Cultural Footprints

I was recently corresponding with a descendant of Valentine Collins, one of the Melungeon families of mixed race found in and nearby Hawkins County, Tennessee in the 1800s.

Here’s what he had to say.

When I first started looking into my Collins’ family history, I realized very early this was going to be a real adventure. What I did was set up a system to look at different aspects of their lives/history. I call it ‘cultural footprints’. I have those foot prints broken down as:

  • Religion
  • The Table (food)
  • Music
  • Language

Most of the data I’ve mined are based on these four Cultural Footprints. But I would have to say Genetic Genealogy provided the biggest breakthroughs, the best tool by far.

Well, obviously I liked his commentary about genetic genealogy, which gives us the ability to connect and to prove, or disprove, connections.  But as I looked at his list, I thought about my own ancestors.  Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that I love to learn about the history during the time that my ancestors were living – what happened to and near them and how it affected them.  But his commentary made me wonder what I’ve been missing.

As I think back, one of the biggest and most useful clues to one of my ancestral lines was an accidental comment made by my mother about her grandmother. She mentioned, in passing, “that little white hat that she always wore.”  I almost didn’t say anything, but then I thought, “little white hat, that’s odd.”  So I asked and my mother said something like, “you know, those religious hats.”  I asked if she meant Amish or Mennonite, given the context of where they lived and she said, “yes, a hat like that.”  Then, when questioned further, it turns out that the family didn’t drive, even though cars were certainly utilized by then.  My mother never thought about it.  Turns out that the family was actually Brethren, also one of the pietist faiths similar to Amish and Mennonite, but that hint sent me in the right direction.

How could my mother have been unaware of something that important, well, important to me anyway?  Easy.  It was, ahem, not discussed in the family.  You see, it was somewhat of a scandal.

My mother’s father had married outside the Brethren religion, so was rather ostracized from the family for his choice to marry a Lutheran. Then the family became, horror of horrors, Methodist.  So, I would add clothing to my friend’s list of cultural footprints as well.  Sometimes, like in my case, dress will lead you to religion.  In the photo below, my mother’s grandmother is the female in the middle back row.  If you look carefully, you can see that both she and her mother are wearing a prayer cap.

John David Miller Photo

I know the religion of many of my ancestors. Whatever their religious choice, it was extremely important to many.  I have 1709ers, Acadians, Brethren, Mennonites, Huguenots, fire and brimstone Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians in my family line.  I always try to find their church and the church records if possible.  Some are quite interesting, like Joseph Bolton who was twice censured from the Baptist church in Hancock County, Tennessee.  Many of my ancestors made their life choices based on their faith.  In particular, the Huguenots, 1709ers, Brethren and Mennonites suffered greatly for their beliefs.  Conversely, some of my ancestors appear to never have set foot in a church.  I refer to them as the “free thinkers.”

Well, in one case, my ancestor was a bootlegger in the mountains of Kentucky. What the hey…every family has to have some color, and he was definitely colorful….and free thinking.

Most of us are a mixture of people, cultures and places. All of them are in us.  Their lives, culture, choices and  yes, their DNA, make us who we are.  If you have any doubt, just look at your autosomal ethnicity predictions.

Language of course is important, but more personally, local dialects that our ancestors may have spoken. In the US, every part of the country has their own way of speaking.

Here’s a YouTube video of a Louisiana Cajun accent. Many Acadians settled in that region after being forcibly removed from Nova Scotia in 1755.

Acadian-Cajun language, music and early homes in Louisiana

Here’s a wonderful video of Appalachian English. In my family, this is known as “hillbilly” and that is not considered a bad thing to be:)  In fact, we truthfully, all love Jeff Foxworthy, well, because he’s one of us.  I’m just sure if we could get him to DNA test, that we’d be related!

There are regional and cultural differences too.

Here’s a video about Lumbee English. The Lumbee are a Native American tribe found in North Carolina near the border with South Carolina.

Going further east in North Carolina, the Outer Banks has a very distinctive dialect.

What did your ancestor’s speech sound like?   What would it have sounded like in that time and place?

That, of course, leads to music. Sometimes music is the combination of speech and religion, with musical instruments added.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with religion, but moves us spiritually just the same.  Music is the voice of the soul.

