How can you not love a name like Finnegan Biden? I find it charming when family names are given fresh life in ensuing generations, and that’s exactly what happened in the lineage bracketing Vice President Joe Biden. His beloved mother Jean’s full name was Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden. Subtract “Catherine Eugenia” and you have the name of one of his granddaughters – Finnegan Biden. Whether she knows it or not, there’s a lot of history tucked into her first name.
My guess is that she’s heard some of it from her grandfather, who likes to tell tales about his own grandfather Ambrose Finnegan, but she probably doesn’t know everything I’m about to share. As a professional genealogist, I’m something of a retro-journalist who delves into people’s family histories, and given my own Irish roots, I have a soft spot for anyone who shares that heritage – from Barack Obama to Barry Manilow. So I suppose it was inevitable that Vice President Biden would take a turn under my past-seeking microscope. Before probing more deeply, let’s step back and take a look at the big picture – well, the Irish part of that picture.
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, Pennsylvania. 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.
The Blewitts of County Mayo
In his Blewitt line, it was Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather, Edward, who made the decision to emigrate to America in 1851, though he may have been influenced by his son, Patrick (Biden’s eventual great-great-grandfather). Joining his parents and seven siblings on the voyage, 18-year-old Pat is recorded as a sailor on the ship’s manifest, but that was only part of the story. Though still a teenager, he had already worked as a cabin boy and lived in Chile, and there are hints that he may have previously been to the United States.