All posts by kpjohnson

K. Paul Johnson, a retired public library director, lives in Martinsville , VAand is Secretary of the Dan River Basin Association and Treasurer of the Melungeon Heritage Association. His most recent book. Pell Mellers: Race and Memory in a Carolina Pocosin (Backintyme Publications, 2008) was: described by the North Carolina Historical Review as “a contemporary journey of practical genealogy—visiting archives, local government repositories, long-known and newly-met relatives, geographical areas…all the resources at his command to learn more about his people, their place, and their time—the central focus of genealogy.” Pell Mellers described Johnson's paternal ancestors in Bertie County, while Backintyme's 2010 collection Carolina Genesis: Beyond the Color Line concluded with his chapter “Dismal Swamp Quakers on the Color Line” about maternal ancestors in Pasquotank County. His previous book, Edgar Cayce in Context (State University of New York Press, 1998) was named in 2009 named by editor and author Mitch Horowitz as an “esoteric classic,” described as “A brilliant and engaging study of how the influential seer related to the spiritual trends around him…exhibits a rare combination of academic depth and spiritual understanding.” Earlier books from State University of New York Press were The Masters Revealed (1994) and Initiates of Theosophical Masters (1995) The Masters Revealed was reprinted in 1997 in an Indian edition by Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi. Its introduction was included in the collection The Inner West (Tarcher Penguin, 2004) which appeared in a Brazilian edition in Portuguese translation in 2006. (Sao Paolo:Pensamento, 2006). Forthcoming 2015-2016 works from Typhon Press: Esoteric Lessons: The Collected Works of Sarah Stanley Grimké (Editor) Con Artists, Enthusiasts, and True Believers (chapter author, “The Duped Conspirator”) Letters to the Sage: Thomas M. Johnson Correspondence, Volume I: The Esotericists (co-editor); Volume II: Alexander Wilder (assistant editor) Ghost Land by Emma Hardinge Britten (scholarly edition of an 1876 novel, editor) From Backintyme Publications: The Goinses (preface author)

What’s new in the new edition of Pell Mellers?

Just released by Backintyme Publications is the Second Edition of Pell Mellers, including a 12 page addendum entitled “Melungeon Heritage Meets North Carolina history.”  It  documents my experiences in the five years following publication of the first edition, largely involving the Melungeon Heritage Association, and the scholarly and popular authors encountered at its annual Unions in Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia. I have gotten acquainted with scholars from the University of Memphis, Elon University, Vanderbilt University, Concord University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Rutgers University, King College, and East Tennessee State University.  Not one of them would support the notion, recently disseminated in national media, that Melungeons are nothing more than deceitful mulattoes pretending to have Native American and Mediterranean ancestry, whose delusions need to be exposed by science and genealogy for the  public good.  This was precisely the line of argument that Virginia Registrar of Vital Statistics Walter Plecker used in his crusade against Virginia Melungeons, who constituted a significant  proportion of the 150,000 “Mongrel Virginians” he sought to identify.  The 1943 official list of “mongrel” surnames produced by Plecker includes these 21 surnames in the southwestern counties of the Commonwealth that are not considered “Core Melungeons” by standards centered on Hancock County, Tennessee.  By county they are, as listed in the original document: Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley (Washington County); Moore, Ramsey, Delph, Freeman,  Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Hawkins (Lee and Smyth counties); Dingus (Scott County); Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt (Russell County);and Hammed, Duncan (Tazewell County). Anyone with these surnames was under a cloud of suspicion during the Virginia Racial Integrity Act, in effect from 1924 through 1971. Although recent media reports have focused on the extreme reluctance of a member of the Goins family to accept evidence of a sub-Saharan haplogroup, this is not at all representative of Melungeons of my acquaintance. The journalist Will Allen Dromgoole, first to record results of extensive interviews in the Vardy Valley, reported her informants as saying that the Goins line was African, the Collins line Native American, the Denham line Portuguese, and the Mullins line English, and that the latter had predominated over the rest numerically by 1890. She also said that while Goinses were of African origin and claimed to be Portuguese to deny it, this deceived no one but themselves.