Here’s Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. If you can get through this dry-eyed, well, then you’re not Scottish…just saying.  This connects me to my Scottish ancestors.  It was played at both my mother’s and my brother’s funerals.  Needless to say, I can’t get through it dry eyed!

Amazing Grace isn’t limited to bagpipes or musical instruments. The old “hardshell” Baptists didn’t utilize musical instruments, and still don’t, in their churches.  Listen to their beautiful voices, and the beautiful landscape of Kentucky.  This is the land, voices and religion of some of my people.

A hauntingly and sadly beautiful Negro Spiritual. Kleenex box warning.  This, too, is the music of my family.

Yeha – Noha – a Native American song by Sacred Spirit. One of my favorite music pieces.

Bluegrass gospel – Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Bet you can’t keep your foot from tapping!!!

Appalachian fiddle music. Speaks directly to my heart.  And my hands.  I just have to clap my hands.

Acadian music. This would be very familiar to my Acadian ancestors.

At this link, you can hear samples of Acadian folk songs by scrolling down and clicking on the track listing.

Moving a little closer in time. This is the official state song of Tennessee – one of my all-time favorites.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve danced to this.  This just says “home” to me and I can feel my roots.

What kind of music did your ancestors enjoy? Did they play any musical instruments?  Can you find the music of the time and place in which they lived?  YouTube has a wide variety and the videos are an added benefit, bringing the reality of the life of our distant ancestors a little closer.

Now that you know what fed their souls, let’s look at what fed their bodies.  Along with regional speech and musical differences, the diet of our ancestors was unique and often quite different from ours of today.

On the Cumberland Gap Yahoo group, we often exchange and discuss regional recipes, especially around the holidays. Same on the Acadian rootsweb group.  Although this year we’ve been talking about deep fried turkeys.  Maybe in another couple hundred years that will be considered representative of our time.  Hopefully it’s not McDonalds!

The Smithsonian sponsors a website about Appalachian foods.  Let me share with you what I remember about my childhood.  We made do with what we had, whatever that was.  Some things were staples.  Like biscuits, with butter, or honey, or jam, or apple butter…whatever you had on hand that was in season.

biscuits

Chicken fried in bacon grease was for Sunday, or company, which usually came on Sunday.

fried chicken

We wasted nothing, ever, because you never knew when you might not have enough to eat. So, we ate leftovers until they were gone and we canned. Did we ever can.  Lord, we canned everything.  Mason jars in huge boiling kettles in the hottest part of summer.  Let’s just say that is not my favorite memory of growing up.  But green beans at Christmas time were just wonderful, and you couldn’t have those without canning in the August heat.

cans

Different areas have become known for certain types of cuisine. In North Carolina, they are known for their wood-fired BBQ.  In western North Carolina, they use a red, slightly sweet, tomato based BBQ sauce, but in eastern NC, they use a vinegar based BBQ sauce.  Want to start a fight?  Just say that the other one is better on the wrong side of the state:)

BBQ pit

Creole cuisine is found in the south, near the Mississippi Delta region and is from a combination of French, Spanish and African heritage.

creole

Jambalaya is a Louisiana adaptation of Spanish paella.

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Soul food is the term for the foods emanating from slavery.  When I looked up soul food on wiki, I found the foods my family ate every day.  When I think of food that we didn’t eat, but that my African American cousins did eat, I think of chitlins.  Yes, I know I didn’t spell that correctly, but that’s how we spelled it. And the chitlins we had were flowered and fried too, not boiled.  Maybe that is a regional difference or an adaptation.

chitterlings

Another “out of Africa” food is sorghum, used to make a sweet substance similar to molasses, used on biscuits in our family. Sorghum is an African plant, often called Guinea Corn, and arrived with slaves in colonial days.

sorghum

Native American cuisine varies by where the tribe lived, and originally, they lived across all of North and South America. Originally, the Native people had the three sisters, corn, squash and beans.  Hominy is Native, as is grits, a southern staple today.  I’m drooling now…

grits

Today, however, one of the signature Native American dishes is FryBread. Fried and seriously unhealthy, the lines at powwows are longer for frybread and a derivative, Indian Tacos, than anything else.

frybread

In many places, the settlers, slaves and Native people assimilated and the food their descendants ate reflected all three cultures, like Brunswick Stew.  Even Brunswick Stew varies widely by location as do the origin stories.  Many foods seems to have evolved in areas occupied by European settlers, Native people and slaves, to reflect ingredients from all three groups.

