My Melungeon & Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Story, Part 1

My Melungeon & Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Story, Part 1

By Katya Faris, MA, MA

All Rights Reserved ©

Ever since I can remember I’ve been different.  Looking back, I had so many clues, so many signs.  So many answers to the questions, “where are you from?”, and “how can you do that with your body??”  Now, I finally have the answers.  It took a journey down ancestry lane and stepping away from dance to study Jyotish to get the answers, but they are here.  Not totally complete, as I still have some finalizing steps to take, but here we go.  I’ve been waiting to publish this, thinking it needed to be perfect, but you know what?  I just need to get it out, one step at a time, so this is Part 1.

What is Melungeon, and what does it have to do with the genetic disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome?  What on Earth had my ancestors given me? To answer those questions, I need to go back, way back, in my family’s history.  You see, my mother came from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we were always told that her father’s family came there via the Trail of Tears. That we had Cherokee and Choctaw blood in us, but that we were “Black Dutch”, and ssshhh, don’t tell anyone about it.  My half-sister doesn’t remember this, because she was in Iran for 15 years, another clue; both of us were interested in Middle Eastern Studies, languages, and cultures, what are the odds of that?  That subjugation of our family’s oral history made us lose the truth of where we came from and forced my grandfather to “pass as white” once in Oklahoma.  My maternal grandfather at the age of 3 years old was listed as “Native American” on the US census, but once he moved at 18 to Tulsa to attend Tulsa University to study accounting, he was suddenly listed as “white” on the census.  This is actually quite common, but it doesn’t help me to understand who we really are.

I’ve done 6 DNA tests, and guess what?  They all say something different.  What is going on here?  I’ve been in a Yahoo Group for about 15 years for the Black Dutch and discovered that there are 8 types of Black Dutch!  I felt like I was chasing the proverbial rabbit, and I was Alice in Wonderland.

  2. Family Tree DNA
  4. 23andMe
  5. CRI Genetics
  6. MyHeritage

The first test I did was in 2009 by, and is no longer available. It could only tell you what you were of 4 races! I came up as 95% European, and 5% Sub-Saharan African, pretty vague!I found that the ONLY DNA test of any merit and validity is from CRI Genetics, and that I was getting whitewashed by all the other genetics companies. 

In about 2015 Family Tree DNA showed me as 16% Mediterranean, and 9% Bulgarian, 1.6% Spanish, 1.7 East Indian Tamil, and 1.6% Greek, but now they have recalibrated their algorithms, and included that all as European after they were bought by!  Below is the result from that test:

The 23andMe and Ancestry tests I took in 2018 and 2019, and this is where they started taking out my Mediterranean DNA:

My CRI Genetics results were accurate, I felt, and were the closest I had to getting to the truth in 2019.  You see, there is no “Turkish DNA”, they are a mix of several races in different percentages, not unlike Americans.  So, what is Turkish today in Western Turkey is going to be different that what was Turkish DNA in the 17th century, let’s state this first.  What is Turkish for me is adding up:  12.1% Italian, 9.4 Bulgarian, 1.6% Greek, 1.7% Spanish, and 1.7% East Indian Tamil.  This equals 26. 6%, which is exactly what I would get having both of my mother’s father’s parents being 100% Melungeon.  I know from my Turkish friends that Turks in Izmir, Western Turkey are about half Bulgarian, and some Greek, so this correlates to what they’ve told me.  The DNA analysis done by author Lisa Alther for her research of her book, “The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors”, shows that this is common, but what I have found is that there must be that East Indian DNA in there somewhere.  The Silk Road is how goods from China got to the Mediterranean, so when you think of Melungeon Turkish, you need to think of if as Mediterranean mixed with Asian or Indian.  That is the key.  Also, we know that the Melungeons were sailors for the Ottoman Empire, and this would account for the Italian blood, as many Italians were taken hostage by the Turks and forced into the Ottoman Fleet. Remember, the Turks moved in after the Roman Empire fell, so there is quite a lot of Italian Roman blood in the Ottoman Fleet.  Again, we must remember that Turkish DNA of the 17th century will not be the same as today.  As the Turkic-Mongol tribes pushed across the Anatolian plateau what is modern day Turkey became less Mediterranean and more Asian in DNA.

