Who is Joe Biden’s grandfather, ‘All-American football player’ Ambrose Finnegan?

Bruno Cooke October 21, 2022
Who is Joe Biden’s grandfather, ‘All-American football player’ Ambrose Finnegan?
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On Thursday, October 20, 2022, president Joe Biden gave an infrastructure speech at Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during which he made a reference to his ‘All-American football player’ grandfather, Ambrose Finnegan.

It wasn’t the first time Biden has dropped the name of his forebear. 

He brought up grandpa Finnegan during a speech in September this year, and at least once in 2021. 

The president’s opponents have already poked fun at the claim, which begs the question: who was Joe Biden’s grandfather Finnegan?

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Joe Biden’s grandfather was Ambrose Finnegan, and he was a football player in Santa Clara

Santa Clara Magazine published a short article about Ambrose Finnegan’s attendance at Santa Clara College at the turn of the 20th century.

He played football for the college, and years later worked at The Scrantonian newspaper. 

Finnegan had, by 1930, moved back to his hometown of Scranton – hence, Biden refers to him as “Finnegan from Scranton.”

But he still evidently enjoyed reading the Santa Clara (the name of the magazine). His request for a subscription renewal from 1930 reportedly included the line: “It is a pleasure indeed to renew my subscription, which, like a letter home, can’t come too soon.”

Biden lived with his grandparents during his early years

The article mentioned above quotes journalist Richard Ben Cramer as writing, in his book about the 1988 presidential race, that the Finnegans – as in, Biden’s antecedents, “were all opinionated.”

“A guest for dinner would get a fine feed, but at the same time, he’d better watch what he said. All his ideas were fair game: they’d take him apart.”

Ambrose was born in 1884, according to genealogist and writer Megan Smolenyak’s research. He provided “both fodder and inspiration for Biden,” she writes. The president spent some of his early years living with his grandparents.

The Seattle Times notes that, during that 1988 presidential run, Biden talked about ancestors who would “play football for four hours.”

U.S. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware addresses Drexel University Alumni. Biden was the youngest U.S. Senator at that time.

What happened to Joe Biden’s football-playing grandfather Ambrose Finnegan?

Biden mentions Scranton frequently in his political speeches. It’s part of what the New Yorker describes as his “ability to connect with working-class and middle-class Americans.”

“I grew up in a family where, if the price of food went up, you felt it,” he said during his 2022 State of the Union address.

Ambrose Finnegan and his wife Geraldine Blewitt had Joe Biden’s mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan, in 1917. Their son, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr, was killed in May 1944. He was a second lieutenant in the Second World War.

According to Familypedia’s entry on Ambrose Joseph Finnegan, born 1884, Biden’s grandpa died on May 27, 1957 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. 

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But the Finnegan name persists

Joe Biden’s mother’s full name is Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden.

His son Hunter, born 1970, has three daughters from his marriage to Kathleen Buhle: Naomi, Finnegan and Maisy.

“There’s a lot of history tucked into her first name,” writes Smolenyak, whose guess is that “she’s heard some of it from her grandfather, who likes to tell tales about his own grandfather Ambrose Finnegan.”

So, even if he wasn’t an “All-American” football player, Joe’s grandfather Ambrose did play in Santa Clara, and his legacy has filtered down, via the president, to the present day.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.