To accompany the trip, Biden commissioned a genealogy covering his mother’s side of the family, which was released to the public. He also gave an interview to Ancestry.com, who ran posts about the genealogists ’findings.
Left in the hobby is most of Biden’s paternal lineage, which is nearly three-quarters English. While he has practice of checking the name of his father’s Irish Hanafee ancestors, Biden’s non -Irish ancestor did not play a prominent role in his public image.
According to Biden, it will also play a limited role in his own image, due to the early influence of his mother’s family. When the future president was young, he remembered what his aunt Gertie had told him, “Your father is not a bad man. He is only English.”
“There’s an ongoing debate over whether Biden is an Irish, English or German name,” Biden said Irish America in 1987, but his Scranton relatives preferred to ignore the possibility that they lived under the same roof as an Englishman. “My grandfather and my mother never went crazy about being English and used to say,‘ Tell him it’s Dutch, ’” he recalls. (Later, Biden began to describe his last name, precisely, as an English name).
Biden’s father, the former senator, is said to have seemed to take the side of the Finnegans once, expressing the belief that the name Biden ay Irish
At least that’s the way Biden remembers it Irish America as he prepares for his first presidential run. Expressions of identity have a way of adapting themselves to the political moment. (In America, the German Trumps, after World War II, take over as Sweden, according to one of the former president’s cousins, to play the role of Trump family historian.)
There is little reason, or outlet, for Biden to express an English side to his identity as an upcoming Democratic politician in Delaware beginning in the early 1970s. The French Huguenot du Pont family and their allies are dominant in Republican politics in the state, an extension of a broader Northern pattern in which indigenous WASPs are generally aligned with the Republican Party against white ethnic and Black Democrats.
There was still an “iron bond” between Irish Catholics and the Democratic Party at the time, perhaps best described, Quinn said, by an old joke: A Catholic woman in Ireland turned to one yet and said, “Did you hear? Mr. Murphy became a Republican.” To which the other woman replied, “That’s impossible. I saw him at mass on Sunday. “
It was natural, then, for Biden to embrace his Irishness.
Republicans of that time faced a different calculation. Former Irish ambassador to the US Sean Donlon said Ronald Reagan asked him not to make the information public about the legacy of the Irish candidate then running in the 1980 presidential election. To appeal to his party’s base, Donlon said, Reagan wanted to be seen as a WASP. (Reagan made at least occasional references to his Irish origins during that campaign, and he embraced them after winning, sending an aide to place an Inauguration Day phone call to those who greet his village of Ballyporeen.)
As it happened, there are also reasons for Biden to avoid calling too much attention to his ancestral father.
Years before he unveiled the Irish branches of his family tree, Biden had another, more fully drawn genealogy. Back in 2004, the former senator was coldly called James Petty, a genealogist in Salt Lake City (where the Mormon Church manages the best public library in the world). At first Biden wanted help researching his ancestors in Scranton. Eventually, he commissioned a complete genealogy. The results were not published.
James Petty died in 2020, according to his widow and professional partner, Mary Petty, who said he worked on the Biden pedigree. Mary Petty told me she sat down with Biden’s sons Beau and Hunter as part of the process. He refused to give me any information about the genealogy itself, citing the client’s confidentiality.