Article_Toward_a_Genetic_Profile_of_Melungeons_in_Tennessee.doc

Article_Toward_a_Genetic_Profile_of_Melungeons_in_Tennessee.doc

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Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia Donald N. Yates DNA Consulting 26438 N. 42 nd Way Phoenix, AZ 85050 Elizabeth C. Hirschman Department of Marketing School of Business Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ 08903 Introduction Melungeons are an elusive and controversial subject in American social history (see e.g., DeMarce 1996; Hirschman and Yates 2007; Hirschman 2003). Their population center is placed conventionally in the lower Appalachians in the contiguous region of southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, southwestern Kentucky and eastern North Carolina (see e.g., Guthrie 1990).While often said to constitute a tri-racial isolate people, others have proposed that the Melungeons are descendants of early Portuguese, Spanish, Sephardic Jewish, Muslim Moorish, and/or Gypsy/Roma colonists in the southeastern United States (Kennedy 1997; Hirschman 2005; Price 1953). Still other researchers have questioned whether Melungeons diverge significantly in ancestry from other colonial-era settlers (DeMarce 1996). Despite these reservations, the so-called Melungeon Movement sparked by publication of N. Brent Kennedy’s
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(1994/1997) book fifteen years ago shows little signs of abatement today (see e.g., Winkler 2006). There is a Melungeon Registry at the Wise County Historical Society, and genetic disorders such as familial Mediterranean fever (FMF) are being diagnosed and treated in Appalachian regional medical centers thanks to increased awareness and advocacy efforts. Although non-technical in nature and not academically geared, a stream of books and articles continues to pour forth from members of the community (Alther 2007; Ball 1992; Elder 1999;Johnson 1997; Winkler 2004). To help sort through the multiple suggested origins of the Melungeon people, we assembled a sample of forty self-identified Melungeon descendants whose DNA we analyzed to provide additional information regarding their ancestral origins and ethnicity. 1 This article reports the probabilistic predictive results of Melungeon ethnicity and ancestry from that study. We reach some tentative conclusions about genetic structure and demographic history that we hope will help stimulate further investigation into Melungeon ancestral origins and related sociocultural factors. Subjects and Methods Population Sample A sample of forty (40) participants was selected for testing; persons were deemed eligible for the study based on self-identification of Melungeon ancestry, as has been the case in all prior published studies (see e.g., Guthrie 1990). While not a large number, this is an acceptable size for preliminary studies of sparse or isolated populations, such as American Indian tribes or diasporic ethnic groups, e.g., the Amish. Most participants were current or prior subscribers to Nancy Sparks Morrison’s Melungeon Health email discussion group, a focal point for dissemination of information about health issues and genetic screening of interest to Melungeons, or were related 2
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to a subscriber. A few were actively recruited for the study and had their tests paid for in the interest of gaining as many subjects as possible. All sample donors were either adults or children
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