Brunswick stew

That’s the case in my family, on my father’s side. We didn’t know any differently, or where that particular type of food originated.  However, sometimes by looking at the foods families ate, we can tell something of their origins.

In marginalized populations, and by that, in the US I mean mixed race or descendants of enslaved people, it’s often very difficult to use traditional genealogical records because they didn’t own land or leave other records. Many of them spent a lot of time trying to make themselves transparent and didn’t want to attract any attention.

Often, it’s the DNA that unlocks the doors to their heritage, and after making that discovery, we can then look the cultural footprints they left for us to follow.

I’m starving. I’m going to eat something unhealthy and listen to some wonderful music!  How about grits with butter and Indian tacos for lunch along with powwow music?  Oh yeahhhhhh…….

The African Diaspora Conference Videos Available

HeywoodIn September,  2013, The African Diaspora: Integrating Culture, Genomics and History was held at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC.  Sadly, I had commitments elsewhere and could not attend.

The National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Museum of Natural History held a full-day symposium that brought together scholars, scientists and practitioners from various disciplines who are exploring the African Diaspora throughout historical, cultural and genomic lenses with the purpose of understanding a person’s ancestry and how that impacts individual health and collective identity.

The symposium’s objectives were to foster interdisciplinary dialog on what we can learn about:

  • Ancestral history from genomic information and historical records.
  • Ethnic identity and cultural diversity from historical and genomic information.
  • The arts and culture from ancestral information.

I was not able to attend, but reports from those who did were very positive.  Fortunately, the videos are now available to view, for free.

http://www.genome.gov/27555386

Furthermore, I’d like to mention that one of the papers I co-authored with Jack Goins, Janet Crain and Penny Ferguson, “Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population” was cited  by Dr. Linda Heywood.

Dr. Linda Heywood is a Professor of African American Studies and History at Boston University.  I was impressed with her throughout this panel discussion.  At about 6:48 she discussed identity, and her comment, “History, it’s personal, it’s communal, it’s national, it’s identity.”

She mentions our paper at about 57:46.  At 22:54 she comments about various Africans being incorporated into the Portuguese settlements in Africa before being shipped out as slaves, something we also mentioned in our paper.  And finally at 1:15:00 she referred to the paper again as a resource.

I was also very impressed with Dr. Sarah Tiskoff and was disappointed to see that there were not any individual sessions by her.

I hope you’ll take an opportunity to watch a few of these videos, and a big thank you to the Smithsonian for making them available.

Correlating Historical Facts to DNA Test Results

Sometimes DNA tests hold surprising results, results that the individual didn’t expect.  That’s what happened to Jack Goins, Hawkins County, Tn. Archivist and founder of the Melungeon Core DNA project.  Jack, a Melungeon descendant through several ancestors, expected that his Y paternal haplogroup would be either European or Native American, based on oral family history, but it wasn’t, it was E1b1a, African.

Jack’s family and ancestors were key members of the Melungeon families found in Hawkins and Hancock Counties in Tennessee beginning in the early 1800s.  In order to discover more about this group of people, which included but was not limited to his own ancestors, Jack founded the Melungeon DNA projects.

Over time, descendants of most of the family lines had representatives test within both a Y-line and mitochondrial DNA project.  The results were a paper, Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population, published in JOGG, the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, in April 2012.

Many people expected to discover that the Melungeons were primarily Native American, but this was not the outcome of the DNA project.  In fact, many of the direct paternal male lines were African and all of the direct maternal female lines tested were European.  While there are paper records, in one case, that state that one of the ancestors of the Melungeons was Native American (Riddle), and there is DNA testing of another line that married into the Melungeon families that proves that indirect line is Native American (Sizemore), there is no direct line testing that indicates Native ancestry.

Aside from the uproar the results caused among researchers who were hopeful of a different outcome, it also begs the question of whether the documents we do have of those families support the DNA results.  What did the contemporary people who knew them during their lifetime think about their race?  Census takers, tax men and county clerks?  Are there patterns that emerge?  Sometimes, when we receive new information, be it genetic or otherwise, we need to revisit our documentation and look with a new set of eyes.

