Joe Biden’s 2nd great-grandfather, Owen Finnegan, was a shoemaker who married Jane Boyle on 8 December 1839 in Carlingford South, County Louth, Ireland.
James Finnegan, Joe’s great-grandfather, was born a year later in County Louth, Ireland and according to his Ireland Catholic Parish Register record on Ancestry, was baptized in Lordship, County Louth, Ireland on 18 December 1840.
In 1849, Owen boarded a passenger ship and headed to America. When he arrived in New York, he set up shop as a shoemaker in Ovid, Seneca County about an hour southeast of Rochester and southwest of Syracuse.
His wife Jane, their son James and others in his family followed him a year later, leaving from Newry, Northern Ireland on the SS Marchioness of Bute. It was the height of the Great Famine in Ireland.
In the 1860 US Census, Owen is still making shoes and is listed with his wife, Jane, and their children. James, age 19, was listed as blind. They also had a 16 year old domestic living with them.
We next find James in the Civil War draft registrations (June 1863). We did not find evidence that James fought in the war, presumably due to his poor eye sight.
By the time the 1870 US Census rolls around, only Margaret (Maggie), Thomas and newest addition, Michael remain in the household with Owen and Jane.
It is reported that Owen passed away in 1874, though I have yet to find an obituary or death certificate to confirm. His tombstone in Holy Cross Cemetery, Ovid, Seneca County, New York has a date of death of 1875, but as we have seen before, mistakes can happen and wrong dates can be etched on tombstones. What we do know is he and Jane passed away within months of one another.
Biden is proud of his shoemaking 2nd great grandfather and during his speech earlier today at Dublin Castle, he noted that he was not the only one with a shoemaker in the family:
“Around the same time my great-great-grandfather, Owen Finnegan, the shoemaker, boarded the Brothers on May 31, 1844, another shoemaker named Joseph Kearny, from Moneygall, sailed aboard the Caroline Reade, arriving in America just five weeks before my great-great-grandfather. It’s doubtful they ever knew each another.
But one thing we do know — they left everything behind for an uncertain future. And in all of their dreams, could they ever have dreamt that 160 years later, two great-great-grandsons of shoemakers from Ireland would be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America?”
That is right, for those who were not already aware, President Barack Obama is also Irish, and has a shoe maker in his family line.
Ok, back to the Finnegans. We find James in the 1870 US Census. He is married and living with his wife Catherine (née Roche) along with children, Eugene and Mariah. Interesting to note, James is not listed as blind in this census though he is again in the 1880 US Census. Also of note, the 1880 US Census states James could not read or write, a fact missing in both the 1860 and 1870 US census records. This is a great reminder to look at multiple records as it will give you a larger window into the lives of your ancestors.
The 1880 US Census also shows James and Catherine had expanded their family with the addition of three more sons – Stephen, John and Louis and he has given up the hotel business to pursue his passion of music full time.
Ambrose, Joe’s grandfather, came four years later (1884).
Unfortunately, neither Catherine or James lived long enough to see Ambrose grow up and eventually marry Geraldine (née Blewitt).
It is now 1910, Ambrose and Geraldine were living with her father, Edward Blewitt, along with their first born, Gerard. In 1920, we find the Finnegan brood continues to expand as Ambrose and Geraldine added Edward, Ambrose Jr. and Eugenia (Joe’s mother).
Vice President Biden heads to County Louth, Ireland on Saturday, and we cannot wait to hear about the sites he sees, the stories he learns and the impact it has on him as he stands where so many Finnegans previously stood.