To Laura: A Rebuttal and a Revisit with the Sephardic Jews and the Melungeons and the Mormon Pioneers

Note: When I began my rebuttal to Laura’s comment , I meant for it to be a comment, but realized it was a post instead…

Jewish Star on SLC Tabernacle


When our people, the Sephardic Jews, left Spain, during the 400 years  of the Inquisition, they numbered from ¼ to ½ million people.  A large population of highly educated skilled individuals just did not go POOF into the night!

Besides the community in Rhodes, where your grandparents are from,  (Incidentally. I am sorry for your loss of so many kin in the Shoah. From a population of 4,000 in the 1930’s to about 400 after the war is a sorrowful thing indeed), the Sephardic Jews, in the diaspora, spread all over the globe.  Your people settled in Greece and remained there thru the centuries, and because of the stabilization of the Sephardic community remained true to their religion.

The fear of the spreading Inquisition, and persecution by other nations forced most of the Sephardim into a nomadic-Crypto state. It was in this way most of the Sephardim scattered the earth.  For example:

Eastern Europe:


England: For an interesting read see: The Jews of Georgian England

This fascinating book tells of the dismantling of  Jewish faith and practice by Protestant tolerance.




South America:


Colonial America:      and






In contrast, to your ancestors; our people, like the majority of the Sephardim became fragmented and scattered, living in many different countries, migrated often and changed their names and their identities. Over the centuries, our Sephardic ancestors lost their ability to practice their faith, and eventually ended up in the British Isles, Switzerland, Denmark, and Colonial America; where the early Mormon missionaries found them. During their diaspora state, our ancestors mixed with the Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Native Americans, Africans, Scandinavians and other Europeans. The lesson everyone can take from this is; one cannot assume that their ancestors have always lived in any particular place. Also because pigmentation can evolve over the centuries, depending on admixtures; one cannot assume just because they may have light/dark skin, their ancestors ALL had light/dark skin.

You are correct in your assertion, that the Sephardic Jews are diverse in their appearance and skin pigmentation. In fact, when my son saw Dr. Getzug at UCLA  for his Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), she remarked that he was the palest Sephardic descendant she had ever encountered. In contrast his sister with FMF is olive complected with dark eyes and hair.

Because of their diaspora state, Sephardic DNA is difficult to trace.  As you well know Judaism is a religion, and found in many ethnicities. Much of the ethnic diversity that can be found in Judaism is because of the DNA admixture found in the Sephardim.

It is a well-established fact the Sephardim have been residents of the southern US since colonial times. See:

You are correct that the research about Melungeons is a controversial subject. Basically, the community is divided into those who maintain the Melungeons are strictly a black/white community; others who believe they are a white/Native American/black community; and many others who believe Melungeons are all of the above; ethnic differences varying in divergent family lines, and with many families mixed with Sephardic Jewish descendants.  DNA studies can differ depending on which family lines are represented.

The DNA study, reported in the Huffington Post,  which you and Adam G. refer to, does not disagree with any of the hypotheses presented. This DNA test, of which the journal, nor the article, or author are cited, states that DNA was tested in unbroken 79 male and 8 female lines of persons with known Melungeon ancestry.  The Huffington Post states that African DNA was found in the study. No major revelation there, everyone agrees the Melungeon ancestry began in Colonial America or Virginia with the first African slaves who were granted indentured servitude.  In fact, most Americans who have ancestors who lived in Colonial America have Native American and or African ancestry.  I do not know who a “whole lot of people” the Huffington Post thinks they are upsetting.

The Melungeon ancestors who were free Africans were successful in the small New England and mid-Atlantic wilderness communities and married European women of the servant class. As society developed stricter social class structure, these families migrated to the Southeastern US, especially East Tennessee.

The disagreement is whether these families came to later include Native American and/or Sephardic Jews. This unnamed DNA study reveals African males in the founding fathers of the Melungeons, BUT did not test for the later possible admixtures of Native Americans, Sephardic, or other ethnicities.  Incidentally, the Melungeon claim of “Portuguese” was code for Sephardic, as many of the Sephardim came from Portugal as well as Spain.

