OVID — In November, Ovid residents narrowly voted in favor of returning President Donald Trump to office, 566-478, but President-elect Joe Biden still has a pretty strong foothold in this southern Seneca County town.
Biden’s ancestors on his mother’s side once called Ovid home.
His maternal great-great grandfather and grandmother — Owen and Jane Finnegan — left Ireland in the mid-1800s to put down roots in the country that would eventually be led by one of their descendants. The couple died in 1874 and are buried in Holy Cross Cemetery.
When then-Vice President Biden visited Ireland in 2016, the Irish Family History Centre prepared a complete family history for him (both his maternal and paternal ancestors came from Ireland).
That history is available online (www.irishfamilyhistorycentre.com/article/vice-president-joe-bidens-irish-family-history) and much of the information has been supplemented here with material provided by Ovid Town Historian Jane Braunig.
Owen Finnegan left County Louth, Ireland, in the late 1840s and was soon joined by his wife, the former Jane Boyle, and four children born in Ireland, including James Finnegan, who is Biden’s great-grandfather. James Finnegan’s son, Ambrose, is the father of Biden’s mother, Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan.
The Irish Family History Centre noted Owen Finnegan was joined in Ovid by brothers and cousins; a stroll through the Holy Cross Cemetery shows a number of old gravestones of people who hailed from County Louth in northeast Ireland, which borders Northern Ireland.
According to Braunig’s information, an 1850 census for Covert lists Owen Finnegan as a laborer with three sons — James, 10; Stephen, 7; and Michael, 5 — all born in Ireland. By 1860, as indicated in the Ovid village census, Owen Finnegan had moved to the village and become a shoemaker. He and his wife, Jane, had three more children born in Seneca County — sons Thomas and Michael and daughter Margaret (Maggie). The household also included a domestic servant (Bridget McGregan, 16, born in Ireland).
Braunig said research also showed that Owen Finnegan was a village trustee in 1866 and by 1870 had real estate assets worth $1,500, not a small sum at that time. He died in June 1874 and his wife passed in December of the same year. Their large memorial stone is pictured with this article; their sons Michael and Patrick also are buried there.
Son James — the direct line to Biden — married Catherine Roche in 1866 at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Ovid. He was likely vision impaired. Braunig notes the 1860 census refers to James as blind; another source notes James did not fight in the Civil War like his brother Michael because of poor vision.
James Finnegan, a fiddler by trade, lived in Rochester for a spell with his bride before moving to Olyphant, Pa. He and Catherine had 14 children. Their youngest son, Ambrose Joseph Finnegan (1884-1957), was born in Olyphant and was an early engineer with the Scranton Gas & Water Co. Among his five children (and only daughter) was Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan, Biden’s mother. The Finnegan name lives on today in Biden’s family; his 20-year-old granddaughter (the daughter of Hunter and Kathleen Biden) is named Finnegan.
It was Naomi Brewer of Ovid, former Ovid Historical Society president, who first wrote about the Ovid-Biden connection in a summer 2008 Ovid Historical Society newsletter. She said she learned of the association from the late Lena Hunt Burdin of Interlaken, whose son-in-law Denis Bergin had done the research on Biden’s family history.
“I put it in the newsletter but I did some research, too,” she said.
Brewer, along with Braunig, believes not many Ovidians are aware of their connection with the incoming president.
“Maybe Joe Biden is going to come visit us,” Braunig joked.
During her research, she noticed that Owen Finnegan made a prosperous life for himself in his new country. He had an entrepreneurial streak, took an interest in his town by serving as trustee and the Finnegan name was mentioned in several old news articles beyond births or obituaries, Braunig noted.
“They were in the community in force,” she said. “Joe Biden came from good stock.”