What’s in a Name? The Filches/Finches of Putney

This post describes the family of FILCH/FINCH in Putney. I am writing about this family because they present an interesting and important lesson in the assumptions we make when studying family history. When I first studied the family – starting in more recent years and going back in time – I found a group of Finches whose dates of birth I could estimate but whose baptisms I could not find. I was interested in the family since my own Finch lineage also came from Putney and I was interested to test the hypothesis that my own family and this family were linked. In this family, I realised was that this family used two separate surnames in 18th Century Putney.

We nowadays assume that someone is born with a single surname that they hold throughout their lives. In reality, this is the product of the modern age of certificates, when a person’s birth is entered and indexed in an official way. Local historians are accustomed to a surname being spelled in a variety of ways, representing different spellings of the same sound, and one has to be more inventive as we go back further in time. However, our ancestors could – and did – change their names and chose to call themselves in different, phonetically distinct ways, often with multiple aliases used simultaneously. This was not always done to avoid detection (although that was true sometimes) and many families maintained two or more distinct surnames simultaneously. What I learned about this particular family was that they had changed their names being born under the name of FILCH but over the course of the 17th Century, they had adopted the name of FINCH. By the late 1700s, they were using exclusively the name FINCH in all their dealings. Two parish entries as ‘FINCH alias FILCH’ confirm that this is one family using two names.

In this case, perhaps living with a surname that meant ‘to steal’ was an important driver in encouraging the Filches to change their name. Other reasons might be that the mother’s family were important or well known and the family wished to associate themselves with it. Other possibilities include someone whose mother remarried, creating an ambiguity as to whether they used the birth father’s surname or that of a stepfather. In many cases, families simply used multiple names for reasons we cannot decipher.

The Family of FILCH alias FINCH of Putney

The earliest record of our family is a removal order to the parish of Morden from the parish of Putney. On the 1 Sep 1732, a communication was sent to the parish officials of Morden parish that Thomas FILCH had lately intruded himself into the parish of Putney and that he was chargeable to the parish of Morden. On the 10 Nov 1732, the parish officials of both parishes signed to state that should Thomas need parish poor relief, that those costs in Putney would either be met by Morden or that Thomas would be forced to return to Morden. Frustratingly I cannot find any record of Thomas Filch in Morden to take the family history back further, but there is a family that fits the bill in Ewell, which is the next parish. Unfortunately the registers of Ewell are defective and so I cannot prove conclusively that this is the same family. Given that there was already a Henry FILCH in the parish at the time, and that Thomas and Henry are having children at roughly the same time, I infer that this Thomas was his brother.

The parish registers (see below) include entries for a Thomas and his family. There are entries for Elizabeth FINCH (c. 1725, d.?) and Elizabeth Golding FINCH (c. 1730, d.?), the children of Thomas and Elizabeth. These may be children of Thomas and Elizabeth FILCH or possibly his son. From 1732, subsequent children were entered: Elizabeth Mary FLETCH (c. 1732), Thomas FILCH (c. 1735, d. 1787) and Charles FILTH [sic] (c. 1737, i. 1737). At the same time, we find the baptisms of two children of Henry FILCH: Henry (i. 1737) and Elizabeth (c. 1735, i. 1737) and the burial of Henry’s wife Elizabeth (i. 1737).

The churchwardens’ accounts for Putney between 1730-1760 include payments to Henry FILCH the baker for flour and hence I infer that Henry was a miller and that Thomas were brothers. The rate books for Putney also survive between 1736-1790+ and we can track Henry and Thomas through the years. In the first rate, 1736, Thomas FILTCH [sic] paid 3/- for a property near to Putney Bridge. and we find Henry FILCH paying 6/- for a property in “Windsor Street, from the Red Lion unto Barnes Common“. The rate books are comprehensive, recording the rates every year. Henry FILCH occupied the house until Aug 1745 when the same house is held by Henry FINCH [sic]. In Mar 1746/7, the house is held by Henry FILCH and then from 1747 to his death in 1767, it is always entered as FINCH. The rates provide an unbroken record which show clearly the gradual name change from FILCH to FINCH.

