Friday, July 31, 2009

What's in a Name?

The Melungeons throughout the 19th century always claimed to have Portuguese ancestry. Documenting an actual Portuguese Melungeon connection is, perhaps, the Holy Grail of Melungeon studies. If you should be so fortunate as to make the discovery, you will need to know how the Portuguese name their children, which is quite different from English and American practice.

To read about Portuguese naming conventions: Click Here.

On the other hand, the Spanish were in the Southeastern United States for three centuries, and while their naming practices are somewhat similar to the Portuguese, they are significantly different.

To read about Spanish naming conventions: Click Here.

When you read these articles, it is sobering to consider the difficulties the complications of these naming conventions present to genealogists in Portugal, Spain, Brazil and Latin America.

Note that many slaves imported into the American Southeast came from Angola, which had been a Portuguese colony since the early 16th century. And indeed the first Africans brought to Virginia were from Angola. Thus their descendants, slave or free, might well claim to be Portuguese.

Note also that Melungeon families did not follow either Portuguese or Spanish naming conventions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Life Magazine's Photo Archive Online

Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google.

To visit: Click Here.

Note: There are no Life images labeled Melungeon or Melungeons. Much more surprisingly, there are only 25 images labeled Appalachia, one of which is shown below.

Hardburly, Kentucky
October, 1953

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Veterans Grave Finder

A Service of the Veterans Administration

Search for burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker.

The Nationwide Gravesite Locator includes burial records from many sources. These sources provide varied data; some searches may contain less information than others. Information on veterans buried in private cemeteries was collected for the purpose of furnishing government grave markers, and we do not have information available for burials prior to 1997.

To use: Click Here.

Personal note: The VA grave finder did not find my father, who is buried in Arlington, so its database must be less than accurate.

Some months ago I blogged about a general grave finder called "Find a Grave" with some 35 million records, currently.

To visit it: Click Here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Questioning the Existence of Genetic Diseases Among Melungeons

By MHS President Jack Goins

I'm sure most folks visiting this blog have heard some say there are Melungeon diseases and other physical characteristics such as six fingers and toes, Anatolian knot, etc. Some have probably visited Nancy Morrison's website, which despite her denial, gives every appearance of advocating the existence of Melungeon diseases.

Let us first examine who the Melungeons were and then try to look at this from a genealogical and scientific viewpoint.

The oldest known record, 1848, which identifies the Melungeons ethnic mixture and the location where they lived:

"You must know that within ten miles of this owl's nest, there is a watering-place, and Mineral Springs in Vardy, Hancock County, Tennessee known hereabouts as 'black-water springs.' It is situated in a narrow gorge, scarcely half a mile wide, between Powell's Mountain and the Copper Ridge, and is, as you may Suppose, almost inaccessible. Now this gorge and the tops and sides of the adjoining mountains are inhabited by a singular species of the human animal called MELUNGENS. We stopped at 'Old Vardy's, the hostelries of the vicinage. Old Vardy is the 'chief cook and bottle-washer' of the Melungens, and is really a very clever fellow: but his hotel savors strongly of that peculiar perfume that one may find in the sleeping-rooms of our Negro servants.

The Melungeons carefully preserved the Legend of their history." This "Legend" according to the writer in Littell’s Living age, included an original descent from Portuguese adventures who later mixed with Indians,Negroes, and whites to form the present race.(Littell's Living Age, March, 1849 The Melungens, This was reprinted from the Knoxville Register September 6, 1848, quoting from the Louisville Examiner. This issue of the Knoxville Register has not been located.)

There appears to be no reason for this writer to have invented this detail, "The Melungeons carefully preserved the 'Legend of their history'." This "Legend" according to the writer, included an original descent from Portuguese adventures and later intermarriages with Indians, Negroes, and whites. The visit to Vardy in 1848 was revisited to his grand-children about 50 years later. " on Friday July 2, 1897.C.H. Humble returned to the same place as the writer in Littell’s Living age. This visit may have been to a mission house, because a New Presbyterian Church was completed in 1899.

"On Friday forenoon, July 2, (1897) the writer and Rev. Joseph Hamilton, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, started in a hack from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee for Beatty Collins, chief of the Melungeons, in Blackwater."

Using Vardy Collins as a benchmark for Melungeon identity: Vardemon Collins was born sometime around 1767 in Botetourt, County, Virginia, in an area now in Grayson County. He was known in the community as Vardy, but most legal documents, including his first grant in Hawkins County, used his given first name. On one bond he was called Vardy Collins, but signed his name Vardimon Collins, named from his grand-father John Vardiman.

