May 24, 2018
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McCain, Obama, Palin and Biden all a wee bit Irish

By Roxanne Moore Saucier, BDN Columnist

In March, we looked at the Irish ancestry of the presidential candidates, and in recent weeks I’ve had great fun pondering some of vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin’s Maine ancestors, particularly the Gowers.

With the election tomorrow, let’s think briefly about what presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, and vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin have in common.

For sure, it’s a bit of Irish.

Sen. Joe Biden was born in Pennsylvania to Joseph Biden Sr., of English descent, and Catherine “Jean” (Finnegan) Biden, according to William Addams Reitweisner, whose Web site at is based largely on the research of Robert Battle.

In the 1900 Census, Catherine’s father, 16-year-old Ambrose Finnegan, born in Pennsylvania, told the census-taker that both his parents were from Ireland. At the census, he was listed in the household with uncle and aunt Peter and Bridget Roche of Scranton.

Finnegan married Geraldine Blewitt, who was the daughter of Edward F. Blewitt and the granddaughter of Patrick and Catherine “Kate” Scanlon Blewitt, both natives of Ireland. Scanlon and Finnegan are names we have here in Maine, you may have noticed.

According to the 1930 Census of Scranton, Ambrose and Geraldine even had a son they named Blewitt Finnegan. Now that’s Irish.

Biden’s opponent, Gov. Sarah (Heath) Palin, has Irish ancestry through one of her great-great-grandmothers, according to a Web site on Palin’s paternal ancestry by Robert Battle at

Frank Oriel’s wife, Ellen, 38, is listed in the 1880 Census of Chicago as being born in Ireland to parents who were both Irish.

In addition, Palin had maternal great-great-great-grandparents Michael Sheeran and Maria (Burke), who were born in Ireland.

And as I wrote on St. Patrick’s Day this year, Reitweisner’s Web sites at show Irish ancestry for both presidential candidates, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.

Falmouth Kearney was Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side, having been born in Ireland to Joseph and Phoebe Kearney of Moneygall.

McCain’s Irish-born forebears included great-great-great-great-grandparents Capt. John and Mary (White) Young of Ballymore, and one generation earlier, Dixie Coddington and Hannah Waller of County Dublin. Coddington was actually descended from ancestors in England.

I remember that in 1960, the media made a really big deal about Sen. John F. Kennedy’s Irish heritage, both because it was so recent and even more so because he was Catholic. And, he was elected.

You’d have thought Kennedy was the first president ever to have Irish forebears.

Sean Murphy writes about the Irish ancestry of 16 presidents in a very interesting article, “American Presidents with Irish Ancestors,” on the Web at

Most of our recent presidents have some Irish roots, Murphy wrote, including both George Bushes and Jimmy Carter. He lists the Bushes’ Irish ancestors as William Holliday and William Shannon.

All four candidates have English ancestry, as well. McCain and Obama both would qualify for the Sons of the American Revolution, and Palin for the Daughters of the American Revolution, based on an ancestor’s patriotic service. Palin also has several Mayflower ancestors and could join that organization.

Biden wouldn’t qualify for SAR or Mayflower, that we know of, because none of his family arrived here until the 1800s. There are, of course, lineage societies for just about every kind of ancestry one can think of, including Irish.

For all that I’ve written about whose ancestors came from where, none of it is intended as an endorsement for any of the candidates.

But for our future and that of our descendants, let’s all vote on Tuesday.

Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail queries to

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