As for the Abraham Lincoln, and the genealogical clues one can look for to find Sephardic ancestors, we can thank Dr. Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman, who is a professor at Rutgers University; and Dr Donald N Yates who received his MA from Duke University and his Ph.D. from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is the President of a DNA testing company.  These individuals are well respected in their fields. This does not mean controversy does not surround their work. Because this is cutting edge research, the dust has not settled, so to speak.

While I do not have the study the Huffington Post refers to, I do have a copy of an article from the Appalachia Journal vol. 38 issue 1 in 2010, titled ‘Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia’ By Donald N Yates and Elizabeth C. Hirschman.  This DNA test asserts the DNA ancestry of Melungeons is ethnically diverse and includes Ashkenazi and Sephardic DNA.

“Top population matches (i.e. inferred biological ancestry) showed notable levels of Jewish (both Ashkenazi and Sephardic), Middle eastern, Native American, Sub-Saharan African, and Iberian ancestry with in our Melungeon descendant sample. There were also intermittent indications of Roma/Gypsy in genealogies of certain individuals. “  Yates and Hirschman

Lab testing was NOT done by Yate’s company, but was instead done by Utah’s own Sorenson Laboratories.

The Yates Hirschman study tested 40 individuals from known Melungeon families and was compatible to the study done in 1990 by chemist James Guthrie who tested 177 Melungeon individuals. The leading matches found by Guthrie were: Libya, Canary Islands, Malta, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Cyprus, and Spain  (Yates and Hirschman)

As for my ancestry, I need not have to prove to you, but in my defense, my genealogy and my husbands, was looked over by Todd Knowles, the department head, of the LDS Church Jewish Family History Library archives.  He said the list of names was indeed Sephardic.

Myself, one of my sons and one of my daughters all have Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF). We have the version of the illness that is found in the Sephardic Jews of North Africa.  Incidentally FMF is also found in the Melungeon community. Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) is an inherited autoimmune disease. In order for a person to have this disease, both parents either have to be carriers, or one parent has the disease and the other parent is a carrier, or both parents have the disease. A single affected parent cannot pass the full-blown disease to their children, but FMF does get passed down in a carrier state; it takes both parents to have the full-blown FMF illness.  My late husband was a FMF carrier and so my two FMF affected children have this disease. My other two biological children are carriers.  My family has inherited this illness from our ancestors, those diverse Mormon Pioneers.

My son, the one with FMF, when given his patriarchal blessing was pronounced a literal descendant of the Royal House of David and of the lineage of the tribe of Judah.

All of my ancestral lines were Mormon Pioneer and were in Utah by 1862 and my late husbands were also all Mormon Pioneers settling in LDS communities by the early 1870’s. Assuming our pioneer ancestors were an anomaly, we are still related to thousands of members of the church with ancestors who were Mormon pioneers. I personally do not believe we are an anomaly, the same reasons my ancestors were attracted to the gospel, would be similar for others.  As with any group, the amount of Sephardic ancestry would vary depending on the admixture of other ethnicities.  Some people would have just a “trace” and others could have a majority of ancestors with Sephardic ancestry.

Joseph Fielding Smith said, “The Lord said he would scatter Israel among the Gentile nations, and by doing so he would bless the Gentile nations with the blood of Abraham. Today we are preaching the gospel in the world and we are gathering out, according to the revelations given to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets, the scattered sheep of the House of Israel. These scattered sheep are coming forth mixed with Gentile blood from their Gentile forefathers. Under all the circumstances it is very possible that the majority, almost without exception, of those who come into the Church in this dispensation have the blood of two or more of the tribes of Israel as well as the blood of the Gentiles.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 3:63.)

We talk about how the Mormon pioneers were “prepared to receive the gospel”. This is a vague explanation, and does not entertain the “hows” and “whys” of the situation. I maintain the descendants of the Sephardic Conversos, who had been forced from their faith, had a desire to be part of the “Covenant people” once again. They were prepared to join the gospel thru trials and tribulations that expanded the centuries and their longing to renew with G-d, the new Covenant of Abraham.


This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , , by JA Benson. Bookmark the permalink.