A list of Tithables for 1771 in Botetourt County, Virginia, along the New River:

Capt. William Herbert’s Company

Charles Collins 1
John Collins 4
Samuel Collins 2
John Vardeman 1
(Mary B. Kegley, New River Tithables, 1972 (2nd print, 1973)

Since JOHN COLLINS was married to a daughter of JOHN VARDEMAN it is likely that VARDEMAN COLLINS was their son. Other evidence suggests that SAMUEL COLLINS was the oldest member of this group. Perhaps he was the father of CHARLES and JOHN. (C Goyne)

Vardiman "Vardy" Collins appears on a 1790 tax list of Wilkes County, North Carolina with two males and four females in his family. This area became Ashe County in 1799 and Vardy Collins land fell in the new county. Vadery (Vardy) and his family is listed on the 1800 census of Ashe County, North Carolina, as "6 free colored." Vardy Collins also shows up in Wilkes County court records, but no records have been found in this area which use the term "Melungeon." Vardy moved from Ashe County, North Carolina to the Blackwater area of Hawkins County in the early 1800s along with several others. According to attorney Lewis M. Jarvis they were "derisively dubbed" with the name "Melungeon" by their white neighbors who lived here among them. Most likely between 1800 and 1813.

It has been at least 200 years since these dark skin settlers were derisively dubbed with the name Melungeon, or at least seven generations, which adds 128 grand-parents to each Melungeon family. These families migrated to all parts of the United States, thus the so-called diseases would not be confined to the Appalachian area.

My question is how could any logical thinking person come up with Melungeon diseases from the makeup of the original Melungeons?. We know Portugal was made up of several ethnic groups, then add the Native American, the African, plus the white settlers. Another question is, what combination of these groups caused them to be labeled fpc, thus Melungeons? Most likely it would be a combination of the African and Native American. Then add all our other parents up to the present generation. Some diseases may be inherted from a certain ancestor, (founder effect) but this would be a medical scientific conclusion. This founder effect in this group has not been observed by any scientific study. And would this rare occurrence have happened 5 times with 5 different rare diseases?

Nancy Morrison claims she has a Mediterranean disease that would cause a reader to infer Melungeons are prone to, but lists no study for a connection between Melungeons and these Mediterranean diseases; such as Familial Mediterranean Fever, Beh├žet's syndrome, Thalassemia, Sarcoidosis and Macho-Joseph Disease. And the fact she adds no genealogy to prove a Melungeon connection puts this claim on shaky ground.

Additionally, the so-called Melungeon physical traits such as the Anatolian Knot and extra fingers and toes which have not been observed in any known Melungeon descendants are pure nonsense and deserve no credence at all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Voices from the Days of Slavery

A Presentation of the Library of Congress

The almost seven hours of recorded interviews presented here took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom. Several individuals sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement. It is important to note that all of the interviewees spoke sixty or more years after the end of their enslavement, and it is their full lives that are reflected in these recordings. The individuals documented in this presentation have much to say about living as African Americans from the 1870s to the 1930s, and beyond.

All known recordings of former slaves in the American Folklife Center are included in this presentation. Some are being made publicly available for the first time and several others already available now include complete transcriptions. Biographies of most of the interviewees are included.

To visit the collection: Click Here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fort Boonesborough

The legendary exploits of Daniel Boone have been blogged here before. [To review: Click Here.]

The mission of the Fort Boonesborough Foundation is to sustain, foster, and promote quality programming at Fort Boonesborough State Park and Boone's Station Historic Site.

The majority of historical, craft, and educational programs at Fort Boonesborough and Boone Station Historic Site are supported by funding from the foundation.

To visit the Foundation's web site: Click Here.

To visit the Fort Boonesborough State Park's web site: Click Here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Earl Shaffer and the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail was proposed in 1921 and completed in 1937. Not until 1948, however, did anyone hike it from one end to the other in one continuous journey. Indeed, some thought it virtually impossible. The first person accomplish this feat, at a time when the trail was not nearly so well marked as it is today and guidebooks and even maps were nonexistent, was Earl Shaffer.

To read his story: Click Here.

For more on the Appalachian Trail: Click Here.

