IU student discusses her family’s connection to Abraham Lincoln, in honor of his upcoming birthday

Post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Bailey Briscoe:

bailey briscoe at lincoln memorial

Bailey Briscoe during a visit to the Lincoln Memorial. Photo courtesy of Bailey Briscoe

Growing up, I always declared Abraham Lincoln as my favorite president. Even though I wasn’t alive to witness his time in office, the pages in the history books that covered slavery and Lincoln’s moves to abolish it were the most intriguing to me as a young girl. I was always moved by the stories of inequality and injustice, as I couldn’t fathom why the world had to be so cruel. This is likely why I approved of Lincoln; I appreciated the diligence with which he promoted freedom and equality.

While I didn’t know this at the time, Lincoln and I share more than an outlook on equality. We also share a family tree.

My grandmother — maiden name Lincoln — and my grandfather descend directly from Josiah Lincoln, Abe’s uncle. My grandfather’s link is to Nancy Lincoln, Josiah’s daughter, and my grandmother’s is to Josiah’s son, Thomas.

This makes Lincoln and me first cousins, six times removed.

My family has always known about my grandmother’s connection to the Lincoln family, due to her last name. But it wasn’t until after my grandfather passed away that we discovered his Lincoln relation, through historians in the area. It makes sense, as Indiana was Lincoln’s “boyhood home,” and my family’s roots run deep in southern Indiana. While Abe himself likely didn’t have much contact with his cousins in Harrison County where my grandparents grew up, historians say Abe’s father moved his family from Kentucky to Spencer County, Ind., after a visit to Josiah’s southern Indiana homestead. Lincoln resided in the state from ages seven to 21, when he moved to Illinois.

Aside from the land my cousins now own that once belonged to Josiah Lincoln — and was likely visited by Abe and his father — my family doesn’t possess any Lincoln heirlooms. But there are plenty of stories.

Just a few weekends ago, my grandmother was telling me about the “Lincoln Disease” — properly known as ataxia, a degenerative nerve condition reportedly first discovered in relatives of Abraham Lincoln. My grandmother can point out close relatives of hers that showed signs of being afflicted, like her Uncle Dicky. She would watch along with her brothers and sisters as he attempted to make the walk down the hill from his house to theirs, struggling along the way. As kids, this gave them a chuckle, but now my grandmother realizes she’s lucky the gene seems to have skipped her and her children.

Then there’s the Lincoln nose. It’s the one physical link my family possesses to Honest Abe. My grandmother has it, and it’s so pronounced that, while standing next to the Lincoln Monument once, a tourist asked her if she was related to Lincoln.

Bailey Briscoe's family

Pictured: Briscoe’s grandfather Wayne and her grandmother Darlene. Photo provided by Bailey Briscoe

I am not alone in declaring Lincoln as my favorite president. He is heralded by many as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. And to honor his upcoming birthday, it is fitting to consider what constitutes his greatness. He transformed the nation by leading the Union to a victory over the Confederacy during the Civil War, and he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves in the South to be free and paved the way for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery altogether. But perhaps most important is that he was known for his character, possessing both humility and compassion for others. As Lincoln said himself, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

While my relation to Lincoln is fairly distant, I’m proud to have ties to one of the most popular presidents this country has seen. And, as one of Lincoln’s closest living relatives, I will take part in thanking him and his contributions to our country on his upcoming Feb. 12 birthday.

Happy Birthday, cousin Abe.

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