I was raised in the Tri-County and, in the early 90s when I had long, black, straight hair and very dark skin, I was often asked if I was Indian. I had been told there were Native American women in my family. I later started researching my family and found there were free persons of color and mulattos in my family.
My family had been referred to as Melungeon and lived alongside other Melungeon families in the Newman’s Ridge area in Eastern Tennessee. These people were neither white, African, nor Indian.
I do know I’m tri-racial. Facts show that my family did mix in America, and history shows there was mixing in Europe. And I bet there is a very high percentage of people in Eastern Kentucky with Native American history.
I recently had my DNA analyzed. Although it’s thought most people in this area were from Ireland or Scotland, maybe even England, my DNA came back 65 percent Scandinavian, 23 percent Mediterranean and 12 percent “other.” A review of my raw DNA showed the 12 percent contains Native American, Central Asian and West African.
I would encourage anyone interested in researching their own families to rely on solid data. Some ancestry sites on the Internet aren’t always accurate. Look for historical records, including Revolutionary War documents, land/tax records, census records, etc.
My research showed tri-racial families moved into Kentucky in the early 1800s to live in counties like Harlan, Clay and Perry (with Leslie County being formed many years later — always remember that counties changed shape and location). So, if your family is in one county one year and another the next year, they might not have moved at all.
I hope some of this information helps you on your journey to discover your true roots. It can be very rewarding!