It’s common practice in genetic genealogy circles when “undocumented adoptions” are discovered, for example, to revisit the census and look for things like a child’s birthdate being before the parents’ marriage.  Something that went unnoticed during initial data gathering or was assumed to be in error suddenly becomes extremely important, perhaps the key to unraveling what happened to those long-ago ancestors.  Like in all projects, some descendant lines we expected to match, didn’t.

Recently Jack Goins undertook such an analysis of the documentary records collected over the years in the various counties where the Melungeon families or their direct ancestors lived.  We know that today, and in the 1900s, most of these families appear physically primarily European, an observation supported by autosomal DNA testing.  So we’re looking for records that indicate minority admixture.

Do the records indicate that these people were black, Native, European, mixed or something else, like Portuguese?  Was the African admixture recent, so recent that their descendants were viewed as mixed-race, or were the African haplogroups introduced long ago, hundreds or thousands of years ago perhaps, maybe in Mediterranean Europe?  If that was the case, then the Melungeon ancestors in America would have been considered “European,” meaning they looked white.  What do the records say about these families?  Were they uniformly considered white, black, mixed or Native in all of the locations where family members moved as they dispersed out of colonial Virginia?

If these men were Native Americans, would they have likely fought against the Indians in the French and Indian War in 1754?  Melungeon ancestors did just that and they are specifically noted as fighting “against the Shawnee.”  Their families were found in census records as “free people of color” and “mulatto” countless times which indicates they were not slaves and were not white.  On one later census record, below, in 1880, Portugee was overstricken and W for white entered.

1880 census
1880 census 2

Melungeon families and their ancestors were listed on tax records and other records as mulattoes, never as mustee and only once as Indian.  Mulattoes are typically mixed black and white, although it can be Native and white, while mustee generally means mixed Indian with something else.  On one 1767 tax list, Moses Riddle, a maternal ancestor of a Melungeon family is listed as Indian, but this is the only instance found in the hundreds of records searched.  The Riddle family paternal haplogroup reflects European ancestry so apparently the Indian ancestor originated in a maternal line.

Court records identify Melungeon families as “colored” and “black” and “African” and “free negroes and mulattoes” as well as white.  In the 1840s, a group of Melungeon men, descendants of these individuals classified as mulattoes and free people of color were prosecuted for voting, a civil liberty forbidden to those “not white,” and probably as a political move to make examples of them.  Some of these men were found not guilty, one simply paid the fine, probably to avoid prosecution due to his advanced age, and the cases were dismissed against the rest.  Some were also prosecuted for bi-racial marriage when it was illegal for anyone of mixed heritage to marry a white person.  In earlier cases, in the 1700s in Virginia, these families were prosecuted for “concealing tithables” specifically for not listing their wives, “being mulattoes.”  In another case, the records indicate an individual being referred to as ‘yellow complected,’ a term often used for a light skinned mulatto.  And yet another case states that while the men were “mulattos,” their fathers were free and their wives were white.

There are many records, more than 1600 in total that we indexed and cataloged when writing the paper, and more have surfaced since.  In all of those records, only one contemporaneous record, the 1767 Riddle tax list, states the person was an Indian.  None, other than the 1880 census record, state that they were Portuguese.  There are many that indicate African or mixed heritage, of some description, and there are also many that don’t indicate any admixture.  Especially in later census, as the families outmarried to some extent, they were nearly uniformly listed as white.  Still, this group of people looked “different” enough from their neighbors to be labeled with the derisive name of Melungeon.

While this group, based on mitochondrial DNA testing, did initially marry European women, generations of intermarriage would have caused the entire group to be darker than the nonadmixed European population in the 1700s and 1800s.  By this time, neither they nor their neighbors were sure what they were, so they claimed Portuguese and Indian.  No one claimed to have black ancestors, in fact, most denied it vehemently.  By this time, so many generations had passed that they may not have known the whole truth, and there is indeed evidence of two Indian lines within the Melungeon community.

In light of these records, the DNA results should not have been as surprising as they were.  However, this body of research had never been analyzed as a whole before.

