Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln
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Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln (abt. 1784 - 1818)

Nancy Lincoln formerly Hanks
Born about in Virginia, United Statesmap
Ancestors ancestors
Daughter of [father unknown] and
Wife of — married 12 Jun 1806 in Springfield, Kentuckymap
Descendants descendants
Died in Spencer, Indiana, United Statesmap
Profile last modified | Created 22 Dec 2010
This page has been accessed 19,152 times.
U.S. President Direct Ancestor
Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln is an ancestor of a US President/Vice President
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This person is an ancestor of President Abraham Lincoln. 16th US President


Nancy Hanks Lincoln (c.1784-1818)

"My mother, who died in my infancy, was of a family of the name of Hanks."[1]

The ancestry of Abraham Lincoln has been a source of intrigue and dispute ever since Lincoln's death. It will come as no shock to any who have looked into Abraham Lincoln's maternal ancestry that what prompted that remembered quote printed in 1887 was a series of conjectures now known to be inaccurate. The manner in which some of his family lived -- like others in their socioeconomic sphere, sometimes bearing and openly keeping children without a legitimate father present, the children taking their mother's surname and being raised by grandparents or married aunts and uncles -- was not the image the family or Lincoln wished to present to the American public-- especially not to the political elite who surrounded Lincoln in his later years-- regardless of the precise circumstances under which Nancy was conceived, born and raised.

DNA Study

The Fall 2016 issue of American Ancestors reports confirmation through mtDNA studies that Nancy Hanks' father remains unknown. In addition:

The study specifically refutes the theory of Hanks' ancestry through the Shipley family: Nancy's mtDNA carries the haplogroup X1c, while the sometimes-assumed Shipley ancestors carry an mtDNA haplogroup of H. [2]


Nancy Hanks, mother of the 16th president of the United States, was certainly born between 1782 and 1784, possibly on 05 February 1784. [3] She was the out-of-wedlock first-born child of a teen-age girl, Lucey Hanks, and an unnamed, to this day unknown father.

While it is an accepted fact that Lucey Hanks was Nancy's mother, somewhat less provable is the assertion that Lucey (her spelling) was a daughter of North Farnham Parish workingman Joseph Hanks. The doubt arises because Lucey alone of the children of Joseph Hanks was not named in his will. Joseph died not long after Lucey's marriage to the respectable Henry Sparrow. Even though by then charges of fornication against Lucey had been officially dropped, it seems not unlikely in those harsh times that Lucey's "indiscretion" and the perhaps not coincidental events that followed could have resulted in a permanent rift and even disowning by her father.

At the time of Lucey's pregnancy Joseph was employed as the overseer of two neighboring plantations. It has been suspected, but never proven, that one of those rich landowners or another in the area was the father of Nancy Hanks.[3]

Regarding his grandfather, Abraham Lincoln was quoted by William Herndon, his former law partner-cum-biographer, as having said:

Billy, I'll tell you something, but keep it a secret while I live. My mother was a bastard, was the daughter of a nobleman, so-called, of Virginia. My mother's mother was poor and credulous, ... and she was shamefully taken advantage of by the man. My mother inherited his qualities and I hers. All that I am or ever hope to be I get from my mother, God bless her."[3]

Publication of the statement set off a storm of controversy, not least because Herndon had developed a near monomaniacal obsession with preventing the deification of Lincoln.

In contemporary times, if we consider the issue of sex outside of marriage in colonial America at all, we may have a vague notion that the worst that could happen would have been a baby and a scarlet letter-- social ostracization. In fact, in a time and place where absence from church on Sunday was a fine-able offense, there were strict laws against fornication and adultery: persons so charged could be tried and publicly, corporeally punished.[4] The birth of an illegitimate child was de facto evidence of the mother's crime. The only reasons to keep the father secret would be to protect both parties from the harsher punishment his identity could bring (were he married or of a different race); to protect her from him (were he in a position of power over her or her family); or to gain more positive inducements (such as payoffs). Consider that not long before the time of Nancy's birth, Lucey's 60 year-old father quit his overseer positions and uprooted the family from their lifelong home in Richmond County, moving them first to Hampshire County, and shortly thereafter to the new frontier of Kentucky. All this while yet awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit against his employer for his entire last year's pay, as well as awaiting the overdue disbursement of the estate of Catherine Williams Hanks, his mother, which was being held up by court-appointed administrators, one of whom (Fauntleroy) was the very plantation owner withholding his pay.[3] One wonders if indeed Mr. Fauntleroy did not perhaps strategize that the best defense is a good offense.

But if Joseph Hanks thought leaving Virginia would shield Lucey from prosecution, Kentucky offered no protection. After giving birth to a second illegitimate daughter, on 24 November 1789 Lucey was indicted by a Mercer County grand jury for fornication.[5] The charge was apparently dropped when she married Henry Sparrow in 1791.[6] But the camel's back was already broken. And as was common at the time in such marriages, the illegitimate children, Nancy and Sarah, were given up to relatives to raise.