For a detailed PDF map of the Appalachian Trail: Click Here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tennessee Court System Prior to 1870

By Charles A. Sherrill
Tennessee State Library and Archives

For Tennessee's first hundred years, Justices of the Peace were the foundation of the state's legal system. These men, often without legal training, served the citizens in their counties by resolving minor disputes, performing marriages, and serving on the quarterly court. They saved both time and expense by resolving issues without formal court proceedings. The regular courts changed and evolved through the years, but the Justice of the Peace remained the first source of help for citizens with legal problems.

The Watauga Association formed the first court in what is now Tennessee, in 1772. The five members of this court served as both legislators and judges, under the leadership of John Carter.

In 1776 North Carolina accepted responsibility for the Tennessee frontier and authorized John Carter to continue holding a court at Jonesboro for the "Washington District." When Washington County was organized in 1778, this court became the County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Appeals were technically (though not practically) grantable to the Superior Court of Law and Equity of Salisbury District, 200 miles to the east.

To continue reading: Click Here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Banns, Marriage Bonds and Licenses, and Bastardy Bonds

Compiled by Fred Smoot
For the Tennessee GenWeb Project


In order to be married outside of the civil authorities, a couple could publish “banns,” or intent to be married, at there local church or meeting house for three consecutive weeks, or meetings. If there were no objection to the marriage, the clergyman would marry the couple. This “marriage by banns” required no reporting to civil authorities, therefore it was recorded only in the church records and perhaps the family Bible. Unfortunately, many church records have been lost, leaving many a genealogist searching for the old elusive family Bible.

The main objection to the marriage that could be raised was the question of an earlier marriage by either the man or the woman. Bigamy existed then, just as it does today.

A more legal definition of “Banns of matrimony” from Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition:

“Public notice or proclamation of a matrimonial contract, and the intended celebration of the marriage of the parties in pursuance of such contract. Such announcement is required by certain religions to be made in a church or chapel, during service, on three consecutive Sundays before the marriage is celebrated. The object of is to afford an opportunity for any person to interpose an objection if he knows any impediment or other just cause why the marriage should not take place.”

Marriage Bonds and Licenses

“In 1660-61 the [Virginia] law requiring a bond was first enacted. Because of a scarcity of ministers, the colony required that all persons wishing to be married by license must go to the county court clerk and give bond with sufficient security (usually $150 by the 19th century) that there was no lawful cause to prevent the marriage. The license was then prepared by the clerk and presented to the minister who would perform the ceremony.” From the introduction to the published Frederick Co., VA Marriage Bonds, by John Vogt & T. William Kethley, Jr., Iberian Publishing Company.

The bondsman or surety was to be “able and knowne.” Often, this person was a brother or uncle to the bride, not necessarily a parent. The rich and established uncle was an excellent candidate for bondsman. The bondsman could be related to the groom, but from what we have seen, that situation would occur less often.

In Tennessee, three documents were created at the time of a marriage.

* The first was the marriage bond.
* The second was the license, wherein the court authorized the marriage, and the official signed the back to show that it had been performed.
* The ledger where the clerk copied some information from these two sources is known as the official marriage record, and is often the only surviving part of the record.

Charles A. Sherrill, Tenn. State Library & Archives; has furnished the following information on this subject according to his understanding of the material he has read.

* The groom had to assure the State that he was able to be legally married (was not already married to someone else, under age, or ineligible because of close blood relationship, etc.)
* This assurance was given in the form of a bond for a certain amount of money. The friend or relative signed as the groom's security on the bond, commonly known as becoming a bondsman.
* If indeed the groom had been sued for violating the marriage contract, the bondsman would have had to pay any legal damages if the groom defaulted.
* No money actually changed hands at the time the bond was issued.
* This bonding procedure was used across Tennessee and in other southern states in the 19th century.

“I am not certain whether a woman could sue for breach of contract under this bond, in a case where a man failed to actually go through with the marriage. I have seen one or two cases of that type, but do not know whether they were successful. However, this bond did provide legal protection for a woman who married a man and then found he already had a wife.”

Bastardy Bonds

This bond was required from father of illegitimate children. This bond was usually made with County Court where the mother resided. The intent was to protect the county from being forced to support the child. Occasionally, these records still survive.

John Haywood’s manual for Tennessee Justices of the Peace (1810, reissued 1816) lists bastardy as an un-indictable offence which can be tried before any two justices. If found guilty the father is to be brought before the full court to provide bond and security. This would be the County Court comprised of all the justices, not the Superior Court. The bond is technically a “bastardy” bond, not a “bastard” bond. (Charles A. Sherrill, Tenn. State Library & Archives.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

North Carolina's Cession of Its Western Territory

In 1790 North Carolina ceded its western territory to the US government, thereby paving the way for the formation of the state of Tennessee.

