“A Heaven of a Place,” or the story of James Finnie and John Finnie, all began
with an attic find. In about 1993, give
or take a year or two, I joined my mother and father in the spacey attic of my
grandfather, Thomas James Finnie, who had passed away in 1980. My grandmother Finnie, Virginia VanZandt
Vail-Finnie, had left everything lying among the rafters of their Sulphur,
Louisiana, or more accurately Maplewood, Louisiana, attic where most of it had rested
since 1955 when they had transported the contents of Edzzard Gibbs Finnie’s Gainesville,
Texas home (after his death) southeast for storage. Yet another chink in a line that was the
passage of the Finnie artifacts from generation to generation. The line really began with John Finnie, who
was the son of James Finnie and born in 1784.
John was the second oldest James Finnie male child and stayed in Union
County, Kentucky to farm on land that adjoined his father’s, unlike many of his
siblings. He was the logical choice to inherit,
and preserve, the Finnie artifacts. Next
came Thomas James Finnie, son of John and born in 1827. He was the last child of John Finnie, the
only surviving Finnie son, and eventual custodian of his aging parents and so,
the artifacts were again preserved.
Thomas James Finnie had many potential offspring (to pass the Finnie
historical documents to) as events took him to Randolph County, Missouri and
then to Gainesville, Texas. One male
progenitor would retain the Finnie farm in Texas after his father’s death along
with the growing collection of artifacts; the youngest son, Edzzard Gibbs
Finnie, born in 1876. The Finnie
artifacts remained in the Thomas James Finnie house since Edzzard Gibbs Finnie
simply took over his father’s farm. Edzzard,
or Gip as he was known, lived in this home until 1955 when he passed away. The growing Finnie collection had spent 82
years in one place and consisted of items that dated from 1785, covering 170
Of course at the time we stepped
into the Thomas James Finnie attic, we had no idea of the history (and the fun)
that awaited us among the spider webs, bugs, and blazing heat. A precursory analysis identified that we may
have bitten off much more than we could chew.
Though my parents soon became exhausted and probably felt we would never
finish, I on the other hand was in a proverbial heaven. It was here in this southwest Louisiana sauna
that I fell in love with old stuff. Much
to my dismay, a large amount of this stuff was classified as “junk” by my mom
and dad (and probably most other sane people) and thrown out. I worried constantly that something important,
something that had been saved over generations, was being rudely trashed. After all, someone had gone to all the
trouble to preserve all of this and who were we to decide to throw it
away? I was concerned over old clothes and
shoes and magazines and toys…pretty much everything. I began to find papers, such as newspapers
that had been saved at the time of historical events and other ocasions both
related and unrelated to the family. Among
all the treasures that only I seemed to be able to see, I found several boxes
full of letters and papers which I refused to send to the trash forming below.
In retrospect, I understand my parents’ resistance to keep it all – we lived
nearly 800 miles away in Florida. We had
limited space at our home and of course a limited ability to transport items
they deemed impracticable, unnecessary, and of little value.
The boxes of papers included
letters, receipts, and miscellaneous records of Finnie families of the
past. There were even books that nearly
all included detailed inscriptions with loads of interesting genealogical
data. Some of these Finnies I knew about
and others were new to me. In one old envelope
I removed a folded paper; yellowed with age. Once unfolded it revealed a family tree showing the descendants of one man,
a James Finnie. I poured over this tree
to see how I fit in and after finding my common link, felt the pressure to
For over 20 years, I researched,
wrote a little, did more research, and wrote a little more. After laying it all out, I really felt it
made quite a story. There was even a
time when I thought there was very little left to do. One missing piece of the story kept coming
back to me though; there were no birth, death, and marriage dates for James
Finnie, his wives, and most of his 16 children. Of course I had the James Finnie family tree,
for which I was eternally thankful, but I selfishly wanted more.
My mother came to visit me in
Pensacola, Florida in 2012 on her way to Louisiana for a trip to see her mother and
brother. My Uncle Tommy (another Thomas
James Finnie and my mom's brother) had just built a new house and had moved from his older home in
Carlyss, Louisiana. During the move he found
an old box with a few old Finnie books and immediately thought of me! He saved them and when my mom arrived, he
placed them in her care knowing they would make it back to me for safekeeping.
I can’t tell you how excited I
was to see a portion of the Finnie artifacts that had obviously been carved off
of the rest sometime in the past (before my attic excursion of 1993!). My
uncle had no recollection of how they had gotten into an obscure corner of his
attic. A large tome, decimated by time
and barely able to be opened, was interesting but on first look offered little
to what I already knew about the Finnies.
Guthrie’s Grammar, as it was known, dated from 1790 and was inscribed by
John Finnie in 1810. I took a quick look
through the pages and found only some contemporary lined papers that had been munched
upon over the years by silverfish.
Surprisingly, upon these pages were written the names of James Finnie,
his wife, and all his children. It had
their birth dates (day and month) but the years had all been eaten away by the
prehistoric paper-eating bugs (darn silverfish)! I was demoralized,
thinking that all the dates I had ever wanted were mostly gone. That night in bed, I thought about this
damaged paper and how the information must have been transferred from an older
source as all of those dates would have been impossible to remember over
several generations (since they were on what was obviously newer 20th century paper). When I woke I decided
to take a better look at the contents of the large old book into which the
newer papers were placed. On the backsof folded geographical maps, I discovered every date I wanted related to the James Finnie
family! In addition to this find the book was also accompanied by an 18th century leather wrap that held many folded and damaged papers and documents spanning 150 years. Some of these had been written by James Finnie in the 18th
century (Appendix 2 and Appendix 3).