DNA relatives map

>Lately I’ve had time to explore the various features of 23andme in greater depth, and there is one that is particularly intriguing as it reveals something about migration patterns over two centuries.  There are 393 individuals in the database who have been identified as my cousins to various degrees, and the site produces maps at various levels of detail showing where those people are.  The greatest concentration is in North Carolina and Virginia, reflecting three of my grandparents being from the region along the state line.  My northern grandfather’s parents were both Ohio-born, but had ancestors who passed through New York state en route from New England.  Hence Ohio and New York come next in order.  The swath of cousins across the deep South, up to Missouri and down to Texas, reflects the migrations of Carolinians and Virginians in the 19th century.  And the one bright spot in the West, Utah, shows that Mormon missionaries were successful in converting Southerners as well as Midwesterners.  The “clustering” depiction combines adjacent states but the “top locations” gives a breakdown: North Carolina-18, Virginia-16, South Carolina-11, New York-9, Georgia-9, Pennsylvania-9, and (more than any other US state) Scotland-8, Ireland-8.
added July 2013–
Only two months later the totals have increased to:
Virginia, USA (24)
North Carolina, USA (22)
New York, NY, USA (18)
South Carolina, USA (14)
Georgia, USA (13)
Pennsylvania, USA (12)
Ireland (12)
England, UK (10)


The non-clustered relatives map is an impressive representation of how illusory the distinction between northerners and southerners can be in the border states.

200 citations, 16 countries, 23 states

Among the rewards provided to authors by Google Books and Amazon is knowing when, where, and by whom their works are cited in other books.  Some years ago I started keeping a record on my Backintyme blog, mainly for my own encouragement.  Years after a book’s sales diminish to near-zero, other writers can continue to find it useful in their own research.  Today the total reached 200, the occasion for this celebratory post. The books were published in sixteen countries, twenty-two states, and the District of Columbia, in chronological order of appearance:

France, US, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, India, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Romania, Switzerland; Georgia, Michigan, Maine, New York, Illinois, Arizona, Indiana, California, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, Minnesota, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina.


North Carolina Historical Review on Pell Mellers

This review appeared in the 85th volume of the venerable journal, January 2009:

K. Paul Johnson in his family history Pell Mellers: Race and Memory in a Carolina Pocosin uses the “process of exploring family mysteries” to gain a “deeper understanding of the region and times they [his family] inhabited” (p. 13) while respecting the limitations that extant records might place on such an endeavor.  Centered on his own research experience, Johnson takes the reader on a contemporary journey of practical genealogy—visiting archives, local government repositories, long-known and newly-met relatives, geographical areas (houses, neighborhoods, and areas such as pocosins), engaging new technology such as the Internet and DNA testing—while exploring the time line between generations.  Johnson uses all the resources at his command to learn more about his people, their place, and their time—the central focus of genealogy.

                Bertie County is the point of origin (at least since colonial times) of various branches of Johnson’s family.  He explores the many facets of this region by focusing on his family in the Pell Mell area during a specific time (colonial era, Civil War, and the rise of Jim Crow to name three more important time frames.)  Pell Mell is one of several areas in North Carolina that are home to populations with tri-racial mixtures.  Melungeons, as these Native, Africans and European people are often called, inhabit a unique place in the history of the region.  Johnson takes care to show the reader how these “free people of color” are both constrained by and set free by their mixed heritages.  Property owners before the the Civil War, many of these free people joined North Carolina’s Union volunteers during the war.  Their story is often the exception to the rule of history writ large.

                Johnson also reveals a sense of community with the Pell Mell racial mix by describing how Pell Mellers migrated as  group.  When industrial expansion in nearby Norfolk, Virginia, offered better prospects for work, Pell Mellers moved there to exploit the opportunity, reconstituting a community in a more urban setting.

                Johnson deftly moves the story along and hints at family mysteries and scandal.  Unfortunately, this occasionally leads to a bit of confusion in the narrative.  In some case he relies too much on another genealogists’ work instead of checking the original record himself, and on other occasions he speculates a bit foo far about early generations.  But these are not fatal issues, and the fascinating story of self-discovery and local history applied to one’s family offer more than enough counterbalances to keep the work afloat.  Anyone interested in either preserving their own family story in the annals of history or reading Johnson’s successful documentation of his own famiy history should read this work.  The book (illustration; notes, 208 pages; paper, $15.95) is published by Backintyme Publishing (386) 446-4909.   Alex Christopher Meekins, Archives and Records Section, NC Office of Archives and History.