To read the act of Congress accepting the cession, including the full text of the North Carolina legislature's act of cession: Click Here.

Of particular genealogical interest is the stipulation that land grants in the ceded territory made by North Carolina to its Revolutionary War veterans be honored.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Information Delight: A Web Site that Gets It Right

The web is full of misinformation about Melungeons, everything from tales of stranded Turks to Melungeon diseases to bumps on the backs of Melungeon heads. Therefore it is a pleasure to find a general information web site where someone has taken the trouble to do the research to get it right. Such a site is To quote just one short paragraph:

"A common belief about Melungeons is that they are an indigenous people of Appalachia, existing there before the arrival of the first white settlers. However, as evidenced by a range of tax, court, census and other records, the ancestors of the Melungeons followed the same migration paths into the region as their English, Scotch-Irish , and German neighbors."

It is incredible how many web sites claim the Melungeons were found in situ in Eastern Tennessee by 17th century English explorers, speaking Elizabethan English and bowing to a bell, etc. The evidence against this myth is overwhelming, yet over and over again the myth, and the romance that goes with it, triumphs over the truth and is so often repeated that many take it for common knowledge and are thereby seriously misled.

To read Information Delight's Melungeon article: Click Here.

It should be noted that the Information Delight article draws heavily on Wikipedia's Melungeon article, which is also pretty good -- perhaps surprisingly so given the nature of Wikipedia.

To view it: Click Here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Goinstown, North Carolina

Rockingham & Stokes Counties

Notes on Goinstown by Professor G.C. Waldrep III

"Goinstown's history appears to begin in the 1770's with families (chiefly Gibsons and Goinses) moving in from what is usually called the "Flat River settlement" in what is now northern Durham Co. (then Orange Co.). This was a small fragment of that former settlement, most of whose members ultimately wound up in east Tennessee and became the "Melungeons".

"The Goinstown community went from being legally "white" (more or less, up through about 1810) to "free colored" or "mulatto" (through most of the 19th century) to "Black" (circa 1880-1910s) to "Indian" (1910s to 1954) to "white" (finally, with the merging of the "Indian" Goinstown school into the white Stoneville system in 1954).

The birth and death certificates from Goinstown, on both sides of the county line, reveal, at last check, 19 different racial labels (1912-1950) including all the usual categories as well as some truly interesting ones, such as "Portuguese" and on one occasion, "Jap".

"It is very difficult to get anyone at Goinstown to talk about their heirtage. By and large the legacy of shame associated.with nonwhite status is still too recent for any of the older (and more knowledgeable) people to talk.

"There is a persistent theory that the Goinstowners represent descendants of the more or less indigenous Sauratown Indians, but nothing to prove that, and in fact all of the core familes can be traced back out of the area.

"The core Goinstown surnames are Gibson, Goins, Harris, Moore, Riddle/Ridley, and Rickman (mostly "Hickman" by early 1900's). Fringe names associated with the community at later dates, and for varying periods of time are Cox, Farmer, Martin, Kimmons, Liles, Banks and Vernon. These were all not quite white families who moved into the area and/or married into Goinstown pre-Civil War.

"Belton, Bridgeman, Norton, Thacker and Fraser are the five white families known to have married into the community pre-1860. After the Civil War intermarriage with whites went down to zero, as it did in other multiracial communities; Goinstowners married exclusively among themselves, except for a handful who married Blacks and were more or less expelled, and also a larger group who started migrating out of Goinstown (mainly to the coalfields of West Virginia)."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Walk in the Appalachians

View from North Mountain Trail
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Blog Entry by Matthew Burns

I visited home over the 4th of July weekend, and while there I was struck with an idea. That idea was to walk a little of the North Mountain Trail [Roanoke and Craig Counties, Virginia] at the top of our mountain. I had been down the trail many, many times over the years, and I remembered it was really pretty, very quiet and a good walk. I asked my Mom and my brother to go with me, and they did.