Below are the results of the DNA test by CRI Genetics:

Ok, so I’ve discovered the accurate test results, but now what?  Let’s back up and discuss what I’ve heard my whole life about me.  What is she?  People can really project some crazy stuff onto you when they can’t pigeonhole you into their racial schematics.  Clearly, the Native American wasn’t showing up in the last 200 years, but it did show up in the last 2,000-year analysis, meaning that whoever was native in my family was over 200 years ago.  We do know of one line of Native Americans, but it’s on another branch of the family.  There is also some trace African blood in the past 2,000 year analysis, too. Here’s the results from that:

I did the MyHeritage DNA test in Jan of this year, 2022, and the results were similar to Ancestry. They have me at 42.7% English, which is laughable, because there is NO English DNA, it is a mixture of several things! Celtic, Anglo Saxon, Welsh, French, etc. This is such nonsense, I really don’t give it any credibility. Here are those results:

*Update Below

I finally decided to hire a professional genealogist from, and they are currently working on discovering who my mother’s family really were.  So far, it’s looking like Melungeon, which would account for the Black Dutch term.  They are not finished with their research, but one of the researchers specializes in the South, and she discovered that my great grandmother had to get married after my great grandfather died.  She was younger, and had 13 children from him, 9 of which survived.  After he passed, she married a man with the name of Goins, and that is one of the top 5 Melungeon surnames to be recorded.  She said that during that era people there really didn’t intermarry, so if she married a Melungeon, 99.% she is also a Melungeon.  Walker is our surname, but everybody took that last name, white, black, mixed, native, and Melungeon.  So, what is Melungeon??

The clues were there all along.  Bellydancing.  Middle Eastern music.  Sufi whirling.  Oracle reading.  The blue evil eye amulet.  Turkish, darling.  Melungeon is Turkish for some families, but not all.  What, you say??  Yes, everything that I have been drawn to my whole life was what I was.  So many times, when I was bellydancing professionally my Middle Eastern clients would ask me what my heritage was, and I just had to say, “I’m not sure, but we were told Native American”.  How I wish I could go back and tell them, yes, I’m 25% Turkish Melungeon! I even published a Modern Turkish Whirling track with Hakan Ali Toker of Istanbul, Turkey, Saf Sema, which means “pure sky” in Turkish, before knowing that I had Ottoman DNA.

So, if they are Turkish, how did they end up here? That, my friends, is a long story, and best told by the researchers in this documentary based on Brent Kennedy’s book, “Melungeon-A Documentary Film”. 

Basically, some Melungeons were Ottoman Turkish Sailors who were dumped off on the shores of Virginia around 1645; we cannot say that all Melungeons have this story, but this is one of them, as Melungeon was a catch-all phrase for anyone of mixed heritage and lived outside of society.  They were persecuted by the Scots Irish who wanted their land, so they had to head to the hills of Appalachia, where the Cherokee took them in.  They intermarried with some, and the Cherokee added some of the Turkish culture into their ceremonies. As old hill people, they were some of the first colonists to live there, and consequently also married with Black and other American Indian tribes.  To be eligible for citizenship before the Civil War you had to be one of these groups:  white, black, mixed, or native.  Melungeons fit into none of these categories, so they were listed as Free Persons of Color, and this stripped them of their rights to own property, go to school, go to church, or hold a job.  They were forced to mix with those that had these rights to survive.  Once the Indian Removal Act passed in 1830, the natives and Melungeons of Eastern Tennessee were pushed into the Oklahoma Territory.  We know the rest from there.  Once my grandfather made it to Tulsa, he could “pass for white”, and on the census indeed he is listed as white.

