Tag Archives: Herefordshire

The Confusing Origins of Thomas Burnham

Hatfield
St. Leonards, Hatfield, Herefordshire
The following is my personal opinion on the puzzle surrounding where in England Thomas Burnham of Windsor, Connecticut originated. I offer this opinion, not to denigrate other’s research , but instead, as a way of sharing my thoughts and to welcome other opinions on the issues raised here.

When researching the early settlers of Connecticut, you learn early on that records from the 1600s in New England are not easy to come by and therefore, many of us do rely on some extensive genealogies of the early settlers of the area that were done in the late 1800s. One of those being the GENEALOGICAL RECORDS OF THOMAS BURNHAM, the Emigrant, WHO WAS AMONG THE EARLY SETTLERS AT HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT, U. S. AMERICA, HIS DESCENDANTS by RODERICK H. BURNHAM. This book was published by Cash, Lockwood & Brainard Co. in 1884.

When using these works, including the one by Mr. Burnham, I always use it as a “starting point” and try to double check as much info as was possible and besides confirming data, I also often find errors. However, for the most part, I found Mr. Burnham’s work to be very reliable. Others by such historians as Lucius Barbour, were full of many more errors than Mr. Burnham’s work was. I therefore have been very comfortable using Mr. Burnham’s work as a “source” in my Burnham genealogy research.

In his history of the Burnham Family of Windsor, CT, Mr. Burnham gives an argument for the family originating from Hatfield, Herefordshire, England. The following is what he wrote:

The following extract is from a letter received by the compiler from one
of the descendants of Thomas Burnham, sen., of Hartford, Conn.

” In a letter which I received from Herefordshire, England, a
number of years ago, the writer, a lady, informed me, that from
deeds in possession of her husband’s family (his name being
Burnam), it would appear ‘ that his predecessors once resided at
an ancient seat, now a ruin, called Hatfield, between Bromyard’
and Leominster, towns in Herefordshire, and that they were
related to the old family of Geers, from whom the place and
property descended to our late County Member, Sir John Geers
Cotterell, Bart. These facts leave little or no doubt that the
Burnhams were an old Herefordshire family, and the same from
which you are descended.’ ”

” My correspondent goes on to say, that she has old books, as
old as 1570, with the name of ‘Thomas Burnam’ written in
them. The name is now extinct in that part of England.” *

Since commencing the preparation of this second edition for
publication, the compiler has used every effort to discover the
writer of the above letter (the letter lost, with the address of the
writer) received by him some sixteen years since, in order that
he might obtain a clue to the family in England possessed of
the papers referred to, that they might be used in establishing
the connection between the American family and its English
ancestors. But not succeeding, he wrote to the Vicar of Hat-
field, who in his very interesting work, entitled ” Episodes in the
Life of an Indian Chaplain ” (page 360), says ” The Church of
Hatfield, in the prettily-wooded county of Hereford, presents
little of interest, with the exception of some curious old monu-
ments, with quaint inscriptions, of the Burnam family. This
ancient and honorable family dated back to A.D. 1100, and still
have descendants in the U. S. America…”

Mr. Burnham’s assumption that the family was from Herefordshire had become a standard belief among Burnham researchers, even though no one has been able to prove it. As of now, no one has been able to find any concrete proof that connects Thomas of Windsor to the Burnhams of Hatfield.

No new research had been done on the origins of this family until recently. I had seen mention of an article published in New England Historic Genealogical Society’s publication. It was written by Cathy Soughton, a genealogist in England. I recently was able to read the article and while hoping that it would result in definitive proof of the origins of Thomas Burnham of Windsor, CT, I find that instead it raises a few questions for me.

Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire
Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire
It seems that a few years ago, Ms. Soughton, carried out some research for an Australian client regarding their Burnham ancestors in Buckinghamshire, England. While researching that family, she came across the will of William Burnham, of Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire date April 1649. Two of the beneficiaries were his nephew Thomas Burnham in New England and Thomas’ son, William. The clients were curious as to what happened to this branch of the family and so Ms. Soughton researched Burnhams in New England during the matching time period.

Ms. Soughton contacted Henry B. Hoff, the editor of the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s publication. Mr. Hoff supposedly researched what records were available in the US and he came to the “firm conclusion” that Thomas Burnham who settled in Windsor, CT, and who had a son William Burnham, was the same man mentioned in the will. Ms. Soughton investigated English records and found a Thomas Burnham baptized in Long Crendon in 1619.

These findings coupled with the information that I have gathered leads me to two problems with thinking that Thomas of Windsor and his son William are the one’s mentioned in the will of William in Long Crendon. First, based on Roderick Burnham’s info, William son of Thomas of Windsor was not born yet it 1649. Second, he had three older brothers who are not mentioned in the will. This doesn’t make sense to me. Reading the will, it sounds as if William of Long Crendon is mentioning William (in New England) as the oldest son of Thomas in New England. Why would he mention a younger son and not the older ones? Coupled with the fact that William in Windsor was not even born in 1649 makes me reluctant to believe that this will really is proof of the origins of Thomas Burnham of Windsor.

Roderick Burnham gave us the following children with birth dates which he admits are approximate, however the birth ORDER of children does seem to hold up with further research:

1. Thomas Burnham, Senr., of Hartford and Potunke;
born in England 1617 ; died June 28, 1688 ; se 71 years ;
married 1639 ? Anna (Wright?) ; born in England 1620 ? ;’ died Aug. 5, 1703.
CHILDREN

Elizabeth, b. *1640, m. Nicholas Morecock, d. Dec. 2, 1720.
Mary, b. 1642, m. Mar. 21, 1670 William Morton, d. Jan. 25, 1720.
Anna, b. . 1644, m. Apr. 7, 1665 Samuel Gaines, d. Nov. 29, 1722.
2 Thomas, b.. 1646, m. Jan. 4, 1676 Naomi Hull, d. Mar. 19, 1726.
3 John, b. 1648, m. Nov. 12, 1684 Mary Olcott, d. Apr. 20, 1721.
4 Samuel, b. 1650, m. Oct. 8, 1684 Mary Cadwell, d. Apr. 12, 1728.
5 William, b. 1652, m. June 28, 1681 Elizabeth Loomis, d. Dec. 12, 1730.
6 Richard, b. 1654, m. June 11, 1680 Sarah Humphries, d. Apr. 28, 1731.
Rebecca, b. 1656, m. Apr. 5, 1685 William Mann, d.

* These approximate the dates of birth.

I have found nothing that discredits the above information, and in fact have been able to prove much of it and elaborate on the information for the children of Thomas of Windsor.

As for there being a Thomas Burnham baptized in Long Crendon, I can’t credit that as proof of the connection since “Thomas” was such a common name in that time period. The fact that there are so many Burnhams with the same first names has always added to the confusion with sorting out families in Connecticut and even in all of New England. Every Burnham family has it’s share of individuals named John, William, Thomas, Richard et al.

I will continue to keep my eyes open for any new information concerning this family and welcome any thoughts you may have on this issue. In the meantime, I’ve ordered the films of the Hatfield, Herefordshire Parish Records so that I can see for myself that there is nothing there to connect to our Burnhams.

Because Roderick Burnham does not offer concrete proof of the family being from Hatfield, Herefordshire , I have decided to not include a location in England in my family history. This does not mean that I discredit either theory, however, just I can’t say that Roderick Burnham’s letter proves anything, neither can I embrace the new found information as “proof” that Roderick Burnham was wrong.