Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lincoln's Maternal Mystery Solved

I mentioned that on our Spring road trip last year we stopped by a museum in Bardstown, Kentucky on our way to Louisiana.

This little museum, being in Kentucky, had lots of Lincoln memorabilia(the wooden door off the cabin in which he was born or lived in, etc.), as well as some genealogical info.....

Once you get beyond Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks, it's all conjecture and theory as to his maternal grandparents.
There are/were 3 different theories on whom Lincoln's mother's parents were........

1. Abraham and Sarah Hanks of Campbell County VA
2. James Hanks and Lucy Shipley
3. Lucy Hanks and Unknown(born Illegitimate)

That museum in KY went with the James Hanks and Lucy Shipley theory.

I could expound upon each of these theories and bore and mystify you with the tangled genealogies of each but I won't.  It's too early in the morning to make your brains ache. ;-)

I tended to go with theory #3 as it made the most sense, knowing the familial associations of the Hanks family.

It is well known that Lucy Hanks' sister, also named Nancy(like Lucy's daughter), had an illegitimate son, Dennis Friend Hanks.  So there is precedent that the Hanks clan was "comfortable" with out of wedlock births.
Not so the society, as Lucy Hanks was brought up on fornication charges in 1789(5 years after she gave birth to Nancy)in Mercer County, KY.  Having sex outside of marriage at that time was a criminal offense.  This shows a pattern that Lucy Hanks was sexually active outside of marriage.

There is also anecdotal evidence that Lincoln himself thought himself illegitimate and he made veiled comments to his law partner, William Henry Herndon, on this subject.

* Incidentally, I am also related to William Henry Herndon, as he is my 3rd cousin 5 x removed.  William's mother was Rebecca Day Herndon.  Rebecca's parents were Edward Day, Sr. and Ursula Sublett Day.  Ursula Sublett was the sister of my 5 x Great Grandmother, Martha Sublett.  But that's a story for another time.

There is another far flung "theory" that Nancy Hanks was born into the Tanner family and raised by Abraham Enlow of Rutherford, NC.

Seems everybody and their brother over the past 100 years has wanted to be related to Abraham Lincoln.
With the exception of me it seems. ;-)

Anyway, you can throw all these theories out the window now.

A mitochondrial DNA study has been performed in the past year to determine Lincoln's maternal line.

Since Nancy Hanks Lincoln has no living direct descendants(let alone any descendants on her direct maternal line, as that Hanks/Lincoln branch died out when the last living descendant of Nancy Hanks and Thomas Lincoln, their 2 x Great Grandson, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in 1985), matrilineal descendant tests had to be conducted.  This requires testing of other branches of the Hanks family who share the same female line and thus the same mtDNA.

Known and proved descendants of other female relatives descended from the Hanks family were tested, including Lucy Hank's other illegitimate daughter, Sarah Hanks(Nancy's sister)and Lucy's three daughters with Henry Sparrow.  Also tested were the two daughters of Ann Lee Hanks, Nancy Hanks and Mary Hanks.  If Lucy was also a daughter of Ann Lee Hanks, then these two supposed sisters would carry the same haplogroup, and they did.
All the descendants of these women belong to a fairly rare haplogroup called X1c.

These results were compared to matrilineal testing done on the mitochondrial results of the Shipley family(the theory that Nancy Hank's mother was born Lucy Shipley).  This line belongs to the H haplogroup, putting to bed forever the theory that Nancy Hanks was the daughter of James Hanks.
Lucy Hanks was born a Hanks and Nancy was born out of wedlock and her father will never be known.

You can read a synopsis of the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Study HERE.  It also shows a descent chart to help you keep everybody straight as the Hanks family tended to name many of their female children Nancy.
DNA has proved to be a powerful, unequivocal tool in solving, yet unsolvable genetic mysteries.



  1. I read the illegitimate theory many years ago, but their were objectors. Now we know.

  2. I was always a Lincolnophile but never dreamt I might be related. I was looking into that other burned out stereotype, which is having a Cherokee Great Grandmother. (cringe) I am descended from Lucy's daughter, Mary (Polly) Sparrow I was not even looking, but pretty pleased!


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