Scranton Homeowner Finds Long-Lost Bible Ancestors, Returns To President’s Family
Around 2008, Melissa Kutney was scouring built-in compartments in a room in her former Scranton home when she discovered a 19th-century Bible and a broken rosary tucked away in a back corner, almost buried in insulation.
Kutney, now from Thompson, clung to the gigantic Catholic Bible she found on North Garfield Avenue for over a decade. Its cover page was missing, but Kutney viewed the Bible as a fascinating find. A surname, Blewitt, recorded several times in the ancient book, piqued his curiosity and sparked research which led to an exciting discovery last year.
The Blewitts commemorated in the Bible, researcher and genealogist Barbara Spellman Shuta finally confirmed, were the ancestors of President Joe Biden – making the Bible a tangible manifestation of Biden’s well-documented and frequently touted Scranton roots.
The family records section of the Bible includes one registered marriage and three deaths, including the death of Catherine Blewitt in February 1901 and her husband Patrick Blewitt on November 26, 1911. Catherine Blewitt, whose handwritten name is misspelled as ” Cathrine ”In the Bible, and Patrick Blewitt were Biden’s great-great-grandparents on his mother’s side of the family.
Their son, Biden’s maternal great-grandfather, Edward F. Blewitt, served as an engineer for the city of Scranton before being elected state senator, among other notable accomplishments. A Democrat, he won the 22nd seat of the District State Senate representing Lackawanna County in 1906.
Doing his own research, Kutney knew the Blewitts were an important and historically significant family in Scranton, but did not make the connection to Biden. Motivated by the desire to return the inheritance to the descendants of the family, she first attempted to trace the living ancestors before seeking help from St. Peter’s Cathedral – the place of the marriage recorded in the Bible – at the end of March.
“I thought someone might want it and it might be important to them,” Kutney said. “People don’t really care about old things like they used to, so I was hoping I could find someone who would appreciate it.”
It was then that Shuta, a volunteer researcher at the cathedral, got involved and set to work to trace the Blewitt family line through the generations. His ancestry chart details Biden’s lineage.
Edward F. Blewitt married Mary Ellen Stanton at St. Patrick’s Church in Scranton on May 10, 1879, according to Shuta’s painting. Their daughter, Biden’s maternal grandmother, Geraldine Blewitt, married Ambrose Joseph Finnegan, Biden’s maternal grandfather, in 1909. Biden’s mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan, was born to the couple in 1917 and married Joseph R. Biden Sr. in May 1941.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., who became President of the United States on Wednesday, was born at St. Mary’s Hospital on Hickory Street in South Scranton on November 20, 1942.
“I was so excited I have to tell you,” Shuta said of the Bible’s connection to Biden’s ancestors. “I was beyond the excitement.”
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Kutney gave the Bible to Shuta in May, but the task of returning it to the Biden family remained. After unsuccessfully exploring other avenues, Shuta told the biblical story to the executive director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, Mary Ann Savakinus, who contacted Virginia McGregor, a resident of Green Ridge.
McGregor, who knows the Bidens and whom the president recently appointed treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, sent photos of the Bible to Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and asked if the family would like them. She already knew the answer.
“Knowing how deeply rooted the Catholic faith is in the Biden family, I knew they would want her to return,” McGregor said. “And, not only because it was a Bible, (but) because it belonged to their ancestors, and that was the thread that held them all together.”
Valerie Biden Owens responded to the email “almost immediately” and provided her address, McGregor said. She sent the Bible on July 31.
In a handwritten note, Valerie Biden Owens thanked Savakinus for helping to facilitate the return of the Bible.
“It’s a treasure, and I can’t wait to share it with my brothers,” the note read. “Hopefully, God willing, he can find a place with Joe in the White House.” On behalf of all my brothers – and myself – thank you.
For Savakinus, the Bible is further evidence that Joe Biden shares a similar heritage with many residents of northeastern Pennsylvania. As an artifact, Blewitt’s Bible represents this legacy and the story of a family, and Savakinus, Shuta, Kutney and McGregor said they were happy he was back with the Bidens.
“I was so happy that it is now in the hands of their family because, as a genealogist, for me it is (of) the most important,” said Shuta. “I always feel really good when I have helped one of the clients I have had over the years find the information that unlocks the mystery of what they have been trying to solve for so long, which brings them back to generations beyond.
Kutney said she plans to search for the broken rosary she found with the Bible over ten years ago.
“Because I think they would really like it too,” she said.
Shuta also praised Kutney for wanting to make the book ancient to the descendants of the Blewitts.
“In truth, if she hadn’t appreciated the fact that there might be someone who wanted this Bible… none of this would have happened,” Shuta said.