Early Years

Nancy Hanks went to live with Lucey's childless sister, Elizabeth Hanks, and her husband, Thomas Sparrow, brother of the man who became Lucey's husband. Elizabeth and Thomas also took in and raised Dennis Hanks, the illegitimate son of Nancy's youngest aunt, also named Nancy Hanks. And while Dennis was unable to name his grandfather, (who, after all, died when Dennis was quite young) he did identify several children of Joseph Hanks as brothers and sisters of Lucey.[7]


Nancy Hanks grew up and married Thomas Lincoln (1778-1851) on 12 June 1806 at Beech Creek, Washington County, Kentucky.[8]


  1. Sarah Lincoln (1807-1828)
  2. Abraham Lincoln (12 Feb 1809-15 Apr 1865)
  3. Thomas Lincoln, Jr. (1812-1812)


Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on 05 October 1818 from milk sickness at the Lincoln's home in Pigeon Creek, (now Spencer County), Indiana, at age 34. Thomas buried her on a hillside just south of the family farm.


  1. Abraham Lincoln, quoted in "NANCY HANKS: Monograph," by William H. Herndon (Lincoln's law partner in Springfield, IL), (Greencastle, Indiana, August 20, 1887). Online at URL
  2. Christopher C. Child, "The Hanks DNA Study: I Was Wrong!" in American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Vol 17, no. 3, Fall 2016, pp. 55-57.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Paul H. Verduin, "New Evidence Suggests Lincoln's Mother Born in Richmond County, Virginia, Giving Credibility to Planter Grandfather Legend," in Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, December 1988, Volume XXXVIII No. 1, pp. 4354-4389, online here.
  4. Cox, James A. "Bilboes, Brands, and Branks: Colonial Crimes and Punishments," The Colonial Williamsburg Journal: Spring 03. Online here.
  5. A Petition To Clear The Name of Lucey Hanks, filed 06 October 1976, James A. Peterson, petitioner, Mercer County Quarterly Court, Commonwealth of Kentucky, 8 pages; within "Cognate families of Lincoln", Internet Archive ( : accessed 8 August 2015); citing Lincoln Financial Foundation, "Cognate families of Lincoln. Sparrow Family." Loose papers, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1932-1978.
  6. "Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 3 July 2017), Henry Sparrow and Lucy Hanks, 1791; citing Mercer, Kentucky, United States, Madison County Courthouse, Richmond; FHL microfilm 192,267.
  7. Wilson, Douglas L., ed., Davis, Rodney O., ed., Hanks, Dennis F, "Dennis F. Hanks to William H. Herndon, Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements About Abraham Lincoln, (University of Illinois Press : accessed 9 August 2015).
  8. "Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 June 2017), Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, 10 Jun 1806; citing Washington, Kentucky, United States, Madison County Courthouse, Richmond; FHL microfilm 241,382.

See also:


  • Thanks to Jeffrey Evans for starting this profile. Click the Changes tab for the details of contributions by Jeffrey and others.
  • Biography written by Daphne Maddox and Stephanie Ward Mandarino

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DNA Connections
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with Nancy by comparing test results with other carriers of her mitochondrial DNA. However, there are no known mtDNA test-takers in her direct maternal line. It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share some percentage (beta) of DNA with Nancy:

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Comments: 25

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I found an interesting story about Nancy's marriage bond. I don't have access to the source, but it is sourced:

Nancy's father, James Hanks, died in 1783 while her mother, Lucy Shipley Hanks, carried Nancy in the womb. She and her cousin Sarah Mitchell, whose mother, Naomi (Shipley ) Mitchell, had been killed by the Indians in 1790, were raised in the home of their Aunt Rachel (Shipley) and Uncle Richard Berry. About a year before he passed away in 1796, she was released to Richard Berry Jr., her cousin, in 1795. Nancy was 11 years old. Richard Berry Jr. had married Mary Ewing a year earlier in 1794 in Mercer Co., Kentucky. Lucy Shipley Hanks later married Henry Sparrow on 30 April 1791 in Mercer co. Kentucky and had a large family with him.

On 12 June 1806 marriage bond between Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks was drawn up at Washington Co., KY. Richard Berry signed the bond as her guardian, and John H. Parrott was a witness. Richard Berry, Jr. was the son of Richard Berry and Rachel Shipley. John H. Parrott was the deputy clerk for Washington Co., KY.