To continue this narrative, with more pictures: Click Here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Husband of MHS Research VP Passes Away

Jerry Wayne Ferguson, age 65 of London, KY passed away on July 16th, 2009 of complications from pneumonia after a long battle with cancer. His parents were Willis and Mattie Ferguson who both preceded him in death. He is survived by his wife Penny Feltner Ferguson of London, Kentucky, and two daughters, Cristie (Robert) Houston, and Amanda (Brandon) Sears, both of Richmond, Kentucky. He was blessed with five grandchildren: Daniel, Jonas, Hannah, Philomena, and Matthias Houston. He is also survived by one brother, Terry Ferguson of Lexington, Kentucky, and two sisters, Beverly Salyor of Fairfield, Ohio, and Jeanette Gaines of London, Kentucky. Visitation will be 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 21st at House Rawlings Funeral Home in London, Kentucky. Service and burial will follow at Camp Nelson National Military Cemetery in Jessamine County at 1:30 p.m. Flowers are welcome or donations may be sent to the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, 1500 College Way, Lexington, KY 40502.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Virginia's Independent Cities

With the exception of three independent cities located elsewhere -- see comment below -- Virginia is the only state with independent cities. Independent cities are politically and administratively separate from the county or counties in which they are geographically located. Independent cities operate their own court system. As of now, there are thirty-nine independent cities in Virginia.

To view a current list of Virginia's independent cities with links and addresses where their records may be located: Click Here.

Note: This list is not entirely correct as it contains two former independent cities -- Clifton Forge and South Boston -- which gave up their charters and ceased to be independent.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My[your-state-of-interest] sponsors a series of state genealogy web pages whose URLs are all of the from http://my[state], for example: Among other historical and genealogical information and resources, these pages all contain a handy graphical county finder for the state, with links to county level resources, a lucid thumbnail history of the state, a useful list of extinct counties and a very useful list of courthouse fires which may, or may not, have caused records to be lost, in some cases including an assessment of the extent of the damage and places where the records involved may still be found.

The Virginia site is exceptionally complete.

To view the Virginia site: Click Here.

To view the Tennessee site: Click Here.

To view the Kentucky site: Click Here.

To view the North Carolina site: Click Here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Grave Matters: The Ancient Rights of the Graveyard

By Alfred L. Brophy
Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law
J.D., Columbia University; Ph.D., Harvard University

Brigham Young University Law Review 1469 (2006)

Descendants of people buried in cemeteries on private property have a common law right to access that property to visit the cemetery. That right, which is akin to an implied easement in gross, is recognized by statute in about a quarter of states and by case law in many others. Grave Matters explores the origins, nature, and scope of the little-recognized right and its implications for property theory. It discusses the right as part of well-established property doctrine and its relationship to recent takings cases, as well as the corollary graveyard right against desecration and the correlative right of communities to relocate cemeteries.

The right of access, which traces its roots to the early the nineteenth-century, is important because it is one of the few implied rights of access to private property. It limits, by implication, the right to exclude, which is at the core of property rights. Thus, it offers a way of getting access to property without facing a takings claim. Moreover, the right is important because it reminds us that there are limits of the right of exclusion, which were recognized at common law. The right of relocation further illustrates the careful balancing of property rights with the community's right. Thus, the graveyard rights together emerge as vestiges of the nineteenth-century's consideration of community and property. A final section suggests the importance of the right of access for recent discussion about reparations for the era of slavery, for the right of access provides a property right (an easement) in descendants of slaves buried on plantations to access those plantations. The property held by descendants provides important symbolic connections between the past and present and offers hope of a lawsuit for reparations that is not barred by the statute of limitations.

To read this scholarly paper in its entirety as a PDF file: Click Here.

To read as web pages: Click Here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Descendants of James Mullins

By MHS Board Member Keven Mullins

Updated July 3, 2009

Generation No. 1

1. James1 Mullins was born Abt. 1780 in England?, and died Bef. 1837 in Hawkins Co., TN. He married Clara Martin Abt. 1805. She was born Abt. 1780 in VA, and died Aft. 1860.

Notes for James Mullins:

James MULLINS, also known as "Irish Jim", or "Harelip Jim", was the progenitor of the Newman's Ridge Mullins clan. He was supposedly born in England, ca.1780, though there are some who believe that he was born in NC, and is part of the other Mullins families in the VA, NC, TN, and KY area in the late 1700's. It is not certain how Irish Jim's family fit in with the other Mullins families, but some appear to be associated with Melungeon groups, which, seemingly, would make them related somehow. But, as far as I know, no link has been found between Jim and other Mullins', such as Hiram Mullins, Booker Mullins, and Flower Mullins.

