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Joe Biden: My surprise claim to be the US president’s English cousin

By Joshua Nevett

BBC News

image copyrightStuart Martin/BBC

image captionPaul Harris (L) has dug up family records that show an ancestral connection to President Biden

Last week the BBC investigated the recent discovery of an English link in US President Joe Biden’s ancestry. Since then a family from England has claimed a connection to the president through the same forebears. They explained what it means to them.

For 20 years, Paul Harris has made a hobby of dwelling on the past.

Bit by bit, he has pieced together the disparate parts of his ancestry like an epic jigsaw puzzle.

There was his grandmother, Kathleen Mary Brooks, and his great-grandmother, Ann Maria Davies, before her.

Beyond that, the Biden name started to crop up. The name didn’t ring any bells until one day late last year when Mr Harris’s daughter, Rose Patton, made an off-the-cuff comment.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we were related to Joe Biden?” she said, referring to the newly elected president of the United States.

Flummoxed by the notion, Mr Harris told his daughter he would look into it.

image copyrightStuart Martin/BBC

image captionDaughter Rose Patton (L) said she alluded to the Biden link as a joke

When he did, he found research that had established a firm link between the president and Bidens from Westbourne, a village in West Sussex in England.

Suddenly, the dots began to join. The names, the dates, the locations – every detail about these Bidens matched with his records seamlessly.

This led him to a surprising conclusion: he appeared to be the fifth cousin of President Biden.

“You know, it hadn’t even occurred to me,” Mr Harris told the BBC. “Even when he was elected, his name didn’t register.”

Mr Harris, a 60-year-old software engineer from Hampshire, claims kinship with the president through his great-great-grandmother, Emily Biden.

She was from Westbourne, where several generations of her family members once lived.

image copyrightSupplied by Paul Harris, Crown Copyright

image captionMr Harris has the certificate documenting Emily Biden’s second marriage to Thomas Davies

Among them was her uncle, William Biden, whose life choices would echo through time and space in ways he could never have imagined. A census file and other records suggest he emigrated from England to the US in the early 1800s.

Last year, analysis of these documents gave historian Eddy Greenfield and genealogist Megan Smolenyak the confidence to write William Biden’s name into history.

They identified him as the great-great-great-grandfather of President Biden. Then, in an article last week, the BBC showed how they came to that conclusion.

Now Mr Harris has filled in more of the blanks.

He has shown the BBC records of births, marriages, and census data that build a bridge to the current occupant of the White House.

Mr Harris grew up in the coastal city of Portsmouth, not far from where his Biden forebears put down roots in southern England centuries ago.

“We come from a working-class family all round,” Mr Harris said, drawing parallels with the humble trappings of President Biden’s early life in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Little tales of this heritage pricked Mr Harris’s ears. He wanted to know more so, in the early 2000s, he started seeking tangible evidence to verify those stories.

image copyrightPaul Harris

image captionMr Harris said three generations of his family lived at 101 Boulton Rd in Portsmouth. Pictured here outside the house is his great-grandmother, Anne Davies (R), with three of her children

He gathered records fastidiously, compiling them in an encyclopaedic dossier of biographical minutiae. It included every known member of his family, from long-deceased grandfathers to his eight-year-old granddaughter, Ivy.

Without her inquisitiveness, the link to President Biden may never have been discovered. She instigated the discussion in which her mother, Mrs Patton, 34, alluded to a possible relation “as kind of a joke”.

Once the connection had been established, the family embraced its newfound ancestry with pride.

Mr Harris and his daughter went on several pilgrimages to Westbourne to search for Biden gravestones, which they never found. Mrs Patton’s four children were more excited by the family tree, which two of them – Ivy and her 12-year-old brother Marley – printed off to show their friends at school.

image copyrightStuart Martin/BBC

image captionIvy and Marley want their grandfather to write a letter to the White House

A gesture of recognition from President Biden would be even more thrilling for the children.

“They’re waiting for their invite to the White House,” Mr Harris said.

While this was apparently meant as a joke, the prospect of a family get-together is not inconceivable.

Before his presidency, Mr Biden made several trips to meet distant relatives in the Republic of Ireland, where ancestors on the most-celebrated side of his family came from.

“I think he’s right to be proud of his Irish heritage,” Mr Harris said. “Now he can be proud of his English heritage as well.”

Find out more about Joe Biden’s Irish roots:

media captionCelebrations broke out across Ballina when Biden’s presidential victory was declared

It is not clear how much President Biden knows about this heritage, which the BBC has brought to the attention of the White House without reply.

President Biden has been rather busy of late, with much of his time occupied by summits in the UK and Europe.

“It’s not like he can pop and have tea with us,” Mrs Patton said. Still, she has been urging her father to write to him anyway.

Should he reply, his letter would be one for the ages.

“It would be lovely to get something for the kids, something they can hold for their children,” Mrs Patton said.

image copyrightStuart Martin/BBC

image captionMr Harris said he didn’t expect a reply from the president, given his busy schedule

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