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By heritage, Joe Biden is roughly five-eighths Irish. His mother’s entire family tree traces to Ireland with ancestors named Arthurs, Blewitt, Boyle, Roche, Scanlon and Stanton accompanying her Finnegan kin. The last one-eighth comes from his father’s side, which contributed the Hanafee name.
Most of the immigrants in the Vice President’s family were born in the early decades of the 19th century and made the journey to America mid-century, so the Famine was undoubtedly a key factor in their departure. With a couple of exceptions, they converged almost immediately on Scranton, PA. By the time the future Vice President joined the family in 1942, they had been settled there for roughly 70 to 90 years, so it’s little wonder that Scranton features so prominently in his narrative.
Biden’s quintessentially Irish American mother was born in 1917 to Ambrose Finnegan and Geraldine Blewitt, so it seems appropriate to focus on the Finnegan and Blewitt branches that played such a strong role in shaping who he would become....
In the case of Biden’s Finnegan line, the immigrant was Owen, his great-great-grandfather, and just as with Obama’s Kearneys, the patriarch came to America before the rest of his family. In fact, Owen Finnegan arrived in New York on May 31, 1849, just five weeks after Joseph Kearney, Obama’s ancestor. Curiously, both men were shoemakers.
Owen’s wife, Jane, followed with their children (including Biden’s great-grandfather, James) almost a year later in May 1850 on a ship called the Marchioness of Bute, meaning that the Finnegans beat the Blewitts to America by about eight months. Unlike the Blewitts, however, the Finnegans did not go directly to Scranton. The 1850 census, conducted mere months after their arrival, finds them in Covert, NY. Before long, they shifted slightly north to the town of Ovid. Parents Owen and Jane stayed put and were eventually buried there
, but their children scattered.
They lost one son, Michael, to the Civil War, at Cold Harbor in 1864. Another named Stephen was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House and carried shrapnel souvenirs for the rest of his life. Stephen and two of his brothers went to California, while other siblings settled in Ohio and Missouri.
It was Owen and Jane’s son James who stayed the closest to home, and census records provide a hint as to why this might have been. Two of the four records that include him state that he was blind. This inconsistency suggests that while he may not have been completely blind, he probably had a severe vision problem of some sort, which would explain why he didn’t serve in the Civil War or follow the family’s preferred occupation of shoemaker. Instead, he became a musician.
After marrying Catherine Roche in 1866 and living in Rochester, NY for several years, James moved to Olyphant, situated on the outskirts of Scranton. His wife’s brother, Peter, also lived there, which would prove fortunate for the couple’s youngest son, Ambrose, born in 1884.
Ambrose, the future grandfather who would provide both fodder and inspiration for Biden, had a rough start in life, with his mother passing away before his second birthday and his father dying when he was ten. Just two days before his death, James wrote a will leaving his prized violin to Ambrose, a snippet of information that revealed that he had literally been a blind fiddler.
He also instructed that his house be held a year before selling, and that the “rent or income of my property . . . be paid . . . to the St. Patrick’s Orphanage of Scranton, PA until said real estate is legally disposed of or sold.” The orphanage in question was opened shortly after the Finnegans arrived in Scranton, and made national news in 1881 when 17 children died in a fire. The local community rallied to rebuild, and the Finnegans were among those who supported the effort, but knowing that James was aware that he would soon be leaving his youngest an orphan makes this final bequest all the more poignant.
Ambrose moved in with the family of his maternal uncle, Peter Roche, and remained close to them, even working for the Roche Company, which manufactured signs and bulletin boards. That they were devout Catholics is hinted at by the fact that Ambrose’s slightly older cousin, Thomas Roche, went abroad on more than one occasion with the Knights of Columbus.
It was on June 1, 1909 that the Finnegan and Blewitt families finally linked destinies, when Ambrose Joseph Finnegan married Geraldine Catherine Blewitt. Their first born was a honeymoon baby, which may be what motivated the freshly minted husband and father to put in a season as a census enumerator in 1910. As a result, should the Vice President ever wish to see a sample of his grandfather’s handwriting, all he has to do is scan the pages of the 1910 federal census for Dunmore Borough in Lackawanna County.
As with the immigrant Finnegans, Ambrose and Geraldine also sacrificed a son to war when Second Lieutenant Ambrose J. Finnegan, Jr. was killed in May 1944. The plane he was flying has never been located, so he is considered MIA/KIA. Having assisted the Army and JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) for 14 years with repatriation efforts to identify soldiers who are still unaccounted for from past conflicts, it was immediately apparent to me that should his uncle’s plane or remains ever be recovered, Vice President Biden would be eligible to provide a DNA reference sample to help in the process, and given his family’s proud military history, I suspect he would.
Little Joey Biden made his entrance the year after Ambrose and Geraldine’s daughter, Jean, married Joseph Biden, making him a fifth-generation Finnegan in the United StatesJames O’Shea @irishcentral May 10,2016 01:34 AM