Tradition states that Jim migrated to America in the last years of the 18th century, became a trader, and migrated to Lee Co., VA/ Hancock Co., TN, ca. 1805, where he bought land on Newman's Ridge (at that time, Hancock Co was part of Hawkins Co) and Blackwater Creek. In the Hancock Co. census of 1880, his surviving children listed their father as being born in England. As far as I know, that is the only documentation that states this.

To continue reading this very detailed genealogy: Click Here.

Note: Kevin's research is ongoing and he would like to hear from anyone with Newman's Ridge connections at:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Through the Back Door

Melungeon Literacies and Twenty-first Century Technologies

By Katherine Vande Brake, Ph.D.
Published by Mercer Press, 2009

Review by MHS Board Memeber Janet Crain

The Melungeons were a dark skinned people of indeterminate origin who were documented as having lived chiefly in East Tennessee and the surrounding area as early as about 1800. Once little known, they exploded to prominence in the last quarter of the twentieth century. An outdoor drama; Walking Toward the Sunset and a book; The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People by Brent Kennedy were chiefly responsible for bringing these people to national attention and then the Internet spread their fame like wildfire. Some of this notoriety was good. But some only served to spread false rumors as baseless as the local ones they replaced.

Some very well researched scholarly books followed. All this attention attracted the interest of academia. They arrived en masse to study, poke, prod and analyze the subjects. This book, Through the Back Door: Melungeon Literacies and Twenty-first Century Technologies by Katerine Vande Brake is the result of just such an effort. This is not a book to read to learn about Melungeon history. It has been removed from Mercer's offerings of Melungeon books with good reason. In my opinion, it is not a good book period, because there are too many false statements in it. I just finished this book and I am still wondering why a professional educator would write a book like this.

To continue reading this review, with which I heartily concur: Click Here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Bell Witch

The Bell Witch of Robertson County, Tenneesseee is said to be the only paranormal event ever commemorated in the United States by a state-erected roadside historical marker, as can be seen in the photo above (click on it to enlarge).

It is certainly one of the most elaborate, detailed ghost stories ever told, with the haunting persisting, on a highly dramatic and almost continuous basis, from 1820 to 1828, and involving Andrew Jackson, no less.

Or so the story goes.

To read a fairly detailed account of the Bell Witch story: Click Here.

To read what really happened, or rather what didn't really happen: Click Here.

This is not merely an unusually colorful bit of Tennessee lore and legend. There is a moral here that very much pertains to Melungeon research: There are many lurid tales told in print and on the net about the Melungeons and Melungeon origins, but the more closely and critically you examine them, the more you find there is little or no truth to them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

13th Annual Appalachian Festival

Raleigh County, West Virginia

The 13th Annual Appalachian Festival is three big days packed with arts, crafts, entertainment, music, food and fun! Held in Beckley and throughout Raleigh County, Friday, August 28 – Sunday, August 30, this year’s festival promises to deliver!

Start each day with a down-home, hearty Appalachian style breakfast. Sample delicious cuisine at Taste of Appalachia while enjoying jazz & pop bands. For the history buffs (and the brave at heart) take a thrilling Ghost Tour and explore Beckley’s haunted sites. Check out beautiful quilts, stunning art, and crafts lovingly made by over 100 artisians! Theatre WV offers a Friday night performance by Phil Dirt & the Dozers that will have you laughing and singing along! There’s a flea market, coal mine tours, and folk music harkening back to the roots of Appalachia! For the auto enthusiasts, don’t miss the Classic Car Show featuring more than 100 classic automobiles!

There’s more … craft demonstrations, strolling musicians, and bluegrass bands … all the best of West Virginia’s native talent! Don’t miss the Appalachian Festival! It’s sure to delight your senses and put a smile on your face! Events take place throughout Raleigh County. Check out activities at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center (former armory), Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, Crossroads Mall, Grandview Park, Tamarack, Uptown Beckley, and the Youth Museum of Southern WV.

For more information: Click Here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wilkes County History and Genealogy

Wilkes County, in Northwest North Carolina, was formed in 1777 from Surry County and the District of Washington, the act becoming effective February 15, 1778. It was named in honor of John Wilkes, a violent opponent of the Tory party in England who was not allowed to take the seat in Parliament to which he had been elected, because the Patriots in North Carolina, then fighting the Revolutionary War, believed that he was suffering in the cause of liberty like themselves.

A number of the Melungeon core families stopped off for a generation or two in Wilkes County prior to settling on and around Newman's Ridge and Blackwater Creek in what is now Hancock County, Tennessee.