The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam

The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam (Spiegel and Grau, $26.95)

This new book by a reporter and columnist for the Washington Post offers a fascinating summary of recent psychological findings on the unconscious mind.  Three of the ten chapters focus on race in various ways, while others analyze how the hidden brain’s implicit biases influence our behavior in matters including gender, disaster response, and terrorism.   The first chapter about race describes the research of Canadian scholar Frances Aboud, who has worked with children of all ages exploring the way bias develops.  Multiple researchers have found that young children tend to assign positive adjectives to white people and negative adjectives to black people, regardless of the beliefs of their parents and teachers.   (Also independent of the race of the respondent.)  Aboud discovered that friendships across racial lines are common among very young children but become steadily less so into adolescence.   But the same pattern was found with linguistic communities in Canada.  Aboud studied a bilingual school in Montreal and found that children coming from anglophone and francophone homes  increasingly choose friends of the same background as the get closer to adolescence.  Vedantam relates this to the increasing emphasis of adolescents on group membership and identification.  His conclusion about Aboud’s findings is that “What is disturbing to me…is not that children are biased.  It is that pervasive bias can occur without anyone—parents, teachers, or the children themselves—wanting it to happen.”(p. 75)

Racial bias in application of the death penalty in the US has been repeatedly demonstrated in statistical analyses, but in his chapter “Shades of Justice” Vedantam explains something that I had not previously known.   Studying only African American defendants, a Stanford University research team found that “Defendants who looked more stereotypically black than average were more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty as those who looked less black.”(p. 177) This would suggest that implicit bias is not binary in black and white but rather a continuum, at least in the case of juries and defendants of color.  The last chapter focusing on race, “Disarming the Bomb,” is an account of the 2008 Obama campaign’s recognition of implicit bias, and its generally successful attempts at countering it.  Psychologist Drew Westen and pollster Celinda Lake are interviewed, and at the close of the chapter Westen is quoted as saying that Obama’s skin color “made a big difference” and “Had he looked like Kwame Kilpatrick, it is not at all clear to me that he could have made it.”(p. 229)

 This research is relevant to Melungeons and other mixed ancestry groups because it shows a pervasive unconscious bias against dark-skinned people, a bias against which darker people are themselves not immune.    This explains the tendency to genealogical dissociation, people cutting off darker branches of their family trees and denying/ignoring the mixed ancestry in their backgrounds.  At least we are now in the position where most Americans consciously reject racism, and thus can identify and analyze unconscious biases that are the legacy of centuries of oppression.  But being able to confront unconscious bias does not necessarily entail being willing to do so.

Decodeme analysis of 23andme data

Another DNA testing company,, offered free reports for 23andme customers who provided their data.  With the half-million markers, Decodeme came up with an autosomal percentage report closer to DNAPrint’s based on 175 than to 23andme’s: 93% European, 4% East Asian, 3% African.  This company does not pretend to distinguish between East Asian and Native American unlike DNAPrint.

So for the first time I have a report that identifies “triracial” ancestry rather than just one kind of admixture.  This feels right intuitively based on historical evidence, although the percentages seem high.

23andme answers several DNA questions at once

Family traditions of “Indian” blood, devoid of any tribal identification, juxtaposed with Bertie County colonial tax records showing four lines of my ancestry to be “Free Mulatto” in the 18th century, led to my taking a series of DNA tests.  Those from DNAPrint, which is now out of business, were reported in Pell Mellers; they made Native American ancestry seem more likely than African.  Last summer I took the DNATribes test which reported highest matches mostly in Italy and other Mediterranean countries, and showed neither subsaharan African nor Native American results.  But only now with have I gotten results that finally answer the non-European admixture question, “were my ancestors partly African, partly Native American, or both?”  With more than half a million snps versus fewer than 200 for DNAPrint, the result is clearly positive for African, negative for Native American ancestry.  The 1% African result is shown in terms of stretches along specific chromosomes, so this part of the question is settled.  The possibility of Roma or East Indian ancestry seems remote but not out of the question.  The one result that is continuous throughout all the tests is that my deep ancestry is about half Northern European, half Southern European.

