James Finnie signature attesting the sale of a Virginia Treasury Warrant
from Abraham Wilson to John Finney on 18 April 1780

John Finnie signature attesting the sale of a survey from 
Michael Broyles to James Finney on 1 March 1786


Dear Reader,

“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  Thomas James Finnie had many potential offspring (to pass the Finnie historical documents to) as events took him to Randolph County, Missouri and then to Gainesville, Texas.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 years.

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 learn more.

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 history.

Daniel Drost
Finnie/Finney researcher 

Thomas James Finnie, circa 1852, CDV copy of an earlier daguerreotype of ambrotype

Thomas James Finnie, circa 1860, ambrotype

Thomas James Finnie, circa 1868, CDV

Thomas James Finnie, circa 1890, cabinet card


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 4).

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” became “Finnie”. 

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, Fayette County court records spelled the name “Finnie”, but Woodford County 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 error.

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 nationally. 

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!


Part I: John Finney (immigrant and grandfather)

Chapter 1                    1667 - 1711                                           

Part II: James Finney (father)

Part III: James and John Finney

Part IV: James and John Finnie

Chapter 12                  1796 – 1802  A Nation Blossoms
Chapter 13                  1802 – 1810  Woodford’s Last Years
Chapter 14                  1810 – 1812  West to Union County
Chapter 15                  1812 – 1816  Developing Union
Chapter 16                  1816 – 1820  Goodbye James