To read about Wilkes County in New River Notes: Click Here.

To visit the Wilkes County Genealogical Society: Click Here.

To go to the Wilkes County GenWeb site: Click Here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Another Look at the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions

Quoting from Primary Sources

About three months ago the MHS Blog featured entries on the expeditions of Hernando De Soto and Juan Pardo, the two earliest European explorations of the interior of the American southeast and Southern Appalachia.

To read another account of both expeditions based on primary sources: Click Here.

To view the previous blog entry on De Soto: Click Here.

To view the previous blog entry on Pardo: Click Here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Watauga Association

The Watauga Association (sometimes referred to as the Republic of Watauga) was a semi-autonomous government created in 1772 by frontier settlers along the Watauga River in what is now the U.S. state of Tennessee. Although it lasted less than a decade, the Association provided a basis for what later developed into the state of Tennessee and likely influenced other frontier governments in the Trans-Appalachian region. In 1778, after North Carolina annexed the Watauga settlements, the Watauga Association was replaced by a county government.[1]

Some of the "Overmountain Men" discussed yesterday had been members of the Watauga Association.

To read more: Click Here and Click Here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Battle of King's Mountain

The Battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780, was a decisive Patriot victory in the Southern campaign of the American Revolutionary War. Frontier militia loyal to the United States overwhelmed the Loyalist American militia led by British Major Patrick Ferguson of the 71st Foot. In The Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt wrote of Kings Mountain, "This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution."

Essential to the American victory was a contingent of men, known as the "Overmountain Men" -- who came from what is now extreme western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.

To read more about the battle: Click Here.

To see a roster of the men who fought in it on the American side: Click Here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New MHS Officers

Jack Goins, the premier Melungeon researcher and genealogist, Hawkins County Archivist, discoverer of the oldest known written reference to the Melungeons, and author of Melungeons and Other Pioneer Families is the new Melungeon Historical Society President. Jack, one of the founding members of the MHS, brings with him more than four decades of meticulously documented Melungeon research and the respect of every serious Melungeon researcher.

Taking Jack's place as MHS Vice-President for Heritage is Kathy James, another notable Melungeon researcher and genealogists, author of, among other works, The Gipson Tree..Looking Up the Damily Tree, which documents the Alfred and Lena Sexton Gibson Family of Newman's Ridge, and Chair of the Genealogy Committee of the Kate Barry D.A.R. Chapter in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Continuing as MHS Vice-President for Research is Penny Ferguson; and continuing as MHS Secretary/Treasurer is Becky Nelson.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Melungeons

A previous MHS Blog entry dealing with the company stores of the Appalachian coalfields used Tennessee Ernie Ford's song "Sixteen Tons" as its introduction. [To view: Click Here.] A comment on it made by MHS board member Kevin Mullins asked if anyone knew anything about Ford being involved with raising money for the Melungeon outdoor drama, Walk Toward the Sunset, which was produced at Sneedville in Hancock County from 1969 to 1976. The Kingsport Post article dated February 11, 1971 linked to below discusses this and much more about Tennessee Ernie Ford and the Melungeons.

To read: Click Here.

Note: The article is lengthy and the web site presents a digital image of the original newspaper article, not a transcription of it. The image is quite clear and easily read but no scrollbars are provided. To read the entire article, you must drag it up and down the screen using your mouse: Place your mouse cursor over it -- it will turn into a little hand -- grab the article by holding down your left mouse button, then, keeping your left mouse button depressed, move your mouse to reposition the article on the screen as needed to read it all .

Friday, July 3, 2009

Proving Your Native American Heritage with DNA

Successfully Using Y-Line, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA Results

Written by MHS Board Member Roberta Estes , Copyright 2007-2009
Contact information:

Many American families carry oral histories of Native American heritage. Most often, we think of either the Western tribes who still reside in or near their indigenous homes, or the Cherokee who were displaced in the 1830s, forced to march from Appalachia to Oklahoma in the dead of winter, an event subsequently known as the Trail of Tears.

In truth, the history of Native American heritage in North America is much, much more complex. It is probable that many of the people who carry oral history of “Cherokee heritage” are actually descended from a tribe other than the Cherokee initially. The Cherokee were well known for accepting remnants of other tribes whose members and numbers had been decimated by disease or war. Sometimes these alliances were created for mutual protection.

