We've unlocked hidden branches in Joe Biden's family tree

3-4 minute read

By Jen Baldwin | January 20, 2021

Joe Biden ancestry

Joe Biden's family history features inter-faith marriages and deep-rooted ties to England. Read on to discover the details.

Joseph Biden, the 46th President of the United States, is known for his Irish ancestry. His English and Catholic family heritage, however, has been largely overlooked. Until now.

The Catholic Heritage Archive has helped us unlock a hidden chapter in Joe Biden's family story. His Catholic connections stem from the Baltimore area and while he was raised in Pennsylvania, his family before him resided in Maryland for several generations.

Irish roots

Joe Biden is fiercely proud of his Irish-American heritage. Our friends at the Irish Family History Centre traced his earliest Irish ancestor to County Mayo on Ireland's west coast. His three-times great grandfather, Edward Blewitt came from the town of Ballina.

Both of Joe Biden's parents have Irish ancestry but it was his less well-known English family lineage that intrigued us most.

English ancestry

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born in 1942. His father, Joseph R. Biden, Sr., was born in 1915.

Joe Biden's family tree

Four generations of relatives on Joe Biden's family tree.

The Biden family line stretches back to William H. Biden, born in the late 1780s in Sussex, England. The exact location that William Biden hails from has been debated. Some sources indicate that he may have been born in Cambridgeshire, England, as his memorial page on FindAGrave suggests.

William is the first Biden known to immigrate to the United States, where he married Mary Elkins on 13 February 1822.

Joe Biden's ancestor in the 1840 US Census

This is likely to be the entry for Joe Biden's ancestor, William, in the 1840 US Census. View the full record.

William Biden died in Maryland in 1849 and is buried at Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore. He appears in the US Census Mortality Schedule of 1850 with his surname spelt Byden. His entry indicates that he was a stonemason and died of dropsy after being ill for six days.

What is dropsy?

The Biden surname crops up repeatedly in Westbourne, Sussex. This is the most likely place of origin for the Biden family. However, there is a two-year discrepancy between the published birth year of William Henry Biden and the transcriptions available online. His parents, James and Ann Biden (née Silverlock), seem to have baptised all of their children several years after their birth, so this oddity appears to be a family tradition. James Biden and Ann Silverlock married at Westbourne on 16 May 1785.

Catholic connections

Joe Biden's grandparents, Joseph H. Biden and Mary E. Robinette married in the parish of St Edward, Baltimore, Maryland in November 1914. Their detailed marriage record features in Findmypast's exclusive Catholic collection from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Joe Biden's grandparents' marriage record.

Joe Biden's grandparents' marriage register, only online at Findmypast. View the full record.

As with most old Catholic records, notes were added in Latin. The note added in the margin of the Bidens' record reads;

""Obtenta dispensatione in dispari cultu""


""Sponso haud baptizato""

These little notes imply that Joseph Biden was not a practising Catholic when he married Mary. We know that he needed the dispensation from the church because Mary’s baptism record is included in the register. So what religious denomination was the Biden family before Joseph’s marriage to Mary?

Joseph H. Biden was officially converted to Catholicism on 18 February 1917 at St. Martin’s parish in Baltimore. On the record, the priest noted that he was Methodist beforehand. This was a conditional baptism, because of his adult status and his previous denomination.

Joe Biden's grandfather's baptism record

Joe Biden's grandfather's 1917 baptism register. View the full record.

Clearly, Joseph's adopted religion stayed with him. When he died in 1941, he was buried in a Catholic cemetery. On his death register, his cause of death was noted as a cerebral haemorrhage. His obituary was printed in Frederick News Post on 29 September 1941.

Joe Biden's grandfather's obituary

Joe Biden's grandfather's 1941 obituary. Read the full article.

Mary Robinette (Joe Biden’s grandmother) was the daughter of George and Mary (Hannafe) Robinette. George was listed as a locomotive engineer in the 1900 US Census, residing in Baltimore, and was born in Maryland. His wife, Mary was born in Ohio. They were married in West Virginia in 1884.

Joe Biden's great grandparents' marriage record

Joe Biden's great grandparents' marriage certificate. View the full record.

Do you have a family connection to a US President? Just as it has for Joe Biden, has our Catholic Heritage Archive added more colour and context to your family history? Whatever your family story, we love hearing from you. Drop us a line on [email protected] to share your favourite finds. Your story could go even further than you think.

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About the author

Jen Baldwin Findmypast genealogistJen Baldwin