Since the original paper was published, four additional paternal lines documented as Melungeon but without DNA representation/confirmation in the original paper have tested, and all four of them, Nichols, Perkins, Shoemake/Shumach and Bolin/Bolton carry haplogroup E1b1a.  They are not matches to each other or other Melungeon paternal lines, so it’s not a matter of undocumented adoptions within a community.

The DNA project administrators certainly welcome additional participants who descend from the Melungeon families.  Y-line DNA requires a male who descends from a patriarch via all males, given that males pass their Y chromosome to only sons.

There may indeed be Native American lines yet undiscovered within the female or ancestral lines, and we are actively seeking people descended from the wives of these Melungeon families through all women. Mitochondrial DNA, which tests the maternal line, is passed to both genders of children, but only females pass it on.  So to represent your Melungeon maternal ancestor, you must descend from her through all females, but you yourself can be either male or female.

While the primary focus is still to document the various direct family lines utilizing Y-line and mitochondrial DNA, the advent of autosomal testing has opened the door for other Melungeon descendants to test as well.  In fact, the project administrators have organized a separate project for all descendants who have taken the autosomal Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA called the Melungeon Families project.

The list of eligible Melungeon surnames is Bell, Bolton, Bowling, Bolin, Bowlin, Breedlove, Bunch, Collins, Denham, Gibson, Gipson, Goins, Goodman, Minor, Moore, Menley, Morning, Mullins, Nichols, Perkins, Riddle, Sizemore, Shumake, Sullivan, Trent and Williams.  For specifics about the paternal lines, patriarchs and where these families are historically located, please refer to the paper.

Furthermore, anyone with documented proof of additional Melungeon families or surnames is encouraged to provide that as well.  Surnames are only added to the list with proof that the family was referenced as Melungeon from a documented historical record or is ancestral to a documented Melungeon family.  For example, the Sizemore family was never directly referred to as Melungeon in documented sources, but Aggy Sizemore (haplogroup H/European), daughter of George Sizemore (haplogroup Q/Native) married Zachariah Minor (haplogroup E1b1a/African).  The Minor family is one of the Melungeon family names.  So while Sizemore itself is not Melungeon, it is certainly an ancestral name to the Melungeon group.

For more information, read Jack Goins’ article, Written Records Agree with Melungeon DNA Results.

Black, White or Red – Changing Colors

henry finding your roots

The Root recently published the article, “Did My White Ancestor Become Black?”, written by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Eileen Pironti.  We all know who Henry is from his PBS Series, Finding Your Roots.

America is the great mixing bowl of the world, with Native American, European and African people living in very close proximity for the past 400 years.  Needless to say, on the subject of admixture and race, things are not always what they seem.

Henry Gates sums it up quite well in his article, regardless of what your ancestor looked like, or your family looks like today, “the only way to ascertain the ethnic mixture of your own ancestry is to take an admixture test from Family Tree DNA, 23andMe or Ancestry.com.”

Interestingly enough, in an earlier issue of The Root, Henry talks about how black are Black Americans.

In that article, Henry provides this information.

* According to Ancestry.com, the average African American is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American.

* According to 23andme.com, the average African American is 75 percent sub-Saharan African, 22 percent European and only 0.6 percent Native American.

* According to Family Tree DNA.com, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American.

* According to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.

The message is, of course, that you never know.  Jack Goins, Hawkins County, Tennessee archivist,  is the perfect example.  Jack is the patriarch of Melungeon research.  His Goins family was Melungeon, from Hawkins County, Tennessee.  Jack founded the Melungeon DNA projects several years ago which resulted in a paper, co-authored by Jack (along with me, Janet Lewis Crain and Penny Ferguson), cited by Henry Louis Gates in his above article along with an associated NPR interview, titled “Melungeons, A Multiethnic Population.”

jack goins melungeon

Jack, shown above with the photo of his Melungeon ancestors, looks white today.  His family claimed both Portuguese and Indian heritage.  His ancestors and family members in the 1840s were prosecuted for voting, given that they were “people of color.”

But Jack’s Y DNA, providing us with his paternal link to his Goins male lineage, is African.  No one was more shocked at this information than Jack.  Jack’s autosomal DNA testing confirms his African heritage, along with lots of European and a smidgen of Native in some tests.

