The Psalm 87 Connection

What are the Physical Markers of Sephardic Jews and Melungeons?

 Melungeons and Arthritic-like disease


Nancy Sparks Morrison

Roanoke, VA 24015




December, 1998


The opinions in this post are strictly my own, but have been based upon my reading

and research of various materials noted herein. You may SHARE my work with anyone,

but it is not to be sold or used for profit in any way, without my permission.

Because there is so much information here, you may want to print out this material

for future reference.


Are you familiar with the term Melungeon? If you answer, “Who or what are Melungeons,” you are like most people. If you have been researching your family in the Cumberland Plateau of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, and

Tennessee, during the early migration years, you may be able to find them through a connection to this group of people who are only now being researched with unbiased eyes.

The Melungeons are a people of apparent Mediterranean descent who may have settled in theAppalachian wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1567. (The Melungeons: The

Resurrection of a Proud People; N. Brent Kennedy, Mercer University Press, Macon, GA, USA, 1997; introduction, p. xiii) The Mediterrean includes areas of North Africa, southern Europe and Central Asia.



According to Dr. Kennedy, the Melungeons were “a people who almost certainly intermarried with Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokees to form what some have called, perhaps a bit  FANCIFULLY, ‘a new race’.”  Dr. Kennedy does not believe that we can call the Melungeons a ‘race.’.  No dictionary definition of race fits with what we know of the Melungeons and recently, The American

Anthropological Association, declared that ‘race,’ was an inaccurate, artificial way of defining a people and was no longer of any value.


Certain surnames are associated with this highly interesting group of people. I am including  a copy of those names. Be aware, however, that many people bearing these surnames, even if they come from the Appalachian area, are NOT connected to

the Melungeons. The surnames are to be used as an INDICATOR of POSSIBLE Melungeon ancestry. Also, note that many Melungeon women ‘out-married,’ carrying the heritage with them, but not the names. Not having one of these names DOES NOT mean that the family was not of Melungeon descent.


Finding out about the Melungeons and my possible connection to them is the MOST fascinating thing I have EVER run into in my 20 years of genealogical research. The ‘so-called,’ Melungeons were  ‘discovered’ in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by English explorers and were described as being ‘dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people supposed to be of Moorish descent, who were neither Indian nor

Negro, but had fine European features, and claimed to be Portuguese.” (Louise Davis, “The Mystery of the Melungeons.” Nashville Tennessean, 22 September, 1963,16.)


In April of 1673, James Needham, an Englishman and Gabriel Arthur, possibly an indentured servant came with approximately eight Indians, as explorers to the Tennessee Valley. There, Needham described finding “hairy people .... (who) have a bell which is six foot over which they ring morning and evening and at that time a great number

of people congregrate together and talkes” in a language not English nor any Indian dialect that the accompanying Indians knew. And yet these people seemingly looked European. Needham described them as “hairy, white people which have long beards and whiskers and weares clothing.”  This bell seems to me to speak of a Latin influence among these people. Other, later explorers, found people who lived in log cabins with peculiar arched windows.  Dr.Kennedy says that by the late 1700’s they were practicing  the Christian religion.


These people claimed that they were descended from a group of Portugese who had been shipwrecked or abandoned on the Atlantic coast. (Byron Stinson, “The Melungeons,” American History Illustrated, November, 1973:41) The term they used was ‘Portyghee.’ In other documents, some of these peoples were also described as having red hair and others with VERY distinctive blue or blue/green eyes. This description leads me to believe that these people were not Native American Indians. Altogether they must have been a striking looking people.


Most Americans have been taught in school about the Lost Colony and Jamestown in 1607, Plymouth in 1620, with a few Spaniards and a smattering of Viking thrown in for good measure.  Where did these people come from?  First of all, as the mixed-ancestry descendents of native Americans as well as other ethnic identities, many Melungeons will find this question to be offensive--many of their true ancestors were

ALREADY here, prior to contact with European and African in-migrants, the Official Voice of the Second Union Planning Committee says. But recent research is giving an interesting answer to that question.  Again, from the Official Voice of the Second Union Planning

Committee comes the  answer to this question.  They “are a sizable mixed-ethnic population spread throughout the southeastern United States and into southern Ohio and  Indiana. While the term ‘Melungeon’ is most commonly applied to those group members living in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and southern West Virginia, related mixed-ancestry populations also include the Carmel Indians of southern Ohio, the Brown People of Kentucky, the Guineas of West Virginia, the We-Sorts of Maryland, the Nanticoke-Moors of Delaware, the Cubans and Portuguese of North Carolina, the Turks and Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Creoles and Redbones of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.”


