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Are We Related? – Herndon

October 13, 2023

As a librarian and historian, I explore various aspects of history and have become more and more fascinated by family history over the years. While perusing various collection materials, I see many different surnames, some of which are familiar to me as family names I have researched. One such name is Herndon. It is most common in our collection in relation to William Henry Herndon, law partner and biographer of Abraham Lincoln. When I stumble upon familiar surnames, one question always comes to mind: Are we related?

Frontispiece and title page of Herndon’s Lincoln, v. 1, 1889; cover of Lincoln’s Herndon, 1948
Both books are available in the IHS Collection.

Admittedly, there are over 150 years of separation between the birth of William Henry Herndon and me. My Herndon surname connection is also a little less prevalent, being the family name of one of my great-grandmothers on my father’s side, Harriet Ellen ‘Hattie’ Herndon. Still, I was curious and decided to trace back both to find if a familial connection existed.

Hattie Herndon, ca. 1916, Author’s family collection, cropped

I am lucky in that the Herndon families were rather prominent, making it easy to find resources. I used Ancestry Library edition here in the IHS library, primarily digging through census records, wills and probate, and other document. Additionally, I reviewed my notes from The descendants of William and Sarah (Poe) Herndon, of Caroline County, Va. and Chatham County, N.C. that I accessed a couple of years ago at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center and revisited digitally at I always warn people to be leery of information without corroborating evidence, especially in relation to family trees created by individuals online. I, personally, want evidence to tie together these relatives, not just speculation.

So, the verdict is: William Henry Herndon and I ARE related! We’re 2nd cousins, 6x removed, meaning that William’s great-grandparents and my 7x great-grandparents were the same: William P. and Sarah (Poe) Herndon. So, while I am interested to find this connection, I don’t expect to see his direct descendants and Hattie’s gathering at a family reunion any time soon. The separation is just a little too great.

Family surnames within our trees are plentiful the further you go back, and I hope to continue looking for other connections to my family within the IHS collections. I hope you join me on my journey of finding out: Are we related?

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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