When in doubt, test your DNA and that of selected relatives to document your various lines, creating your own DNA pedigree chart.  For a broad spectrum picture of your DNA and ethnicity across of all of your heritage, autosomal DNA testing is the way to go.  Without all of these tools, neither Jack nor Henry would ever have known their own personal truth.

Melungeon DNA Paper Honored by the North Carolina Society of Historians

The Melungeon DNA paper, “Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic People,” was honored on October 20th by the North Carolina Society of Historians at an awards ceremony in Mooresville, NC.

The North Carolina Society of Historians is a nonprofit organization founded in 1941 whose goal is to preserve and share the history of North Carolina.  One of the ways they do this is by encouraging the preservation of history and research into historical topics by conferring awards annually on worthy projects and their authors.  Awards are granted to organizations and individuals in 14 different categories and the awards are presented at the annual meeting, which is a luncheon, in October.

This year’s banquet was held on Saturday, October 20th in Mooresville, NC.

The Melungeon DNA paper titled “Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population” was granted the prestigious Paul Green Multimedia Award.  Jack Goins, the founder of the Melungeon DNA projects and one of the authors of the paper accepted the award in Mooresville on behalf of all four authors.

In addition to Jack, the authors are Janet Crain, Roberta Estes and Penny Ferguson.  Each author received an individual award recognizing their contribution.

Jack said that Elizabeth Sherrill, the Society President, had many complimentary things to say about the paper, and that she showed an impressive pile of papers and projects that represented the other entries that were rejected.  Apparently, the competition was stiff.  I know they have hundreds of entries every year.

Each project or paper that receives an award also receives the judges collective comments.  Here’s what they had to say about “Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population”:

“This paper is definitely not for the “faint of heart,’ nor can it be considered ‘light reading.’  It is an in-depth study of the Melungeons in the Carolinas and surrounding states that is geared toward those persons with a serious interest in tracing these people by taking a DNA approach. It is an academic paper that is the result of a monumental study that took in many different avenues of research. We found this work to be absolutely brilliant and data pertaining to North Carolina was exciting.  We understand that this study is still a work-in-progress, and we look forward, with great anticipation, to future papers chronicling additional information discovered/uncovered regarding this fascinating race of people.”

The authors would like to collectively thank the North Carolina Society of Historians, not only for the award, but for their dedication to the preservation of history and fostering an environment that rewards people for doing so.

Applying DNA Studies to Family History: The Melungeon Mystery Solved

Wayne Winkler, Jack Goins (pictured above) and Roberta Estes were honored to be able to present and record the first, and possibly the only, comprehensive Melungeon-focused series that includes an introduction to Melungeons, their history and heritage, their migrations and the results of the landmark DNA study, Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population.

The Allen County Public Library, in Fort Wayne, Indiana is a leader in genealogical research and also in the preservation of history.  Their facility includes a state-of-the art auditorium and television studio.  They tape many shows there and now, we’re proud to say, our series will be added to their catalog of free videos available online.  We will provide the links when they become available.

These presentations were really the culmination of decades of work.  The icing on the cake is the DNA study that has clarified the history of the Melungeon people and the core families.

Roberta began the day with an Intro to DNA and Genetic Genealogy explaining how DNA for genealogy works.  This session is always popular, and this event was no exception.  Roberta uses her own family pedigree chart as an example and nearly always meets a new cousin or two.  There are lots of DNA tools in the genealogists tool box, more now than ever.

Wayne Winkler’s presentation, The Melungeons: Sons and Daughters of the Legend provided an overview of the mysterious mixed-ethnic population first documented in northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia in the early 19th century.  Wayne is extremely well-spoken, and even though I’ve heard him before, I’m always caught up in the spell he weaves.  Wayne’s book, Walking Toward the Sunset, The Melungeons of Appalachia goes a bit deeper than his presentation, so I would encourage everyone interested in an accurate overview of this topic to read his book. 

