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Honoring Our Ancestors
November 27, 2020


Greetings Fellow Family History Sleuths,

Well, 2020 has been a strange year, one I hope you're capturing in some way for your current and future descendants! But now we've reached the holiday season, and even if we can't be with our loved ones in person, there are still ways to celebrate and reach out virtually (think how much is possible now that wasn't just 10 or 20 years ago!). But on the chance that you find yourself with a little more down time than usual, I'm sharing my usual genealogical mish-mash with the wish that several of them will catch your attention and offer a few minutes of pleasant distraction.

Thanks to each and every one of you, my fellow genies, for reading my newsletter! 🙏



Biden’s Biden Roots: Westbourne or Huntingdon, England or Maybe Nagpur, India?

Memorial to Christopher Biden in Chennai (then Madras), India

I first researched incoming President Biden’s genealogy about a dozen years ago focusing on his 5/8 Irish heritage. Not surprisingly, there’s been a recent surge of interest in his heritage, particularly from people overseas hoping to claim him as a cousin or at least as having roots in their neck of the woods.

As often happens, more attention has been given to the surname branch of his family tree, so it’s not unexpected that three locations are already calling dibs on his Biden ancestry: Westbourne in Sussex, England, the Houghton-Wyton outskirts of Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, England, and Nagpur, India (after a first generation in Chennai, formerly known as Madras).


Yes, India. Back in the 1980s, an Indian gentleman by the name of Leslie Biden wrote to then-Senator Biden about their shared ancestry, citing among other evidence an 1858 memorial to Captain Christopher Biden located in Madras.

I have fond memories of my days working in India, so need to confess to a bias. As soon as I saw Chennai/Nagpur as a contender, I wanted it to be so. The notion of both our President and Vice President having Indian ancestry appealed to me, but as a genealogist, I have to remain open to all possibilities, so decided to investigate. As is my habit, I started from scratch to be sure of each parent-to-child link in the chain. Fortunately, I had the advantage of a running start having already traced this branch back to the immigrant ancestor, William Biden.

Click here to continue reading.

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In Her Footsteps

(A little sample of the kind of tales you'll find in this book)

My great-great-grandmother, Elisabeth Merklin, was shipwrecked in Key West on her voyage from Germany to New Orleans. According to family tradition, she stayed in Key West and married her rescuer, Peter Thomas Knight, a young mariner from England, in 1849.

On a visit to Key West from my home state of Washington, I went with one of my cousins to see the graves of Elisabeth and Peter Knight. Afterward, we stopped at the cemetery’s office to look through the records to see if they held any fresh clues to our family history. While we were there, a couple walked in and asked for assistance. I couldn’t help but overhear as the woman told the sexton that they were searching for the graves of Elisabeth Merklin and Peter T. Knight! Of course, I had to interject. Liz, it was revealed, was descended from Elisabeth’s third marriage, while I am descended from her first marriage to Peter Knight.

It’s peculiar enough that Liz and I should meet in the sexton’s office while on the same quest on the same day, but what made this chance meeting even more extraordinary is that Liz was visiting the U.S. from Germany, where she and her husband were working for the Army. This last fact turned out to be a lucky break for both of us.

As a result of this meeting, I shared the research I had already done with Liz. When she returned to Germany, she used her new knowledge to locate the village in Baden where Elisabeth Merklin was born. A trip to the village happily led to a priest who generously lent Liz the Ortsippenbusch, a book detailing all the births, marriages, and deaths of the parish, giving both of us buckets of new information on our common heritage.

How convenient that my new found cousin was now living in the country of our ancestor’s birth! And how fortunate that history repeated itself when Liz followed in our ancestor’s footsteps, journeying from Germany to Key West, at just the right time!

This story, told by Jeanne Brookman of Washington, was originally published in the book In Search of Our Ancestors: 101 Inspiring Stories of Serendipity and Connection.

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Genealogy Roundup, November 11

To Dad and all veterans, Thank you for your service and sacrifices. 🙏

Seems folks are interested in Biden's Irish roots. This is the traffic the last few days on my Medium article on them. 😆☘️

How Irish is Joe Biden? Watch this 2013 video from Irish America Magazine when he was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame. You’ll get a good feel for his thoughts on immigration, science, the military, etc. 🇮🇪 🇺🇸

A reminder of how long I’ve been researching soldiers’ families to help bring them home. I was young when I started!

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Genealogy Roundup, November 4

Photo Credit: Lal Beral

The Long-Lost Ritual of Baby Books – I consider it a badge of honor that my baby book was checked out of a library. 😆

FORTY SHADES OF SEPIA Historian brings black and white photos of Ireland back to life in stunning new book – A peek into Ireland's colorful, colorized past

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Genealogy Roundup, October 28

Photo Credit: ksparrow11

Some people visit cemeteries on Halloween. This man visits them all year to honor the dead he’s never met. – Quite a read about a topic that's fairly mundane to most genealogists. Simultaneously sweet and disturbing.

A Virginia state senator found headstones on his property. It brought to light a historic injustice in D.C. – Back in 2009, I traced Philip Reed, the once enslaved man who placed the Freedom statue on top of the Capitol (click here to learn about how he was disinterred and reburied twice 😞). Now there’s a chance his tombstone could be found.

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