Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Melungeons Revisited

By Richard A. Pence

When I first noticed the title of the article by Nancy Sparks Morrison in the October Newsletter, I thought: "At last." At last, I hoped, someone has graced the Internet with some genealogically factual information on the Melungeons.

I was mistaken. It's another rehash of a discredited book.

"The Melungeons," writes Ms. Morrison, "are a people of apparent Mediterranean descent who may have settled in the Appalachian wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1567, according to N. Brent Kennedy in his book The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People."

While there may be some basis for supposing these people are a distinct and identifiable ethnic group, no documentation is provided by Ms. Morrison other than quoting Kennedy's book - where documentation is suspect or nonexistent. His book is a "believe it or don't" collection of folklore, mythology, legend and hand-me-down hearsay - large portions of which are demonstrably inaccurate.

In her lengthy bibliography, Ms. Morrison cites two National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) articles by Virginia Easley Demarce, who is a historian with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and an authority on multi-racial ancestry in America. As importantly, she is a well-known genealogist with such credentials as being a past president of the NGS. Unfortunately, Ms. Morrison failed to include the most illuminating of Dr. Demarce's articles on this topic: a review of Kennedy's book, which appeared in the NGSQ more than two years ago (Vol. 84, No. 2, June, 1996, page 134).

To put it succinctly, this critical essay absolutely demolishes most of what Kennedy has written - and does so by employing the traditional tools of a genealogist: research in the original records.

Dr. Demarce begins by noting that Kennedy's "chronological leap over several centuries enables [him] to propose an exotic ancestry for '200,000 individuals, perhaps far more' (p. xv) - an ancestry that sweeps in virtually every olive, ruddy, and brown-tinged ethnicity known or alleged to have appeared anywhere in the pre-Civil War Southeastern United States."
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(Located on the Historical Melungeon Website)

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