Finch of New England – Part 2

In the 1990s, myself and my mother worked on the Family of Finch in New England. I have published on the website where we had researched at that time. However since then, we have made progress on the study and I am publishing an update.


The Family of FINCH in New England are often referred to as ‘Fince’. This has been considered a typographic error in previous studies. However, we have found a family in Dedham who used the names FINCH and FINCE interchangeably. Dedham is at the heart of the Winthrop movement in the 1630s and hence a likely source for families in New England.

The Will of Robert FINCE of Dedham 1609 mentions sons Daniel and Israel. Wills of this period start with a ‘testament’ (which is strictly a statement of religious belief) and moves onto a ‘will’, which is a statement of what to do with the deceased person’s belongings. The testament in this will is somewhat puritanical, and the choice of ‘Israel’ as a name complements the impression that this man is a puritan. The FINCE family of Dedham were related to Henry SHARMAN via Nicholas FINCE who was Henry’s son-in-law. Henry SHARMAN was the ancestor of the Sharmans who emigrated to Waterstown, New England and these Sharmans have been traced as ancestors of a vice-President of the USA. This family therefore has a Daniel of the right age, appears puritan and is related to known emigrants. Dedham had a reputation as puritan centre and sponsored a grammar school from at least 1550 onwards, which benefited from bequests from the Sharman and other families. The names of other emigrants such as Pegram also appear in this parish.

The earlier origins of the FINCE’s are not 100% clear, but we can trace them back to a John FYNS of Ardleigh (the next parish, see tree below). In 1522, he was present on a Jury in Ardleigh and he died and left a will in 1532. He was also a weaver and father to Nicholas FINCE that married Agnes SHERMAN and began the links between the FINCEs and SHERMANs. We suspect that a FINCE may have been apprenticed to a Sherman, although apprenticeship records do not exist for our period. These are the good points, and suggest strongly a link between the Dedham family and the New England family. However, we cannot find the baptism of Abraham about 1610 that would seal the problem once and for all. Having said that, neither can we find baptisms for other members of this family, notably Israel, whom we do know for certain existed. The registers of Dedham are in confusion for many parts of the period but this does not explain why so much appears absent. We have started looking in adjacent parishes for the missing children but without success, and we are interested in the idea that they are not baptising the children, even though the minister was notoriously protestant. Our Finces are closely linked to Finces in the adjacent parish of Ardleigh and we are missing many of that family too. We are still looking into this but one possibility is that they are baptists who do not believe in infant baptisms.

Robert FINCE was born about 1550 and was a weaver, as were the Shermans. He married 1573 Alice MILLER at Dedham, and had several children whose baptisms are recorded at Dedham in what remains of the registers. Although his brothers and sisters are baptised as ‘FINCE’, he is baptised as ‘Daniel FYNCHE’ in 1584. We did not pick him up in our earlier analysis of baptisms because the registers of Dedham are not indexed.

We cannot find the baptism of Israel FINCH/FINCE although we know Robert was in Dedham at this period. However in later years, we find evidence for a Jacob Fince in Dedham, and we suspect that this is the same person. In the book of Genesis, Jacob is given the name ‘Israel’ after he wrestled with an angel, and we therefore think that this the same man, but the family are using the two names interchangeably.

Daniel was 25 when his father died, and the will asks Robert’s widow (now Bridget indicating he married twice) to bring up his children, and so we infer that other younger sons and daughters of Robert were alive. Robert had lived in a house owned by Edward SHERMAN in 1600 (we find this in Edward’s will). Our searches of the court rolls for Dedham (which document land transactions) show nothing for Robert or Daniel, showing that they did not own land but made their livings from weaving. However in 1615, Daniel is fined for not attending the Court Leet (a body that oversaw petty infringements of the peace), as was a John FINCH and a widow FINCH. This demonstrates that Daniel Finch/Fince survived to adulthood. It is interesting that we are also finding a John FINCH here at the right time, and he may be a younger son of Robert and brother to Daniel.

Descendant Chart for Robert FYNS
Family Tree of Robert FINCE of Ardleigh and his son Robert. The key figure is Daniel FINCH born 1584 who survives to adulthood but is not buried in the parish.

The name of FINCE swaps interchangeably with FINCH throughout the late Tudor and Early Stuart period, not only in parish registers, but also in wills and manorial documents. For example, the will of Peter FINCE is proved in 1612, but his widow Margaret describes herself in her will of 1614 as Margaret the widow of Peter FYNCHE. There are many more examples. The court rolls of Dedham in 1615 record Daniel as ‘Daniel FINCH’, but his father’s will refers to him as Daniel FINCE. Most importantly, this interchangeability is also present in records in New England – we have many examples of this: a) Daniel’s own will in 1667 called his grandson ‘Abraham FINCE’; b) in 1641 when Abraham FINCH’s estate is examined, a plot of land is described as next to ‘late Dan FINCEs’ and c) Nathaniel’s children in 1699 were baptised as ‘Fince’. We conclude that these are not typographic errors, rather there is a true exchange of the two surnames. This type of alias is known from our period and we have come across it many times. People did not have firm surnames in Tudor and Early Stuart times.

The exchange of the two surnames is a strong clue. No other family in Essex and Hertfordshire show this transition between surnames over the period of interest.

It is a disappointment that this Daniel appears so old, but it is actually the same age that others such as Jacobus have predicted for Daniel of New England’s birth date. It leaves us in the difficult position that he appears to have been about 75 when he fathered (or adopted?) Nathaniel. However, it’s important to note we have no direct evidence as to when Nathaniel was born. All we know is that Nathaniel was not 18 in 1666 and so he could have been born as early as 1649 if the suggestion that Daniel’s third wife was his mother is only a suggestion. There is a certain sense in him being a child from Daniel’s new marriage in 1657, but there may, for example, have been an earlier, unrecorded marriage about 1648. However, the data are consistent with the idea that Daniel was an elderly father. We do not worry about the fact that Daniel would have been 83 when he died – although this was a well above average for the period, there are many cases of people with greater longevity at this period.

Descendant Chart for John FYNS
Broader tree of the Fince family of Dedham and Ardleigh.

It may be possible that Daniel the emigrant had a son Daniel who had a grandson Abraham and that the will of 1666 refers to this Daniel and not to the original immigrant.