Roma and East Indian slaves in colonial Virginia

The oldest text online I found referring to Scottish Gypsies in Virginia is dated 1894.  More recent books refer to ongoing deportations of Gypsies from Scotland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  A 2001 book describing large numbers of English Gypsies in Virginia in 1695 is only one of many references to this date.  A new social science book refers to the fate of early Virginia Gypsies as unknown.  An overview of Roma slavery is found in this encyclopedia.  In addition to Romany slaves, Virginia and its neighbors also had slaves and indentured servants of East Indian origin, according to this article outnumbering Native Americans in colonial records after 1710.

An Outing with the Dan River Basin Association (and an award for service)

On Saturday April 4 I led an outing at Mayo Park in Person County, beginning with a paddling trip on Mayo Lake and then proceeding to a picnic and hike.  Last month completed my second term as a board member, for the last three years Outings Chair, of the organization established in late 2001 that has grown to be a major presence in the region.  The outings have been source of pleasure, but also learning as the incentive to come up with new destinations has involved many scouting trips.  The DRBA website has trip reports of many past outings, as well as much other information about the region.

Last night I attended the first meeting of the new board, as a former member, and received a standing ovation for the first time I can recall in my life, when given an award for my service on the board.  I received a beautiful hand decorated walking stick of Mountain Laurel, and a framed poem about time spent in nature.  Here is the proclamation that was read:

Paul is a founding member of DRBA who has served on the Board of Directors, as Vice President, as our first newsletter editor, and for the past three years as outings chair extraordinaire.  Paul is not only a creative planner, but has also served as coordinator of countless floats and hikes and has written many outing reports for our newsletter.  If you want to see, hear and touch the natural beauty of our basin, then First Saturdays are for you!  Paul has taken us hiking and paddling across the width and breadth of the basin.  The outings are well staffed with volunteers, timely in length, and varied to take full advantage of the changing seasons.  His leadership has brought us to sections of streams we had not yet paddled and to trails we had not yet hiked.  The outings have introduced new people to DRBA and many of the new acquaintances have joined our organization.  Paul has shown all of us the variety and the beauty of the natural resources surrounding us that we are blessed to call home.  Thank you, Paul, for opening our eyes and our hearts to the basin.  We look forward to seeing you on the trails and on the water.

In thanking DRBA, I commented that there could be no more ideal combination of pleasure and duty than serving as the outings chair.  In May I will resume updating the blog on topics related to Pell Mellers, as the Melungeon Heritage Association will participate with many other organizations in the annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. 

Celebration, Education, Inspiration in Ahoskie

On February 6 I attended the first of two performances of “The Winton Triangle,” a historical lecture by Marvin T. Jones enhanced by a series of dramatic and musical performances. Never having seen such a format, I didn’t know what to expect, but found the experience well worth the four hour drive to Ahoskie, just a few miles north of the Pell Mell Pocosin where my father’s ancestors lived.  The evening was a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Hertford County, which was separated from Bertie in 1759.  The charming old theatre’s 400 seats were almost all filled, with an audience that seemed like a representative sample of the county’s population: black, white, Indian, and mixed.   The event was a celebration for the entire community, but the focus was specific to the triracial mixed people who have inhabited the central portion since before the county’s creation 250 years ago.  I write this on Saturday afternoon hoping there is another capacity crowd tonight, and thinking word of mouth in the community can only be extremely favorable today.

Marvin T. Jones was ably assisted by his sister Laverne Jones in the research and the narration, both of them blessed with voices pleasing to the ear and the talent to bring history to life with their narratives and voiceovers.   During my years of Bertie County research I grew to love the accents of the local people I met, because they so reminded me of my grandmother and her family.  After three decades of living in Washington, Marvin still speaks with the rich, rounded tones of the Albemarle Sound country, as does Laverne after decades as a lawyer in New York.  The photographic resources upon which the program relied were tremendous,  thanks to their years of collecting historical photographs of the area.

As an educational program, The Winton Triangle was a complete success, giving a sweeping overview of four centuries along the Chowan with enough detail to satisfy the older history buffs but enough forward momentum to keep the interest of the children in the audience.   After the program, Marvin was so thronged with admirers that I barely got the chance to congratulate him, but I did get to speak to Earl Ijames of the North Carolina Museum of History, formerly of the Archives Deparment, and express appreciation for his help on my many Archives visits.   And as I left, I got the chance to meet Laverne and tell her what a wonderful evening it had been-as I’m sure a hundred before me had just said.

