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Sephardic Ancestors ~ Two Sides

During the research that we did this past summer, I had the shock of my life. I grew in a time when our grandparents’ generation often lived in the delusion of an Olde South that never was. All the genealogical energies were focused on tracing back to the early Renaissance, our French Huguenot ancestors, with little said about the far more substantial Creek or Scottish ancestry. My sister’s middle name is Morel, named after the Huguenot Morels who fled persecution in late 16th century Lyon, France, by first moving to Geneva, Switzerland then to the Santee River Valley in South Carolina in the late 1600s and then to Savannah, right after it was settled. They owned Ossabaw, St. Catherines and Wassau Island. Yes, that the same St. Catherines Island, that my Mission Santa Catalina de Guale project was on. A bunch of their names are on tombstones in the Colonial Cemetery in Savannah.

Guess what? The Morel family was originally the Morelos Family in Spain. They were Spanish Sephardic Jews, who changed their names in France and became Protestants – at least on paper.

It gets better . . .

Now my primary Creek family was named Bone. Bone sounds like a good Indian name up there with Gray Eagle, Harjo and Bushyhead. It is not. It is Scottish. Well, it is sort of Scottish. Bone and Boone are both artificial family names that were adopted by Sephardic Jews, who emigrated from Spain to France to Scotland.

Learn something every day!

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Hi Richard, I am doing research on my husband’s family in South Carolina. Of course, my mother in law touts that the reason her family is so dark and tall is because they are native american. I stumbled across your article and now I am thinking she might be wrong. I have all my research of families and such, but how do you find that they were actually Sephardic Jews that took on new names and identities? Where do you search to find this information? Thanks

    • That’s a good question. What is the name of the family? My French Huguenot heritage was Morel. The Morels were refugees in South Carolina then settled the Colony of Georgia. I was shocked to discover that the Morels were originally Sephardic Jews, who changed their name from Morelos to Morel after they arrived in France.


        Hi Richard, my apologizes for just now writing back! Not sure how I missed this. The surname was Du Bose. They settled in the Santee area.


    Hello! I have an ancestor named Mamad Morel from Switzerland. I was always curious where he could be from, Mamad Morel is a weird name for switzerland, don’t you agree? Anyhow, my family line has the same story. In fact, we know we started out in spain, then france, then switzerland, then to the South! My ancestors settled in Kentucky, and other southern areas before making their way to Oregon. Please, I would be very curious, what documents or information did you find that your ancestors were Sephardic Jews, if so, that could be the mystery to my family puzzle as well! Thanks.

    • Normally, the People of One Fire does not get into genealogy, but . . . Actually, I can help you a lot. I am partially descended from the Morels. My sister’s middle name is Morel. They were French Huguenots in Lyon, France. When France began persecuting the Protestants even worse, they moved the Geneva, Switzerland. They eventually moved to South Carolina and then to Georgia. After the Civil War, they spread all over the Eastern United States. In Spain, however, their name was Morelos, as in the name of one of the states in Mexico. Morelos means “dark skinned” and was often applied to Sephardic Jews, who moved to Spain from North Africa. I have no explanation for the first name. It could be a misprint somewhere in the past.


        Thanks for the information . How did you conclude that your own Morels were of Jewish Origin? Did you find documents to confirm this? Please cite the sources of your study! Sources and documentations may help others know where to look to search for their ancestors. Thanks.


    Hello Emily and Richard T.

    The name “Mamad” seems to refer to the Hebrew word for “Merkhav Mugan” meaning “protected space”, also known as a “Mik-Lat” meaning “a refuge”, “protection”, “preservation”, atleast that’s a translation that I found.


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