Throughout the Southeastern United States can be found “old families” in rural areas whose appearance is not quite the same as the European or African peoples who colonized the region, but also not what a person with substantial indigenous ancestry looks like either. In earlier times they might have called themselves Cajun, Black Irish, Redbone, Black Dutch, Portughee, Old Spanish, Melungeon or Part Injun. In more recent years they are likely to say that their great-grandmother was a full blooded Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Catawba, Shawnee or Blackfoot. She may have been, but that is not always the case. Many of these people have Mediterranean features, not Native American.
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One group of mestizos in the Southeast receives very little publicity. Their families have vague memories of either being Jewish or having some Jewish ancestors during the Colonial or Federal Periods. These families may even have Jewish surnames such as Abram, Alba, Amos, Bachman, Benjamin, Boone, Cowen, Hite, Luby, Cohen, David, Gabby, Hershey, Rich, Jacobs, Jordan, Kaufman, Lombard, Levy, Meyer, Shapiro, Spiker, Rosenberg, Sherman, Solomon, Oliver, etc. but they have been practicing Christians for so long that they don’t even realize that their names are of Jewish origin. There is usually no way of discerning these families’ Jewish heritage by physical appearance because Americans, by nature, are hybrids.
In contrast, the mountain valleys of northeastern Tennessee, northwestern Virginia, southeastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern Virginia contain a mestizo population that has maintained a separate identity for 250 years. Some families called themselves Cherokees. Some families called themselves Portughee. More and more they now call themselves Melungeons. All along, however, they knew that they were different in several ways from their Scottish, Ulster Scot, Irish and English neighbors.
- Revelations from the Past
- Prayer We Will Give . . . and often
- Will the real Sequoya please stand up?
- Map making, from Majorca to Appalachia
- How Appalachian History became Fossilized Anthropology
- Castaways, Refugees, Deserters and Pirates
- Things Your History Teacher Never Told You
- Intrigues on Virginia’s Frontier
- Eyewitnesses Who Were Never Called to the Witness Stand
- Cryptic Ancestors
These are personal stories of people, who thought that they had substantial Cherokee or Shawnee ancestors, but discovered a much more complex heritage from their DNA tests.
Note: While the greatest portion of this manuscript was written by Richard Thornton, the publisher and editor of AccessGenealogy, Dennis Partridge, has added to these pages his own works, and is adding source material directly to this article to help buttress Richard’s claims.