So, what does this have to do with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome?  Well, this is a genetic disorder that causes “loose joints” and hypermobility in patients.  We’re extra “bendy”, hence why I could dance all these years, and why I have so many injuries now. This will be for my Part 2…but in the meantime, let me share with you one of the most famous Melungeons who had this disorder, Elvis Presley. Read this article: The Inside Story of Elvis Presley’s Death.

*Update-April 18th, 2022

In the meantime, ProAncestry Genealogists have finished my research, and I have some thoughts about some of the conclusions they have come to.  I’m grateful for their work, as they are very thorough, and have access to libraries that are not found online.  However, it’s good to be a trained ethnographer when doing ancestry because methodology is everything.  As a soft science, anthropology, folklore and ethnomusicology use what’s called Particiation Observation as a key component in our research; we don’t have an hypothesis, nor are we trying to “prove” anything. The answers, if they are any, are “emergent”, in that they reveal themselves; it’s like a snapshot in time of a culture, no judgement, nothing to prove, just, “here’s what this culture is like today”. Hard science on the other hand, has an axe to grind, they have a point to make, and something to prove. They start with an hypothesis and reverse engineer it, so that the facts they “find” fit in with whatever theory they are trying to prove. This is very dangerous when you are dealing with culture, as you may be twisting the facts to fit the conclusion you want.

So, the conclusion is that we “probably” are Melungeon on both Walker lines, but there is certainly whiteand some black mixed in; we still haven’t found any Native American on those lines. That the community in Waxahachie, Texas where my great grandparents met was most likely a Melungeon community, that they were not related, but that we need to go back further.  They traced one Walker branch back to Chester, South Carolina, where some of my relatives were listed as “B” for Black Dutch, or “P” for Portuguese on the US census. 

The other Walker branch was from Mississippi and listed as “Free Persons of Color” on some of the US censuses, so it’s clear there is a case for Melungeon on both sides.  As Walker was a name taken by many races, white, black, Indian, and Melungeon, it’s hard to say.  Brent Kennedy’s conclusion is wholeheartedly that Melungeon is Turkish for many people, but Ancestry wants to use his research to say that it is just a mix of white, black, and Indian.  Not sure why all the Mediterranean Southern European DNA has been pushed up into Central Europe in their DNA analyses.  Regardless of what you think of his research, you cannot use it to make your point that Melungeon is “just tri-racial”, because that was not his conclusion.  The Mediterranean links are there, and you cannot deny it. 

I think part of the problem is the backlash of some Melungeons today that say they have no Turkish in them, that it’s just a mix of white, black, and Indian.  How can you blame them when the DNA tests are so screwed up now?  Also, that not everyone in the same family will get the same DNA; we are rather more like puppies in that sense, read this article, Who’s More Irish, You or Your Sibling? The Surprising Science Behind the Inheritance of Ethnicity. Not to mention that many more white people have married into the families and covered up much of the recessive genes of historic Appalachia.  Not to mention that in Appalachia you just cannot be “white enough”, and that to be descended from Ottoman Turks means that your ancestors were Muslims.  It’s deep, y’all. 

*update May 5, 2022

Today I got my results, and it has prooved my theory that the majority of the DNA companies out there organize ethnicity according to nationality, and not race. There are many different projects that you can get here, and they each organize the ethnicities slightly differently. Here is the Eurogene 9kb ethnicity breakdown that can zone in on Native American, and here are the results of that project:

Here are the results of their Eurogene K36 project which I found fascinating:

Look at all of that Meditterranean, Southwest Asian, and Native American! Oceanian is a lot, too. See, mix together the Asian with the Meditterranean and you get Turkish. I really hope that Brent Kennedy gets vindicated and people realize that his research is valid. Until then, we will keep speaking the truth until we are heard.