From the same source we find that “new evidence or rather old evidences re-examined without prejudice, show a significant Spanish and Portuguese presence in sixteenth-century America, including the large South Carolina coastal colony of Santa Elena, as well as five outlying forts in what is now present day South Carolina, North Carolina, north Georgia, and east Tennessee.  Additionally men of the Spanish and Portuguese newcomers were so-called ‘Conversos,’ -  that is, ethnic Jewish and Moorish people who had converted to Catholicism prior to or during the Spanish Inquisition. Evidence is also strong (see the work of English historian David Beers Quinn) that in 1586 Sir Francis Drake deposited several hundred Turkish and Moorish sailors, liberated from the Spanish, in present-day Central America, on the coast

of North Carolina at Roanoke Island. No trace was found of these people when later English vessels dropped anchor for re-supplying.”


If you believe the Bering Strait migration of the Native American Indians and you consider that most sixteenth century Turkish sailors were of central Asian heritage, thus making them literal cousins to the Native Americans they would have encountered, you will see that they would have had little trouble fitting in. There is more evidence of Karachi, and Kavkaz Turkish, and Armenian, textile workers, artisans and

servants who were brought in by both the English and Spanish into sixteenth century Virginia and other areas.This seems to lend support to previous claims of Melungeons to be of Turkish origin.  These people survived by blending into the surrounding groups of peoples. Over time, they were put in to one of four permissable, inflexible and artificial

racial categories: White (northern European), black (African), Indian,

or mulatto, a mix of any of the first three.


By the time that the first U.S. census was conducted, there had been 200 years of admixture and cultural fusing. This ensured that the story would remain hidden and buried, and that no amount of the census research could ever tell the story accurately. Traditional genealogy can not be used to find these people. There are are no written records, no censuses, no marriage or death notices.


Dr. Kennedy’s interest in the Melungeons began with an illness that took him to the emergency room in Atlanta, Georgia where he was diagnosed with erythema nodosum sarcoidosis. In researching his own illness, Dr. Kennedy found that it is a disease of primarily Middle Eastern and Mediterrean peoples, although it is not unknown among the Irish and Scandanavians.  He later discovered it was

equally common among the Portuguese immigrants of New England, and both southeastern Blacks and Caucasians of seemingly unrelated backgrounds. He was told that he would just have to wait to see if he lived or died.  How could a southerner, of Appalachian roots, have a Mediterrean disease? It was this question that Dr. Kennedy set out to answer, by tracing his family background, and in the process he ‘rediscovered his heritage.’ His book, mentioned earlier, is not about historical research, but his family’s genealogy and theoretical problem solving.


There are some physiological characteristics which are called ethnic markers, that seem to be passed on through the lines of some Melungeon descendants.  There is a bump on the back of the HEAD of SOME descendants, that is located at mid-line, just ABOVE the juncture with the neck.  It is about the size and shape of half a golf ball or smaller. If you cannot find the bump, check to see if you, like some descendants, including myself, have a ridge, located at the base of the head where it joins the neck, rather than the Anatolian bump. This ridge is an enlargement of the base of the skull, which is called a Central Asian Cranial Ridge. My ridge is quite noticeable. It is larger than anyone else’s that I have felt, except my father’s.  I can lay one finger under it and the ridgeis as deep as my finger is thick.  Other ridges are smaller. To find a ridge, place your hand at the base of your neck where it joins your shoulders, and on the center line of your spine.  Run your fingers straight up your neck toward your head.  If you have a ridge, it will stop your fingers from going on up and across your head. ONLY people who lived in the Anatolian region of Turkey or Central Asia also have this “bump/ridge.”


There is also a ridge on the back of the first four teeth - two front teeth and the ones on either side (upper and lower) of some descendants.  If you place your fingernail at the gum line and gently draw (up or down) you can feel it and it makes a slight clicking sound. The back of the teeth also curve outward rather than straight as the

descendants of anglo-saxon parentage do.  Teeth like these are called Asian Shovel Teeth. Many Indian descendants also have this type of teeth.  The back of the first four teeth of Northern European descendants are straight and flat. An example of northern European teeth would be similar to this diagram: \|  Shovel teeth look like this diagram. Back of teeth )/ front of teeth, straight.


