The term "Melungeons" was first used in print in the 19th century and it was used in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina to describe people who were of mixed race or ancestry.
Previously, researchers have considered Melungeons to be tri-racial isolates. Tri-racial isolates describes people who are of European, Native American, and African ancestry.
The Melungeons are described as "dark-skinned Appalachians." In 2002, it was reported that there were 50,000 Melungeons of the 22 million people who lived in the Appalachian region. However, now the number of Melungeons is not confirmed. This is because most Melungeons have lost their identity and blended into the majority population.
Most Melungeons today appear to be white due to mostly intermarrying with whites. There may be a few who resemble their Native American or African ancestry.
The origin of the Melungeons in Appalachia remains a mystery. A recent article in News Leader reported that DNA studies were conducted on Melungeons and the genetic evidence showed that they were the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of European origin.
Sociologists theorize that the origin of the Melungeons was the union between black and white indentured servants who lived in Virginia in the 1600s before slavery began in the U.S. At the time, both white and black servants would have lived in close quarters before slavery.
However, the Melungeon Heritage site states that Melungeons are a complex mix of genetics and could share traits with people from the Mediterrenean, South Asia, Middle East, as well as Europeans, Native Americans and Africans.