The Cherokees were not the only tribe in the Eastern United States. The Eastern seaboard was widely populated by varying tribes, some related and affiliated, and some not. There were in fact three major language groupings, Algonquin, Souian and Iroquoian scattered throughout the Eastern seaboard northward into Canada, westward to Appalachia and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

People from Africa were also imported very early, often, but not always, as slaves. Jamestown shows evidence of individuals of African heritage. Those who were later brought specifically as slaves sometimes ran away, escaping into the Native population. Conversely, Indians were often taken or sold by defeating tribes into slavery as well.

In the early years of settlement, European women were scarce. Some men immigrated with wives and families, but most did not, and few women came alone. Therefore, with nature taking its course, it is not unreasonable to surmise that many of the early settlers traded with, worked alongside and married into indigenous families, especially immigrants who were not wealthy. Wealthy individuals traveled back and forth across the Atlantic and could bring a bride on a subsequent journey.

Further complicating matters, there were numerous “lost” individuals of varying ethnicity in the very early years of colonization. Specifically, Juan Pardo established forts in many southern states from Florida to Tennessee and back to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean beginning in 1566. In 1540, deSoto ventured all the way across the South to the Mississippi, northwards as far as Tennessee, introducing the Indians along the way to Spanish savagery.

The Spanish settled Florida and explored the interior beginning in 1521, settling Santa Elena Island in present day South Carolina from 1566-1576. Their forays extended as far North as present day East Tennessee. In 1569, 3 English men arrived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia having set out on foot with 100 men 4000 miles earlier in Tampico, Mexico. The notorious Capt. Drake rescued and subsequently possibly released 400-500 or more African, Portuguese and Moor galley slaves likely on or near Roanoke Island in North Carolina in 1586. [For a very different and well-researched view of the likelihood of this having actually occurred: Click Here.] These individuals are in addition to the well-known Lost Colony of Roanoke, and the less well-known earlier military expeditions on which several individuals were “lost” or left behind.

What does this mean to the family historian who is trying to prove their genealogy and understand better just who they are and where they come from?

To continue reading this very informative article: Click Here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Melungeons and Myth

By George R. Gibson


This article was published originally in the December 2002 issue of the Appalachian Quarterly, a genealogical magazine in southwest Virginia. Mountain people were at one time described as pure Anglo-Saxon. This was, of course, pure nonsense. Today some writers seem obsessed with describing mountaineers as mostly Celtic or Scots-Irish. The truth is that the mountain people have a varied ancestry, as do many people in America. I grew up among Gibson and Collins families in Knott County, Kentucky. Some members of a few families were very dark, with a distinctive Indian appearance, while some members had a more African American appearance. There were other local families that were said to have African American or Indian ancestry. Through genealogical research I have established that a very talented Knott County family of banjo players had a grandfather that was described as Mulatto in census records.

Gibson and Collins are common surnames among some remnant Indian populations. They are also the most common surnames among mountain families that are today described as “Melungeon.” There has been a lot of romantic nonsense written about Melungeons in various places, including the Internet. The Gibson and Collins families described today as Melungeon came originally from east Virginia to the border counties of Virginia and North Carolina. From there they migrated to southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee, eastern Kentucky and to other areas. I have found that several other families in eastern Kentucky also followed this general migration path. It was through this migration path, I believe, that banjos and banjo songs entered Knott County.

To continue reading this excellent article found in a very unexpected place: Click Here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Native Americans in the Census, 1860–1890

By James P. Collins
Writing in Prologue
Summer 2006, Vol. 38, No. 2
A Publication of the National Archives

An examination of the annual census records from 1860 to 1890 shows the beginnings of the enumeration of Native Americans in the census. Article I, section 2, of the Constitution requires a census to be taken every 10 years so that seats in the House of Representatives can be apportioned among the states. Section 2 excludes "Indians not taxed"—those Indians living on reservations or those roaming in unsettled areas of the country.

The first federal decennial census that clearly identifies any Native Americans is the 1860 census.1 The instructions to the 1860 census enumerators defined who was to be counted and who was not:

Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under state or territory laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated.2

Most genealogy guides that address Native Americans in the census incorrectly state that the first federal decennial census in which at least a portion of the Indian population is enumerated is 1870. Although the 1870 census schedule is the first to list "Indian" as a choice in the column heading for "Color," Native Americans were enumerated earlier. Even though the 1860 census schedule does not include "Indian" as a choice in the column heading for "Color," enumerators nevertheless followed the instructions cited in the previous paragraph and recorded more than 40,000 Indians.

To continue reading this excellent article: Click Here.