About JA Benson

Joanna entered the world as a BYU baby. Continuing family tradition, she graduated BYU with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years. Growing up in Salt Lake County, her favorite childhood hobbies were visiting cemeteries and eavesdropping on adult conversations. Her ancestral DNA is multi-ethnic and she is Mormon pioneer stock on every familial line. Joanna resides in the Southeastern USA with her five children ranging in age from 8 to 24. Her husband passed away in 2009. She is an avid reader and a student of history. Her current intellectual obsession is Sephardic Jewish history, influence and genealogy. She served as a board member for her local chapter of Families with Children from China. She is the author of “DNA Mormons?” Summer Sunstone 2007 and “Becoming Hong Mei`s Mother” in the Winter Sunstone 2009

17 thoughts on “To Laura: A Rebuttal and a Revisit with the Sephardic Jews and the Melungeons and the Mormon Pioneers

  1. Joanna, i believe! I love all the research you have done on this subject.

  2. Ah-mazing! I’ve often felt the term “lost tribe” was wrong. I think it should be “hidden”, because I think the Lord hid the Jews in other cultures, races, peoples, so that they would be free to accept the gospel more redily when it was presented to them.

  3. Thank you Geoff. This research represents about 10 years of my life! I remember about 3-4 years into it and Mike asked my when I was going to go back to my “normal” self; I replied this is my “new normal” self.

    Joyce- I agree! I a big believer in DNA memory and for the reasons you mentioned, The “lost only to man and not to G-d” Lost Tribes of Israel are in all of us. It has been amazing to stand on the sidelines and be a witness to the re-discovery of the Sephardic descendants. Scores of people all over the world are discovering their Sephardic ancestors.

    Ezekiel Chapter 37 is prophetic of what is happening now:

    1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,

    2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

    3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones alive? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

    4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

    5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

    6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

    7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.

    8 And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.

    9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

    10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

    11 ¶Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.

    12 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.

    13 And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,

    14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.

    15 ¶The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying,

    16 Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For eJoseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:

    17 And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.

    18 ¶And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?

    19 Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.

    20 ¶And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes.

    21 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:

    22 And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and cone king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all:

    23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.

    24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.

    25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.

    26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.

    27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

    28 And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.

  4. You have more proof than Fauxahauntus Elizabeth Warren’s Native American “ancestry” claims. I’ll give you that for sure.

  5. It amazes me as a black man to see the lengths that people go to dis-claim, or I should say dis-regard their African heritage. Try to dicount it and say it was just one of the many mistakes that people make. Just remember that each one that you are descended from suffured less and less that you ever had to and endured many hardships that you will never have to endure. Not only that, but they actually had to make up stories and stick to them for life or death at that time to make sure that you could have a better chance at having a decent life. Knowing that if society at that time found out the truth that it would ruin your lives. They had to pass which meant denying who they were to make your lives much better than theirs ever could have been. To me what is so sad is that now that we live in a different age where you won’t be sold or beaten if this is found out. You won’t lose your priviledges an american citizen. You won’t lose your right to vote or anything remotely like that. You have nothing to lose except a story that was told to you to protect you. A story that probably caused your ancestors great grief to hide, but none-the- less necessary to carve you a better life than what they had. Now when we as a country and as a people of this great melting pot are living and working together and actually have a president that your ancestors couldn’t have imagined want to do anything except aknowledge them. I am so sorry that you are ashamed of me as a race. You should be ashamed of and look in the mirror… Someone probably died knowing that they couldn’t tell the truth to make your life soooo much better, now you are ashamed to be a part of that person, or people……. shame on you…..

  6. Jake-A BIG AMEN to your comment! If you have pilgrim or ancestors that were in Colonial America within a 100 years of the PIlgrims you have a greater chance of African and/or Native American ancestry than not. I am convinced after our DNA tests, most Americans are a lot more mixed then they are aware of. Unfortunately, our ancestors of color had to hide their identities to protect their social status and that or their children, in a segregated society. I hope you know that you are preaching to the choir. Thank you for your input.