The evening could have succeeded as celebration and education if it had been entirely the work of the Joneses, but the addition of dramatic skits and church choir performances brought it to the level of inspiration.  The history highlighted in the program ranged from frightening (ancestors being obliged to carry identification papers after the Nat Turner insurrection to protect them from potential lynch mobs) to tragic (funeral orations about a promising young community member who lost his life in World War II) to hilarious (a 50s juke joint comes to life with a dance featuring Marvin and his wife, to the uproarious approval of the audience.)  The sequence and pacing of the informational and entertainment segments was just right, and much credit is due to Ralph Hewitt and his local talent for making the atmosphere downright joyous.  The choir selections were well chosen and performed.  And the opening segment of Meherrin Indian drummers was a potent reminder of the region’s history before the first settlement by Europeans and Africans.

The story of the Winton Triangle is inspirational for people far beyond Hertford County or North Carolina.  The photographs we saw of the “free colored” of  Pleasant Plains, Archertown, and vicinity showed a full range of phenotypes.  Some members of the community would immediately be assumed to be white by outsiders, others would be taken to be black, and most would be considered to look biracial.  But many looked more Native American than anything else, and the East Indian roots of the Weavers still seemed very much in evidence in their photographs.  In the midst of a segregated society governed by the One Drop Rule, the mixed race people of Hertford County created a microcosm where people of every skin color and diverse ethnic heritage lived in harmony as a single people.  The Winton Triangle is also inspirational in that the Joneses make the story one of pride and joy, rather than oppression and victimization.  Despite the threatening nature of the society surrounding them, the community celebrated in this production thrived and prospered.  They made Winton an educational Mecca attracting students from all over the state, built a resort in Chowan Beach that drew people of color from other states, and continue to play leading roles in the life of Hertford County.  Looking at the people in the audience, I was inspired by the continuity of their presence since 1740; the families there as free people of color in colonial times remain a dominant influence in all the areas they historically inhabited.

At the end Marvin challenged the audience to bring their own family stories forward to add to the Chowan Discovery Group’s ongoing project to document the multilayered multiracial history of their fascinating community.    

A Long Line of Southern Outcasts

Last weekend I attended a retreat for the Melungeon Heritage Association, which has just invited me to join the board as a consultant. Our charge was to start plans for the 2009 Union which will be held at Chief Logan Conference Center in southern West Virginia. This occasioned a fair amount of discussion of MHA’s purpose and future, and my fellow consultant Elmer Maggard, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist from Kentucky, provided food for thought that has occupied my mind ever since. He described the deep human need for a sense of belonging, rooted in our evolutionary history in which exclusion from the group was a death sentence. Dr. Maggard stressed the experience of shame and exclusion in the history of mixed race Southerners, and the potential role of MHA in bringing pride to replace the culturally induced shame. He suggested that it is worthwhile to focus on the most shameful individual or episode in one’s family history, and seek healing reconciliation of the psychic damage that has been carried down through generations. This led me to realize that the story of Pell Mellers is very much about outcasts and shame, through many generations.

My father became an outcast from his family in the early 1960s when his relationship with an African American woman led them to try to have him declared insane, and when that failed, pressure him to leave Virginia under threat of prosecution for miscegenation. But he had an earlier experience of being an outcast, when the death of his father led to separation from his mother as he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents. His father Fred had experienced the ultimate destiny of the outcast, death in an honor killing at the hands of his own father-in-law as punishment for his failures as a husband and father. Fred’s father John Henry Johnson had been one of eight brothers all of whom left their native Bertie County around 1900 following political changes that made white Republicans and former Unionists persona non grata in the county. While there are no records of the Johnson brothers being outcasts individually or personally, they belonged to a family and community that was treated as outcasts for political and possibly for ethnic reasons.

In retrospect, having taken account of the multigenerational family history of being outcast for various reasons, I’m inclined to accept Maggard’s theory that we are driven to resolve psychic conflicts inherited from past generations’ experiences of shame and exclusion. In my daily “real life” I have sought out small rural communities and community organizations that have provided abundant opportunities to bask in the warm glow of belonging and pursuing a common cause. But my literary life, while providing a preponderance of favorable attention from complete strangers, has brought a series of outcast experiences (to be discussed further in my end-of-year summary of 2008 news about my books.)  Was I unconciously driven to recapitulate past traumas in family history by becoming an outcast from adoptive spiritual families?