This project is a tribute to the
first Thomas James Finnie, my great-great grandfather, the original Finnie
researcher, and the author of the family tree I found in the attic. Grandfather Tom has brought me as close as I
will ever come to know many of the men and women that were responsible for my
existence. Their memory can now live on
in the hearts and souls of those who turn the pages and discover the Finnie
Finnie/Finney researcher firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas James Finnie, circa 1852, CDV copy of an earlier daguerreotype of ambrotype
The search for James Finnie and
John Finnie is an epic story that follows brothers as they moved west in search
of “a heaven of a place” during some important times in American history. What began many years ago as a short history
of my ancestor James Finnie has now blossomed into a large volume that cannot
be told without the inclusion of his brother John Finnie. The evolution of this work has been due
largely to the amount of information that is available to researchers. You can rest assured that even as you read
this, new information has been found and the story continues to grow (Appendix
Before the reader can continue, a
few important topics must be discussed that will help answer questions that may
need clarification before reading the Finnie history.
First of all, is the surname
correctly spelled “Finnie” or “Finney”?
It actually seems that both variations can and should be considered
correct. James Finnie signed his will
“James Finnie” in 1819 and brother John Finnie signed his will “John Finnie” in
1811 but their father signed his will “James Finney” in 1764. Somewhere between these two dates “Finney”
Perhaps the only way to trace the
evolution of the surname Finney is to look at the records by date. It would be nice if a pattern appeared but it
seems that the name was used alternately through the years. When James and John came to Kentucky
in 1784, FayetteCounty
court records spelled the name “Finnie”, but WoodfordCounty
court records from 1789 and forward spelled the name “Finney”. Records of a more personal nature show
similar findings. The men both signed a
deed in 1785 as “Finney”. A list of
names on a 1788 petition was signed by “John Finnie” and then another petition
in 1789 was signed “John Finney”.
Personal articles placed in the newspaper spelled the surname “Finnie”
in 1794, “Finney” in 1795, “Finnie” in 1799, and “Finnie” in 1802. Court filed depositions in 1801 and 1804
record the spelling as “Finnie”.
There may have never been an
exact date of the change but for the purpose of using the name in this project,
1795 will show the official change. The
Woodford County tax records until 1794 spelled the name “Finney” but forever
thereafter as “Finnie.” Though the name
was definitely spelled by the family as “Finnie” after the death of these two
men, for the next 150 years, the misspelling of the name remained a common
A relation to the surname
“Finnell” cannot be discounted. There
were many Finnell families living near the Finney or Finnie families (in
Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri) and for some unknown reason they could often
be found with the name “Finney” and “Finnie.”
Finnell researchers cannot explain this misspelling of the name but it
may have had something to do with pronunciation. No common relation has been found and a
discussion of the Finnell family can be found in Appendix 5.
As far as writing style, I chose
to follow an approach that may semm odd to many readers. The style of writing that makes up the body
of the book/website was changed several times.
The final format chosen follows what I like to call a “detailed timeline.” You may not feel the natural flow of a normal
book/website but flow was not the attempt. What
you will see is a sequence of events and records. Not all of the timeline events and records reported
include a Finney or Finnie. Events were
included based upon how they may have impacted the family either locally or
My attempt was to keep the book/website as accurate and factual as possible.
Quite often though, educated guesses were made but these instances were
always stated as so in the book/website or discussed in the Endnotes section. After years and years of research I offer you,
the reader, the scenario that makes the most sense to me. It may be up to you to argue or discount
information that has been included. I
have tried to provide you with the very best possibilities and probabilities
when information was not found, records were lost, or none ever existed.
Another topic you may wonder
about after starting the book/website is the drawings, maps, and pictures that are
included on nearly every page. To make
the book/website more exciting and interesting and to provide the reader with some
visual stimulus, these visuals were included to supplement the timeline. These items include copies of original
documents, records, photos I took, and pictures that I drew. At one point, I had "borrowed" many photos from the web but later decided to eliminate those. If I was to publish, they would pose serious copyright issues. Hence, my drawings became part of this work!
Part one follows the grandfather
of James and John Finnie from his arrival into America until his death. Part two documents what is known about the
father of James and John Finnie. Part
three begins the story of James and John Finnie during their infancy and each
chapter thereafter advances sequentially until 1820.
Though the content was intended to have been a book for years, I chose to present it as a website for several reasons. For one, I just could never publish something I know is incomplete. Since I will never consider it complete, the only proper think to do was to offer the "book" to everyone as a free access website. Second, I felt like I was hoarding information that so many people and descendants don't know about. Though I have posted Finney/Finnie information many times to many different websites, I still see incorrect information floating around the web. And third, this is just easier!
All records that I have
been able to find have been included in this book/website. There are definitely records that are still
out there, somewhere. I will include a
list of sources that I plan to research in Appendix 4 but there will be others
that hopefully you or I will just happen upon in the future. Maybe some of these future or surprise discoveries
that have yet to be found will give us new information and tell us more about
these fascinating men and their exciting lives. Click on the chapter links below to access the chapter content and...enjoy!