Jack Goins’ session began the afternoon.  How fitting that Jack is the Hawkins County, Tennessee archivist.  His presentation, Examining our Melungeon Neighborhood and Migrations, tracked the original Hawkins County Melungeon families backwards in time, through the New River area, through the Flat River area and back into Louisa County in the mid-1700s.  Indeed, this core group was there, together, before migrating in steps towards Newman’s Ridge.  Jack’s photos of the actual locations bring them to life.  Jack’s most recent book, Melungeons: Footprints from the Past was published in 2009 and details the history, with source documentation, of the Melungeons, beginning in Hancock and Hawkins Counties in Tennessee.  This is a must read for anyone researching Melungeon families.

The final presentation of the day was given by Roberta Estes, taken from the academic paper recently published in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, Melungeons: A Multi-Ethnic Population.  Roberta, Jack Goins, Janet Crain and Penny Ferguson co-authored the paper.  This paper uses the genetic genealogy information from participants in the Melungeon DNA projects to paint a fuller picture of the Melungeon core families, and therefore, of the Melungeon population as a whole.  The Melungeon core families, as identified by their paternal (surname) lines include European and African progenitors, about half and half.  All maternal lines tested have been European.  There was no direct paternal or maternal Native American heritage found, as had been expected, but there are two lines that are ancestors to the Melungeon families that include Native lines. It’s also of interest that all of the African lines, except one, are found together in Louisa County, Virginia, but the Native lines don’t enter the pedigree chart until later, on subsequent steps of the migration to Tennessee.

Roberta and Jack would like to stress that the DNA project is ongoing and people connected to these families are encouraged to join.  Questions? – Contact Jack at jgoins@usit.net.

Following the presentations, the speakers answered questions and had a book signing. 

Several people had questions about DNA and how to use their results to discern things like ethnicity.  One very nice gentleman, Gary, offered to be a guinea pig, so indeed Roberta took him up on his offer and performed a somewhat impromptu DNA analysis.  This gentleman had an African paternal line from Cameroon, but a quite rare maternal European line.  Both his paternal and maternal lines had been enslaved, so indeed, the European maternal heritage was a very unexpected result.  His autosomal test results showed that he was about half European and about half African.  Roberta’s business, DNAexplain, includes writing Personalized DNA Reports for customers.

Following the sessions, each speaker was asked what they believe were the salient points of the sessions and the project as a whole.

Wayne said that he “thinks the most important aspect of the presentations was that we now have data giving us a piece of the genetic portrait of the “core” group that settled in Hawkins/Hancock County in the early 19th century. It’s not the whole story, not the “final” word on the subject. In fact, it’s really the FIRST solid genetic data we have on these folks. Too many people think that the genetic profile of the Melungeons has already been documented, but that’s not the case. Thanks to the seven-year effort by Roberta, Jack, Janet, and Penny, we now have dependable, factual information about who our ancestors were.”

Jack said, “what is very important or noticeable to me is examining events in our history like the illegal voting trials for this example.  All of the Melungeon men tried had African paternal heritage, except possibly one who took his mother’s surname.  Three of the Collins were brothers, sons of old Benjamin and Zachariah and his brother Lewis.”  Jack told me that when he saw the record, in the archives, that Vardy Collins had paid the fine for illegal voting, instead of fighting the allegation, he knew in his heart that we would likely find African heritage. 

I know that the results of the DNA study have disappointed a few people who were hoping for Native American results.  Some of the news reporting has, unfortunately, fanned those flames by what I would characterize as “race baiting.”  As authors and interviewees, we are not afforded the opportunity of reviewing the articles or interviews before they are either published or broadcast.

The Melungeon study and the study of genetic genealogy isn’t about race – it’s about heritage.  It’s about allowing your ancestors to reach forward in time to you with the truth that only their DNA can reveal.  Allow yourself to hear their whispers.  It’s their gift to you.  It’s about honoring those ancestors, the experiences they had, the trials they endured, all of which, combine to make you who you are today.  It’s about using DNA as the tool to raise the veil that covers the distant past.  To want them to be something they were not is to dishonor who they were.

We would like to thank the Allen County Public Library for their hospitality.  I would like to thank the other two speakers for volunteering to do this presentation.  It means a full day’s drive for both Wayne and Jack, each way.  We all volunteered our time so that this important information can be preserved for future generations.  We also want to thank all of the Melungeon descendants who have joined the projects and contributed their genealogy information.