This question rises to the fore now for two reasons. First, as I review the experience of my maternal Quaker ancestors the theme of outcasts is extremely relevant. First they were persecuted outcasts in Massachusetts, who came to North Carolina after being subjected to horrifying abuse from religious/civic authorities. But after establishing themselves in North Carolina for many generations they became outcasts because of their opposition to slavery, and Quakerism became extinct in Pasquotank County during the Civil War era. There was also the repeated experience of ancestors being made outcasts by the Quaker community for a series of infractions. The central anecdote in my chapter for the forthcoming collection of family histories from Backintyme focuses precisely on the most shameful incident I found in seven years of genealogical research, involving an ancestor who was cast out by the Quakers during the same period that Quakers were becoming outcasts in the region. Maggard suggests that there is some therapeutic imperative to delve into such painful family memories and resolve them; I will take this up as a challenge to make the writing process one of psychological as well as historical discovery.

The second reason that Maggard’s theme is so compelling is that it appears in fiction that I have recently read.  One of the best results of writing Pell Mellers was getting acquainted with Lisa Alther, whose most recent book Kinfolks was her first work of nonfiction, a study of her search for her Melungeon ancestry. After meeting her at a Melungeon Union, I went back to her first novel Kinflicks, and found the protagonist Ginny Babcock to be one the most engaging characters I had ever encountered in a novel. Ginny’s adventures, or misadventures, lead her to experience being an outcast in a very diverse set of circumstances. It starts when her father forces her to go to a northern college to keep her away from her biker hoodlum boyfriend, who happens to be a Melungeon. At the end of the book Ginny is literally an outcast from the home she shared with her husband. Yet one gets the impression that Ginny will continue to bounce back from every reversal of fortune and that her adventures will continue to be entertaining. I’d love to read a sequel. Alther’s second novel, Original Sins, has a darker tone and its outcast characters do not seem likely to find happiness. Its protagonists include two pairs of siblings, in each case with one staying and conforming to the norms of their Tennessee hometown while the other goes north and feels no more at home there than back in the south. The brother who went north eventually comes back south but ends up becoming an outcast in the rural community he loves.

Another American novelist who spent many years as an expatriate in Europe was Mary Lee Settle.  In the wake of my trip to West Virginia, I went to the library in search of her Beulah Quintet.  I had read the last two volumes when they were published in the 1980s, and knew that the five volumes traced the histories of several intertwined West Virginia families from England under Oliver Cromwell to the present.  At the moment I am reading O Beulah Land, which describes the arrival of these families in what would become West Virginia, and finding the theme of outcasts just as pervasive as in Alther’s early novels.  Here is a passage from the introductory notes by Roger Shattuck that I found especially compelling: “The successive generations of the Beulah Quintet set before us not two but three closely related antagonists: American history with its interlocking opportunities and oppressions– our version of fate; the lone individual seeking his place within these engulfing forces of history; and the intense cluster of persons we call `the family’ doing its best to mediate between society and the individual and usually caught itself in a strong seesaw motion between stability and instability.”(xii)

Genetic Determinism of Geographical Obsessions?

