Whenever I research in the mid-south region of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, I always look for Melungeon ancestry, based upon surnames and race prior to 1870. Melungeons were “free color” not slaves.
The word Melungeon is believed to mean mixture. They intermarried usually with poor whites and among their community. Today, their descendants number in the milliions and are scattered across North America. Common family surnames:
Bolen/Bowling, Bunch, Cole, Collins, Delp, Denham, Fields, Freeman, Gann, Gibson/Gipson, Goins, Goodman, Graham, Hale, Ivey, Lawson, Lucas, Maloney, Miner/Minear, Mize, Moseley, Mullins/Melons, Nichols, Noel, Piniore, Sexton, Sweat/Sweet/Swett, Williams. It’s not difficult to pick out the Irish ones.
Reports from DNA studies on Melungeon families fill the Internet. Studies reveal a mixed-blood heritage now referred to as “Tri-Racial Isolates.” They came out of Colonial Virginia. The product of white indentured servants (thus the Irish surnames), blacks and Native Americans. Current books on Melungeon will have a chapter on the DNA findings.
From a genealogical perspective, two path breaking articles by Virginia Easley DeMarce and published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly are: “Verry Slitly Mixt”: Tri-Racial Isolate Families of the Upper South – A Genealogical Study,” 80 (March 1992): 5-35 www.genpage.com/DeMarce.pdf and “Looking at Legends – Lumbee and Melungeon: Applied Genealogy and the Origins of Tri-Racial Isolates,” 81 (March 1993): 24-45 http://historical-melungeons.blogspot.com/2008/04/looking-at-legends-lumbee-and-melungeon.htmlThe colonial roots for many of these families have also been explored in Paul Heinegg’s monumental two volume work, Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina: From the Colonial Period to About 1820 (2005): www.freeafricanamericans.com/Virginia_NC.htm and his Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware from the Colonial Period to 1810 (2000): www.freeafricanamericans.com/maryland.htm
The Melungeons are yet another chapter in our racially mixed colonial history involving the Irish. They like other Tri-Racial Isolates have survived historically because they didn’t fit in either the white and black communities.