09 November 2015

Abraham Lincoln and mtDNA

Family Tree provided via https://www.familytreedna.com/public/HanksDNAProject/default.aspx?section=news

Guest blog post from Angie Bush, MS. Angie is the Region 1 Director for NGS and the head of the Genetic Genealogy Committee.

In 2002 Suzanne Hallstrom started the Hanks DNA project in an effort to put to rest the controversy surrounding the maternal ancestry of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Several other genealogists joined Suzanne in her efforts to resolve this controversy - Nancy C. Royce, Stephan A. Whitlock, Richard G. Hileman and Gerald M. Haslam. Each of these individuals played an important role in reviewing previous research and available documentary information. The group also faced the difficult task of identifying living individuals that carried the DNA that would allow this controversy to be resolved. As with any research involving DNA, the first step is always to identify individuals who carry the DNA of interest, and this can often take several years!
Although most historians accepted Lincoln’s maternal grandmother as a woman of the name Lucy Hanks Sparrow, it was unknown who her parents were, and significant controversy arose over this topic. The primary theory said that Lucy was the daughter of Joseph Hanks and Ann Lee, while the secondary theory indicated that she was the daughter of a Robert Shipley and his wife. After several years of research, matrilineal descendants of both couples were identified, along with matrilineal descendants of Lucy Hanks Sparrow. On October 21, 2015 the Hanks DNA Project announced the results of their study showing that the mtDNA of the descendants of Lucy Hanks Sparrow matched the mtDNA of the matrilineal descendants of Ann Lee, providing incontrovertible evidence of the parentage of Lucy Hanks Sparrow. Additional details on the study and the results can be found here: https://www.familytreedna.com/public/HanksDNAProject/default.aspx?section=news

It is often said that mitochondrial DNA testing is not genealogically useful. However, mtDNA has been the star in answering many other genealogical questions related to important historical figures. One of the first major historical mysteries mtDNA helped to answer involved identifying the remains of the Romanov family. More recently, mtDNA (and other evidence) was used to identify bones in a parking lot as belonging to Richard III. Although mtDNA testing may not be as popular as autosomal DNA testing, it does have a place in our research, and can provide evidence to resolve difficult historical questions when historical and other information is lacking.

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