Source: "Ancestry of Lincoln's Mother" LA Warren (F521 I52 153 1933) (Indiana Magazine of History v29 #3, 1933; pp. 203-212) The source is from "Shipley Family" book page 176.

posted by Sheryl Moore
edited by Sheryl Moore

Sorry to say your story has been discredited. Nancy Hanks was not a daughter of James Hanks and/or Lucy Shipley.

posted by Stephanie Ward
I wanted to make someone aware of an invalid link for Nancy Hanks' gravesite. Above, the link for 'gravesite' is| -- notice the "|" on the end . That was probably meant to be an "l" (el), but the actual valid address is WITHOUT an 'l' on the end of 'htm' -- it's just 'htm' .
posted by Lee Hanks
It looks like this is finally getting past the fake leads and false connections and using some actual science that doesn't make any moral judgments. I'm glad. I'm curious, though, how anyone knows what Nancy Hanks Lincoln's DNA looks like. How could that have been determined? Thanks
posted by Lee Hanks
Take the time to read the articles cited in the G2G discussions on her DNA. It will give you more information that you can imagine.
posted by Robin Lee
I really don't understand all the genetics intricacies but I will mention it here and may be someone can explain or find it interesting as I know a lot of theories out there. My brother and I are the only ones listed on Wikipages so far as an autosomal DNA test taker on the Sparrow side (My forefather was Thomas Wright Sparrow and his son Dennis which is a brother to Henry. If you compare our Gedmatch to those listed for Lucey (Hanks) Sparrow autosomal DNA test takers that are listed in Wikitree. We are coming up with three matches. A017373 and H435433 for Douglas and T047308 for Jon. From what I can tell they link back to Joseph Hanks which is Lucey's father. But Henry Sparrow was the Husband and not related to Joseph. Is this something of interest??
posted by Douglas Grimm
The results of the Nancy Hanks Lincoln mtDNA studay by Hallstrom et. al. prove that the Nancy Hanks whose mother was Lucy, and whose g-father and g-mother were Joseph Hanks and "Nannie" Lee was the mother of Lincoln, The "Shipley" theory was disproven.
posted by John Hanks
DNA testing shows Adin Baber got Nancy Hanks Lincoln's genealogy wrong. He refused to believe statements and letters of Nancy's close family, cousins, uncles, aunts, and their descendants (such as John "the rail splitter" Hanks and Dennis Friend Hanks who lived with Abe and Nancy Lincoln and new them both all of their lives). They lived in Macon county Illinois only fifty miles from Adin Baber's home. Adin had access to everything but he wanted to establish a link to Abraham Lincoln via his grandmother Hanks.
posted by Robin Lee
Loretta, you make a very good point. I hope my revision is an improvement. Let me know if you think it works. I read the article you linked to, but honestly can't help but think it's too one-sided. Here's one that basically agrees with what you say and yet comes off with more balance and perspective (or so I think): [1]

I do think Herndon must be taken with a grain of salt-- but then I think that about most people's stories. Thanks for the comment, and please let me know other areas I can improve.

posted by Stephanie Ward
In taking on the rewrite of this profile, I wanted to preserve and add to the documented facts and remove all traces of undocumented statements, rumors, and implications. A previous writer had opened with a quote from Lincoln, which I removed because the title of the source could be considered prejudicial and was unquestionably offensive. I wanted to replace the quote with one which would make the same point as the original. I found one in Herndon's "Nancy Hanks: Monograph" which suited the purpose. Nothing in the monograph was negative; on the contrary, it seemed positive and uncontroversial. Long-time partners in a small firm would have had a conversation or two about family; I see no reason to doubt the quote. However, if Herndon's name is so prejudicial, I will look for another source.
posted by Stephanie Ward
William Herndon has been given far too much credibility and should not be taken as a reliable source, particularly concerning any negative claims he made about the President and his family. An in-depth discussion of Herndon and his relationship to Lincoln is here :

Herndon is proven wrong on many points, particularly concerning Lincoln's family and faith.

posted by Loretta (Lynn) Layman
A lot has happened since the last comment was posted. See Hanks-52. Much of the information here is wrong, starting with the parents. However, if these parents did have a daughter named Nancy Hanks, much of the information for her here belongs to the daughter of Lucey Hanks, and so should be deleted. Thomas Lincoln had two wives, but only one was Nancy Hanks, and she was the daughter of Lucey Hanks.
posted by Stephanie Ward
This profile is going to undergo a major rewrite. Please be patient and allow the work to move forward.

US Presidents Project leader

posted by Robin Lee
Odd marker in Lampass, TX says "Holland West Gatlin Stanley who is buried here, is the Daughter of the Sister of Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln's Mother." Marker JPG Find-a-Grave Memorial #30496012

Not sure of it's validity, but it is "carved in stone" ;-) thought it worth noting here.

posted by Phillip Rich
obviously work on the Hanks family continues and yet there remains much to do... update: currently working to get the mtDNA results into Wikitree attached to sourced profiles of the pedigree people (as may be witnessed by the "DNA Connections" section appearing in the relevant ladies' profiles)
posted by Daphne Maddox

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