SOME Melungeon descendants have what is called an Asian eyefold.  This is rather difficult to describe.  At the inner corner of the eye, the upper lid attaches slightly lower than the lower lid. That is to say that, it overlaps the bottom lid.  If you place your finger just under the inner corner of the eye and gently pull down, a wrinkle will form which makes the fold more visible.  Some people call these eyes, “sleepy eyes, dreamy eyes, bedroom eyes.” Many Indian descendants also have these kinds of eyes.


Some families may have members with fairly dark skin who suffer with vitiligo, a loss of pigmentation, leaving the skin blotched with white patches.  Some descendants have had six fingers or toes.  There is a family of people in Turkey whose surname translated into English is “Six Fingered Ones.”


If your family has an Indian Grandmother(father) ‘myth’ which you have been unable to prove, an adoption story that is unprovable, or an orphan myth, and they have been hard to trace and they lived in NC, TN, KY, VA, WV areas in the early migration years or if they seem to have moved back and forth in these areas and if they share any of the mentioned surnames and characteristics, you MAY find a connection here.  Some descendants do not show the physical characteristics and of course, there are many people with the surnames who are not connected to this group.





by S Levin. M.D.

posted by Rufina Bernardetti to the forum

Who would have thought that an obscure German anthropologist called Baelz, living in Tokyo 100 years ago, could have disturbed ashes and the memories of 500 years and unsettled the placid thoughts of a Portuguese family from Maputo living in Johannesburg today? Well, he did, in a very round about way, and it is an interesting story.

In 1885 Baelz published a paper in a German anthropological journal calling attention to a hitherto unrecorded feature among Japanese babies. Very often infants are born with a dark blue stain, a birthmark, low down on the back or legs which gradually fades and disappears over the course of about a year.He called the stain "Mongolische Flecken"-- Mongolian Spots. During the early years of the 20th century these stains were described in many other peoples, from Negroes to North American Indians. It is also common in Asia: among Iranians, Turks, Arabs and Sephardi Jews --and also Spain and Portugal, where Sephardi Jews had been compelled by the Church to give up their identity and become Roman Catholics. Accordingly, from the 16th century, there have been few or no Jews in Spain and Portugal, but their genes, their hereditary characteristics, have continued to be transmitted, so that the Mongolian/Semitic Spot or Stain is found, fairly often in the babies of Portuguese and to a lesser degree in the Spanish. These often feature family names like da Silva, Pereira, Carvalho, Gomes, da Costa, Mendes, Barbosa, da Sousa, Hendriques and Pinto.

I have met a young Portuguese doctor, devoutly Catholic, whose two daughters, he told me, had the characteristic 'birthmarks', and he knew that he was of Jewish origin. I know of an elderly Portuguese lady who, on becoming a grandmother, asked if the newborn infant had the 'family mark'. In August 1982 I happened to meet a young Portuguese couple called Pereira. They had been born in Maputo (Mocambique) but lived in Johannesburg, South Africa and spoke a good English. Their infant daughter's name was Raquel and I noticed that she had a well marked Semitic stain on her back. I explained the significance of this feature and they looked blank. They had never heard of 'secret' Jews or 'Marrano' . I met them again a few times until March 1983 when they left for Portugal. A year later, they were back in Johannesburg and in April 1984 Mrs Pereira and Raquel, not yet 2 years old, came to pay me a visit. "Mrs Pereira," I exclaimed "why are you wearing a Magen David (star of David) on your necklace? And Raquel, why is a Magen David dangling from her bracelet?"

She then told me the story. All sorts of strange things had happened to them while in Portugal, things she would have ignored had I not alerted her about Raquel's mark and about the fact that Raquel was a Hebrew name, Rachel. Her husbands family came from Porto. That she knew, and indeed part of her family also derived from that area. There was a tradition among their families that they did not go to Church often, and her husband's grandmother used to light candles on a Friday night, for reasons nobody could fathom.

