on each hand and my mom had them removed when he was about 3. We’re all dark complected and tan easily. Some of us had dark hair and some of us like me had white hair when born. Our eyes are a blue/greenish hazel color. I have traced my bloodline on my maternal grandfather’s side to England. My great great great grandmother Ally Watts is a full blooded Chickamauga Cherokee. Her father was a Chief. I can’t spell his name. I have it all on the ancestry site though. I would like to know more about this. Any suggestions?

  17. I’ve just learned about this today, and frankly I’m gobsmacked.
    I’ve always known about my Appalachian ties. My family arrived in the mid-late 1600’s, and settled in southwestern NC, and east TN, mostly in Monroe CO. There have always been rumors of American Indian ancestors, but I know no specifics. I’m am descended from one of the surnames (Bowling). I have the Anatolian bump. The really significant factor, however, came from my DNA analysis through Ancestry. 1% of my genetic material, all from one parent (the one I know came from Appalachia) is from Sub-Saharan Africa. One, perhaps 2 of my ancestors were indentured servants in Barbados for awhile, but both were male, sentenced for servitude there by the English…one from England and the other from Scotland. I thought that might explain the African descent, but frankly I couldn’t understand how. It made no sense.
    Now, I think I understand. I intend to find out all I can about this. Incredibly interesting.

  18. The presence of these traits in all of us, although remarkable, more attests to the fact that “it happened” and is not being taught or educated (even as a theory) in our schools at all. I was educated in SC and NC and never heard of this until college when a friend pointed out my bump (I shave my head), and I hit about all the rest of the criteria as does the entire side of my father’s family, through his mother’s side. I find it remarkable I had to do so much digging to find this information, and moreso shocking that its so loosely organized even to this date. This article is great but only scratches the surface and there’s not many others, or supporting documentation. But one thing I know is that I have all of these things so that’s not possible without at least some of this being accurate, if not all of it! Great article regardless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *