By: Jeremy Balkin

My brother is honest to a fault.

He’s always been. Today, it’s a virtue, and I look up to him for it. As kids, it was probably the most annoying thing ever. Yes, it was fine whenever he forced himself to confess to whatever self perceived crime he committed. Whether it was telling Dad that he snuck candy into his room or telling Mom the candy he snuck into his room was hers to begin with. I got a little chuckle out of his self imposed candor. But I soon learned I could never co-conspire with him. Our deeds would always find their way back to us via him. As I grew into an adult and learned I was able to eat all the candy I wanted, I both appreciated my brother’s honesty and reveled in the criminal underworld of buying Hershey’s bars at Target.

Honest Abe was my little brother’s nickname. Well, it was one of them. The other ones either aren’t relevant to this post or aren’t appropriate for the public. Of course, the nickname was taken from the 16th US president, Abraham Lincoln, and his well-known integrity. My brother even resembles Lincoln. Tall, skinny, with gruff facial hair; prone to wearing a bow tie if the occasion is fancy enough. Though he (and I) are not descendents of Lincoln, our family has always had a fondness for the president and have felt a connection to him.

Vintage illustration features a court scene with William "Duff" Armstrong (1833–1899) and Abraham Lincoln. Armstrong was the defendant in an 1858 murder prosecution in which he was defended by Lincoln, two years before he was elected President of the United States. Armstrong was found not guilty due to a witness claiming to see the crime in the moonlight. Lincoln produced an almanac showing the moon on that date was not bright enough for the witness to see anything clearly.

Today, it’s easy to know if you descend from the 16th United States president.

Taking a Big Y-700 test with us (FamilyTreeDNA) will give you a refined Y-DNA haplogroup, and through the new Discover tool, it will show in your results if Lincoln was one of your ancestors. There are even testers in our database who we know are descendants of President Lincoln. Within the Lincoln DNA Project, hosted by our site, several customers are confirmed as sharing a common ancestor with him.

As Lincoln’s birthday quickly approaches (which is 9 days apart from my brother’s), I wanted to take a moment and reflect on not only the man himself but how we view historical figures. Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc from the television program Friends also share Lincoln’s haplogroup and descend from a common ancestor. I was very tempted to instead make this post about how people have always said that I’m totally a Chandler. But I soon realized that an entire article filled with Friends references didn’t exactly fit the bill on the subjects of history, genealogy, and descendancy.

We, collectively, need historical figures to look back on as examples. Lincoln was deeply flawed, too. It’s nice to view him and others through rose-colored glasses. He certainly had a resume full of traits and accomplishments to admire. At the same time, he, just like Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc, had faults. He was still racist (Lincoln, not Matthew or Matt), and that is absolutely nothing to ignore. How much of that was a product of his time or not, and how valid the whole product of one’s time is to begin with, is far above my pay grade. There are still serious issues involving President Lincoln.

Vintage portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States of America.

One’s legacy is often carried down through generations as being defined by what they did.

Lincoln, for better or worse, did things to ultimately better the United States and the world. I still admire my brother for his similarities to Lincoln. Rather, I admire his similarities to how we collectively perceive the president today. I think that people ascribe their own ideas about how they look at famous and historical figures through the lenses of their own life experiences. While I still think I’m totally a Chandler, my brother will always be Honest Abe.

From right: my sister, my brother, and myself at the Lincoln Memorial. Circa 1995.
From right: my sister, my brother, and myself at the Lincoln Memorial. Circa 1995.