The Family Tree of Filch/Finch of Putney

Thomas’s son Thomas was baptised in Putney in 1735 as FILCH. He married Rebecca circa 1767 and they had six children born between 1768 and 1781, of which the first five are baptised as FILCH/FELCH and only the youngest, Lucy Ann, is called FINCH. Unfortunately, only one of the children (Sarah b. 1773) survived infancy, but the burial of those same children are entered as ‘FINCH’. Thomas FILCH alias FINCH became churchwarden of Putney parish and in 1783 his signature appears on the receipts for the parish, including a receipt to a “Mr HARPHAM for attending the Composition Day“.

Receipt from Mr HARPHAM for 5/- for attending the Composition Day June 16 1783 by me Thos FINCH

An important point here is that using modern indexes never lifts out all of the relevant entries – this information must be gleaned by studying the registers themselves. Searching on FILCH or FINCH only provides a subset of the entries – the other variants include FILTCH, FELCH, FLETCH (I assume this is the registrar swapping two letters in FELTCH) and even FILTH (presumably the registrar dropped the ‘C’). Adding to the confusions, Ancestry has mistranscribed many of these entries as ‘FITCH’. Remember that most registers are copies of copies and mistranscriptions slip in, particularly for unusual surnames.

FILCH/FINCH entries in Putney


  • c. 16 Jan 1725     Elizabeth FINCH daughter of Thomas FINCH and Elizabeth
  • c. 2 Aug 1730      Elizabeth Goding FINCH daughter of Thomas FINCH and Elizabeth
  • c. 11 Dec 1732    Elizabeth Mary FLETCH [sic] daughter of Thomas and Elviabeth [sic]
  • c. 23 Apr 1735    Thomas FILCH son of Thomas and Elizabeth
  • c. 17 Dec 1735    Elizabeth FELCH daughter of Henry FELCH and Elizabeth
  • c. 3 Aug 1737      Charles FILTH [FILTCH] son of Thomas and Elizabeth
  • c. 21 Dec 1768    Sarah FILCH daughter of Thomas FILCH and Rebecca
  • c. 10 Aug 1771    Ann FILCH daughter of Thomas FILCH and Rebecca
  • c. 4 May 1770     Rebecca FILCH daughter of Thomas FILCH by Rebecca
  • c. 21 Jul 1773      Sarah FILCH daughter of Thomas FILCH and Rebecca
  • c. 18 Jan 1777     Thomas FILCH son of Thomas and Rebecca FILCH
  • c. 26 Mar 1781    Lucy Ann FINCH daughter of Thomas FINCH and Rebecca


  • i. 13 Sep 1731     Thomas FINCH (infant) [b. 1731]
  • i. 28 Sep 1733     Mary FINCH
  • i. 18 Sep 1737     Elizabeth FILCH infant
  • i. 25 Sep 1737     Elizabeth FILCH
  • i. 12 Oct 1737      Henry FILCH, infant
  • i. 20 Mar 1737     Charles FILCH infant
  • i. 18 Aug 1742    Thomas FINCH
  • i. 11 Mar 1761     Elizabeth FINCH
  • i. 5 Jul 1767         Henry FILCH aged in the New Burial Ground
  • i. 24 Nov 1767    Elizabeth FINCH alias FILCH in the New Burial Ground
  • i. 29 Nov 1767    Mary FINCH alias FILCH in the New Burial Ground
  • i. 31 Dec 1767     Ruth FINCH in the New Burial Ground
  • i. 30 Aug 1772    Sarah FILCH infant
  • i. 7 Nov 1774      Thomas FINCH
  • i. 19 Jan 1775      Ann FINCH aged 3 years 6 months [b. Jun 1771]
  • i. 30 Jan 1776      Thomas FINCH aged 1 [b. 1774/5]
  • i. 18 Feb 1776     Rebecca FINCH aged 6 [b. 1770]
  • i. 19 May 1776    Sarah FINCH aged 53 [b. 1723]
  • i. 6 Nov 1778      Thomas FINCH infant [b. 1778]
  • i. 13 Apr 1785     Henry FINCH aged 6 [b. 1779]
  • i. 21 Apr 1785     Lucy Ann FINCH aged 4 [b. 1781]
  • i. 5 Jan 1787        Thomas FINCH aged 58 [b. 1728, Admon PCC]
The records described here are from the published transcripts of Putney registers and the local church records of Putney kept at the Wandsworth Archives. The rates books are P2/2/1 and P2/2/2; Removal orders are P2/5/1.

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