  7. Jettboy- I am not sure how to take your comment, but thanks for taking the time to read my post and give us your opinion. 😉

  8. Just a small nitpick – the picture is from the Assembly Hall, which is next to the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

  9. Great research. As I’ve pondered the research of ancient travel over the oceans by Thor Heyerdahl, Bill Hamblin and many others, I cannot help but think that there is a lot more integration of DNA than most of us would care to believe.
    Also, we need to remember that if we cannot find a DNA line in a person, it does not mean she does not have a certain ancestry.

  10. Interesting Ram. My oldest son is a senior in Civil Engineering. He has thought about ancient technology versus modern technology. We had a conversation about this once. He says, in the modern world Engineers are proficient in accomplishing tasks such as constructing large buildings. Modern builders know how to, with the aid of modern tools, i.e. calculators, computers, power tools, construction vehicles etc… Modern man could not accomplish what ancient man managed to do in building, for example, the pyramids, because modern engineers are not skilled in ancient technologies.

    Even in our time, remember when astronauts landed on the moon? I remember. It wasn’t until I saw the movie (btw one of my all time favs) Apollo 13, and it hit home, they landed a freakin’ space ship on the moon using radios and slide rulers!! Computers were in their infancy, and all that math was done by hand. Today we would be hard pressed to accomplish the same mission to the moon without the aid of computers, because we are dependent on our ultra modern tools.

    Conversely, I think exploration and travel by the ancients works the same way. Just because modern man does not know how to do a certain task, without the aid of modern technology; it does not mean ancient man could not have accomplished the same task using ancient tools and knowledge.

    As far as DNA goes, my DNA tests were for the last 500 years. I did not inherit all of the DNA from all my ancestors. For example, I had my parents tested. Both showed for Spain, I did not. I did not inherit my parents Spanish DNA, but I looks like I got all of their Native American as my NA scores were higher than each one of them separately, and the scores combined were roughly the same. We do not inherit all the DNA markers from our parents, so over time it falls off our DNA data banks. The longer it has been since a certain ancestor, the more unstable the DNA markers get.

  11. Ok, so funny side bar here. When I was in high school and needed help with my algebra, Dad got out the slide ruler and was a bit ticked I didn’t know how to use one. What could I say? We were all about the calculator watches in 1988.

  12. Joyce, Funny story. We thought we were soooo cooool and high-tech, huh! 🙂 I remember a high school teacher in about 1978-79 ( yeah, I really am that old) telling us someday we would all have computers in our homes. I remember thinking how far fetched that notion was. Now, like the rest of you, I am addicted to my best friend, my tiny computer, my darling iphone.

  13. How I LOVE reading your posts! I learn SO MUCH from you! Thank you for expanding my knowledge, and for every single link that you post, that distracts me from folding more laundry, lol! I think my kids and I will do DNA tests as part of our curriculum this year to see what we can learn!

    P.S. There is no need for people to feel ashamed of their heritage, or color, or history. Everyone is here for a purpose and reason, and the very fact that we are each here proves that our lineages somehow survived since Adam and Eve! How each line survived is not for us to judge, but study! Perhaps we were all “white” at one time, until the Lamanite’s skin was turned dark, but the transgressions of our ancestors, or even their accomplishments are not our own. We are still all brothers and sisters, no matter what color we are, or whoever started/embraced the whole discrimination/slave idea. We are each no better than the other, and while we may disagree with one another, there is no need to hate each other for it. I saw a quote the other day that said, “Comparison is the end of Joy”. I’m sure an apostle said, but which one, I am unsure. It can apply to many principles, but even to heritage and skin color. Anyone who wants to stir up trouble, because you are delving into history and research and sharing it with the world, probably needs their own hobby, and probably should test their own DNA. Keep all of these wonderful articles coming, JA!!!! You are remarkable and are making a difference! 🙂

  14. JAB, I saw the original article, and immediately thought of your series here on Sephardic Jews and on Melungeons. I kept thinking while reading that other article, “No. No. You’re missing a big piece of the puzzle.”

    Hey, if I have your attention, did Geoff ever forward you my email about a dark side of Ashkenazi culture in Europe prior to WWII? It was on a controversial topic, and I wondered if it got lost, or if you chose not to respond. I don’t have your email addy to send directly.

  15. Book, sorry, that slipped through the cracks. JAB, could you send Bookslinger your email so he can send to you?

Comments are closed.