In advance of the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden to Ireland in June, the Mayo North Heritage Centre has announced that it has traced the origins of the vice president’s maternal lineage, that of the Blewitts of Co Mayo, to the area of Garden Street in Ballina.
Ballina is the twin town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is the vice president’s home town. While it has been known for some time that Vice President Biden’s Mayo ancestry originated in the Ballina area, the exact location has been the subject of uncertainty. Thanks to research carried out by the Mayo North Heritage Centre using records concerning the vice president’s great great grandfather, Patrick Blewitt of Scranton, and local records in Mayo, including a study of local surnames, they have been able to confirm for the first time that Patrick Blewitt was born in the early 1830s in the Garden Street area of Ballina.
It has long been known that the Blewitt family came from one of the parishes around Ballina, but a lack of definitive records made pinpointing the location very difficult. This latest research highlights the importance of local knowledge in genealogical research, and shows that vice president Biden’s great great great grandfather Edward married in the early to mid-1820s, and he and his wife had at least three children in the town of Ballina, the last of whom was Patrick Blewitt. The family left the town of Ballina following Patrick’s birth, as information contained in Patrick’s obituary indicates that they lived in the neighbouring parish of Ardagh until Patrick was in his late teens. Patrick was born just four months before an outbreak of cholera claimed the lives of 176 people in Ballina, and this may have been a factor in the family’s departure from the town. Several other children were born to the family prior to their departure for America in the late 1840s.
According to Patrick’s obituary, his father Edward was a civil engineer and was said to have worked with the Ordnance Survey when it visited Mayo in the 1830s. Edward had earlier been a brick maker, who supplied 27,000 bricks for the construction of Killala Cathedral in 1827. At the time, the Blewitt family lived in an area of Ballina known in the 19th century as the Brick Fields.
The Mayo North Heritage Centre has a long track record in providing personalised research to people from all over the world who have ancestors from the north Mayo area. This latest research on Vice President Biden’s Co Mayo ancestors underlines the value of local knowledge in family history research even as more and more resources become available online.