When I finally got meaningful test results for autosomal DNA, more than six years had passed since I first learned of Josiah Dunlow’s reputed half-Indian or full blood status. The finding that my genes were 1/16 East Asian was equally frustrating and satisfying. Satisfying in that it provides confirmation of non-European ancestry; frustrating in that the test’s inability to distinguish East Asian from Native American ancestry had been an object of frequent customer complaint and was now illustrated by my results. (I got an email from an equally frustrated customer of Eastern European ancestry and family traditions of Mongolian admixture, whose results were 94% EU and 6% NA!) The EuroDNA 1.0 test persuaded me to take more seriously a suspicion that had been steadily growing for months yet I had kept dismissing as too unscientific and embarrassing to express in print. Any author whose last book was a sympathetic account of Edgar Cayce is in danger of being considered too woo-woo to be taken seriously as a scholar. And yet here I am reluctantly giving credence to a theory as woo-woo as anything Cayce said in trance. Somehow, our obsessions with specific places and peoples and our travel compulsions are rooted in our DNA. It sounds insane but the evidence is starting to be overwhelming. I have visited 14 foreign countries; some left me cold and only three inspired what I would consider long term love affairs.  My first love was France, which I visited five times between 1984 and 1990 for stays of a week or two. It was twenty years after my first trip to Europe that I learned about French ancestry; just a few lines but enough to ground my feelings for the French in family history. The only country I ever stayed more than a month was India in 1990. And only this month did I receive DNA results showing more than 1/16 of my ancestry to be South Asian. But after that one trip, my travel interest shifted to Mexico; between 1991 and 1998 I made five substantial journeys there plus a couple of border hops from Texas. It was not until three years after my last trip to Mexico that I learned of traditions about Amerind ancestry in my father’s family. And only this month that it was partially confirmed by more than 1/16 East Asian DNA which in light of genealogical and historical evidence can only mean Native American. Although I only visited Spain once, I felt as home there as I had in France. As for other European countries I visited, I felt very ill at ease in Germany, and cool toward Switzerland and Iceland. I never had any inkling of desire to see Slavic countries, Scandinavia, the Arab world, East Asia, or Africa. And none of those places (assuming the EA score to be mistaken) figures at all in my DNA. My haplogroup R1b predominates in France, Spain, and the British Isles, which seems eerie in light of my feeling so at home there and so not at home elsewhere in Europe.

Domestically, the picture is similar. Discount my general interest in northeastern North Carolina which started in the early 1980s and went into overdrive in 2001. That could be attributed to my knowledge of having roots there. But other things of which I was ignorant seem to have blindly driven me. When I left my native Hampton Roads in 1984, it was because I felt strongly drawn to the counties between the James and the North Carolina line: Isle of Wight, Surry, Sussex, and Southampton, all served by the public library system I directed from 1984 to 1988. I used to compulsively ride the back roads of those counties, twenty years before I learned that much of my traceable 17th century colonial ancestry was in Isle of Wight and Surry.  My brother might also be an example of this kind of blind compulsion. All that my mother’s father knew about his ancestry was that his gg grandfather Enoch Rice had settled in Ohio around 1820, and that he was a Welshman who had previously lived in Vermont and Canada. But my genealogical investigations quickly led to the discovery that Enoch was a Massachusetts native whose family had been in the colony for a century before his birth. While I’m a Southerner with a general distaste for things Northern, including the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states, New England was always different; from my first trip there as a teenager I loved it. But my brother did so far more than I; he went to Massachusetts to live 32 years ago and has never left; he travels below the Potomac only rarely and reluctantly. Only after 25 years there did he learn through me of our hundreds of ancestors in colonial Massachusetts.

The sense of being magnetically drawn to ancestral haunts got a lot more specific for me recently thanks to a brick wall breakthrough that led to discovering my direct ancestors Abraham and Judith Sanders who built what is now known as the Newbold-White House in Perquimans County, North Carolina.  It is the oldest surviving structure in the state, and in the early 1980s I became so enchanted with it that I toured it twice by myself and went back twice more with friends and relations in a one year period, something that is true of no other place in the state. Back then its original builders were not known as the estimated date of the house was off by 50 years; only recent dendrochronology established its 1730 date and thus its first inhabitants the Sanders family.  If we are somehow drawn to reconnect with our ancestors recent and remote by traveling to places they lived, even when those ancestors are unknown to us, it is very hard to explain naturalistically. How in the world could such a blind compulsion be carried in our genes? This takes discredited Lamarckian evolution and cubes it, making genes carry not just acquired physical traits but acquired cultural traits. Irrational theories about race and identity have a justifiably nasty reputation thanks to the Third Reich and some right wing occultists. And yet this notion resonates with the spiritual metaphor of the journey back to the Source. The way up is the way down, according to Heraclitus.  Perhaps the “way down” to our ancestral landscapes becomes a “way up” to historical awareness.