While in Lisbon, Mrs Pereira became ill with abdominal trouble and Dr de Oliveira who examined her said: "The trouble is that bad meat is poisoning your system. Pork is forbidden. Blood is forbidden, so before you prepare meat you must first soak it overnight in water and then salt it to get all the traces of blood out." She did as he advised, and recovered. "I then remembered," she told me, "that Jews in Johannesburg do these things and I and my husband began to read and made to make inquiries. We discovered that President Salazar and General Spinola of Angola were of Jewish origin, and so are we!.....that's why we wear the Magen David."

I left it at that. I felt reasonably sure that the Pereira's wont take matters further: changing adult identity is too much of a wrench. They will remain Portuguese Catholics intrigued by and proud of their Jewish heritage; but I am willing to wager that Raquel will be sent to a Jewish nursery school.

by S Levin. M.D.
first published in 'Jewish Affairs' Sept.1984

Familial Mediterranean Fever

Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) is characterized by recurrent painful episodes of fever, peritonitis (abdominal pain), pleuritis (lung inflammation leading to painful breathing), and/or arthritis in the hip, knee, and/or ankle, lasting 2 - 3 days. The most severe complication is amyloidosis, a condition resulting from accumulation of a starch-like glycoprotein (amyloid) in tissues and organs, impairing their function. This can lead to kidney failure and occurs most commonly in untreated Jews of Northern African ethnicity and in patients of Turkish heritage. Severity of symptoms varies between patients and sometimes even among affected members of the same family. Stress and extreme physical exercise have been seen to precipitate attacks. There are no symptoms between episodes.


Beta-thalassemia is caused by a reduced amount of the normal adult form of hemoglobin, hemoglobin A (HbA), which carries oxygen to the tissues in the body. Hemoglobin A consists of 2 types of globin chains, alpha and beta. Beta-thalassemia results when the beta-chains are non-functional or are present in reduced amounts. Beta-thalassemia can range in severity from severe anemia and hepatosplenomegaly in the first two years of life to a much milder anemia presenting later in life.

Glycogen Storage Disease, Type III (Cori's Disease or Forbes disease)

Glycogen is one of the primary fuel reserves for the body's energy needs. Stores of hepatic glycogen serve as a reserve for blood glucose during times of fasting and muscle glycogen serves as a reserve for substrates needed for ATP production during exercise. In glycogen storage disease, type III (GSD III), liver and/or muscle are unable to completely break down the stored glycogen to glucose, which is needed for energy production. Individuals with GSD III may develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) with fasting, and will typically have enlargement of the liver because of glycogen accumulation there. In addition, some individuals have muscle weakness affecting the skeletal and/or cardiac muscle. This is the result of deficiency of the debrancher enzyme involved in glycogen metabolism in liver and muscle.

Machado Joseph Disease

Origins of Machado Joseph Disease and the Jewish Connection

Joseph disease, first documented in the 1970's, is named for Antone Joseph, a Portuguese sailor with the defective gene who came to California in 1845. The disease occurs primarily in people of Portuguese ancestry, but it has also been found in other ethnic groups, nationalities, and races.

At least two Brazilian families originated in mainland Portugal, and another one claims to descend from Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam. Another affected family migrated directly from northeastern Portugal to the United States.

Taking into account the family names and traditional professions, physical phenotype, and places of residence of the affected families in mainland Portugal and of the Bastiana (Joseph) family, it is suggested that the original MJD mutation may have arisen among the settlements of Sephardic Jews in northeastern Portugal. The Sephardic Jews, having arrived on the Iberic peninsula mainly with the Moorish invasions, later came to Portugal seeking refuge from imminent expulsion from Spain in 1492, and they settled mainly along the Spanish-Portuguese border, subject to varying periods of tolerance and repression. When forced conversion or expulsion was decreed also in Portugal in 1496, most of the Jews chose to stay and had to practice their faith in secret or assimilate. Mixed religious practices and cultures can still be found in those areas, although local Sephardic communities can no longer be well identified. Interestingly, many of the Portuguese with MJD, both in Portugal and the United States, still bear family names traditionally attributed to the Sephardim.


What is Machado Joseph Disease?
Joseph disease is a fatal genetic disorder of the nervous system that cripples and paralyzes while leaving the intellect intact. The disease is characterized by weakness in the arms and legs and a general loss of motor control that eventually confines the patient to a wheelchair.
Symptoms appear when a defective gene causes a breakdown and loss of cells in a specific areas of the brain known as the striatum, the cerebellum, and the substantia nigra, but what sets this process in motion is still unknown. There is as yet no effective treatment.