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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Black Dutch
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 5, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Family traditions abound. Very often it is all we have to go on when we are starting out on a new branch of the family tree. And not surprisingly, there are a few people who have been told they are Black Dutch or descended from the Black Dutch. So the question comes up, just what are the Black Dutch.

This has been an ongoing discussion for many years. There are a number of theories out there and we will look at a few of them briefly. However, of all the theories floating around, there is one constant. Those with Black Dutch in their family history can trace those lines to the Upper South, those people living in Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and North and South Carolina.

One theory is that the Black Dutch are Germans from the Black Forest.

Theory No. 1

One of the current theories is that the term "Dutch" is not really in reference to those who can trace their ancestry back to Holland. It is thought that in this instance, the term is actually "Deutsch," as in German. The precedent for this is the Pennsylvania Dutch, who of course can be traced back to Germany, and are really the Pennsylvania Deutsch. With the research now turned to Germany, there is one particular area, the Black Forest, that interests those researching Black Dutch.

The Black Forest at one time was much larger than it is today. Those who were living there were much darker complexioned than other Germans, and because of that and their association with the Black Forest could have prompted the nickname Black Dutch.

Theory No. 2

Another theory adheres to the the idea that these individuals were indeed Dutch and that they can be traced back to those living in the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries. As the story goes, this was during the time when the Spaniards were at war with the Dutch. This was a lengthy battle, lasting about sixty years. So the theory is that the Spaniards were intermixing with the Dutch. Thus the swarthy looks of the Spaniards was a dominant trait over the blond, blue-eyed Dutch. And that therefore the offspring of these alliances carried the darker looks of the Spaniards.

In her "Shaking Your Family Tree," In Search of the Black Dutch, from April, 1998, Myra Vanderpool Gormley calls this particular theory "fanciful." When one stops to consider that the two factions were at war, it does raise questions. Additionally, the Dutch government's Central Bureau for Genealogy can offer no explanation for the term. And since this group was established as a state archive and genealogical organization, if they cannot explain this, then it is likely that this theory is inaccurate.

Theory No. 3

Another theory traces its lines back to early immigrants who married Native Americans. While others who take stock in this theory add in the additional mix of African-American descent. There is a great deal of research on tri-racial groups. Two such groups that have been heavily investigated are the Melungeons and the Lumbees. Both of these groups appear to be tri-racial in descent. Even the origins of these unique, isolated groups have been immersed in controversy, primarily over the genetic origins and just what three racial groups are involved.

An excellent start in regards to the Melungeon theory can be found at A Melungeon HomePage which has quite a bit of information about the Melungeons. They have included some of their back issues of the Melungeon Information Exchange newsletter.

Read More About It

As you can see by the number of theories, there really appears to be no concrete answer to this question. The debate continues on, even today. However, if you are interested in this, you may want to check out one of these articles.

  • DeMarce, Virginia Easley. "Verry Slitly Mixt: Tri-Racial Isolate Families of the Upper South -- A Genealogy Study." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 80 (March, 1992).
  • DeMarce, Virginia Easley. "Looking at Legends -- Lumbee and Melungeon: Applied Genealogy and the Origins of Tri-racial Isolate Settlements." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 81 (March, 1993).
  • "Black Dutch." American Genealogy Magazine. Volume 12, No. 1 (March, 1997).

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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