Giza: The Truth

Giza: The Truth: The People, Politics, and History Behind the World’s Most Famous Archaeological Site, by Ian Lawton and Chris Ogilvie-Herald, was first published in London in 1999, with an American paperback edition of 2001 that includes new information in appendices.  According to the author’s website it has sold more than thirty thousand copies.   Edgar Cayce is discussed as a factor in alternative Egyptology, and the authors cite my Edgar Cayce in Context:

We have already suggested that Cayce’s medical diagnoses and healing powers have been pretty well confirmed.  A scholarly and long-overdue critique of Cayce’s readings and beliefs has been recently prepared by K. Paul Johnson, whose Edgar Cayce in Context is the first serious work to be produced by someone largely independent of the ARE.  Johnson suggests that `it can be said with confidence that the general health guidelines in the readings have been increasingly confirmed in the century since Cayce’s death. Turning to his many prophecies, particularly about significant `earth changes’, which were to include not only the `Second Coming’ of Christ but also massive geological upheaval in the Americas and elsewhere, these are analyzed in detail by Johnson.  Most have not been fulfilled, especially since in the main  the readings suggest that they were due to happen at the latest by 1998. (p. 246)…  So how do Cayce’s Atlantean readings stand up if we examine the possible sources of esoteric, rather than practical corroboration?  The manuscript-based accounts prepared by Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine have a great many similarities with Cayce’s readings, not least in their descriptions of the five `root races’ of mankind that have so far existed on this planet.    However, not only does Johnson provide a thorough comparison of Cayce’s Christian theosophy’ with Blavatsky’s `esoteric theosophy’, but he also reveals that these readings started only in 1923, when a prosperous printer by the name of Arthur Lammers came to him for a reading.(p. 247)…


Virginia highest of ten states in Native American admixture: average 6.2%

Lisa Alther just alerted me to this fascinating new information about estimated DNA profiles for ten different states.   See page 5 for the best summary in chart form.  Virginia is next to lowest for Subsaharan African admixture in Caucasians, and highest for Native American admixture.  If my 6% EA admixture as estimated in the AncestrybyDNA test is actually Native American, as I believe due to my brother’s 13% NA/0% EA results, that just makes me a typical white Virginian– far more Indian than the typical resident of these nine other states.  Also noteworthy is that Virginia ranks higher in Mediterranean DNA than most other states, which fits my own results and should be of interest to Melungeons of Southwest Virginia.   This motivates me to get the DNATribes test ASAP!

First translation (Portuguese)

The Inner West, a 2004 collection edited by Jay Kinney which included a chapter I wrote on Helena Blavatsky, has been published in Sao Paolo in Portuguese translation as Esoterismo e Magia No Mundo Ocidental. Google trends shows that Brazil has the highest level of searches using Blavatsky with the top three cities in frequency all being in Brazil.   So it is not surprising that the first translation of anything I’ve written about her would be published there.  The Masters Revealed was published in English in an Indian edition in Delhi in 1997 by Indian Books Centre but presumably the Brazilian edition of The Inner West will have a much larger readership.

Upcoming presentations on Pell Mellers

This coming Monday morning I will speak in Martinsville, VA to the Friends of the Blue Ridge Regional Library  And the following day will appear on a local cable interview hosted by library director Hal Hubener.  On May 20 I will repeat the same presentation in Halifax to the Friends group there, the community where I worked until a few weeks ago.  It will be at 7:00 PM at the Halifax Public Library.

I will be a presenter at the 12th Melungeon Union at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN.  The program has not been scheduled but the dates for the two day event are June 27 and 28.  Since the conference theme is resistance to oppression, my topic will be chapter 9 of Pell Mellers, “Class War.”  It concerns the motives for Unionism and Republicanism among whites in 19th century eastern North Carolina.

First online reader response


This was posted a couple of weeks ago on a yahoo group by Dan Jensen:

I finished Pell Mellers Saturday. That’s one casual read-through plus a fair bit of rereading and scanning the index to make up for my inability to retain names in my head! Add some time with a couple atlases and Google to make up for my ignorance of the neighborhood.

The book kept my interest on several levels, in spite of its complexity and attention to detail. The racial issues surrounding the Civil War and the deep/lost heritage of many Americans is of course a fascinating topic. The idea, for example, that many of the more isolated groups of the South are likely to be
multiracial (though dilute) is largely new to me. One can never be reminded enough that many/most American Blacks are multiracial. Of course the “one-drop rule” is why we need to be reminded. It’s remarkable how deep-set that racist thinking is—I don’t think it’s unfair to say—in most Americans.

As much as I don’t want to spend too much time on someone else’s genealogy (it’s bad enough that I do my own!), I found myself doubling back trying to figure out if there might be a route to some informative mtDNA, say through Susannah Butler (I quickly resolved it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to follow her mtDNA to the present) Thanks for the edifying read!