May I Introduce to You . . . Melissa Finlay

Come meet genealogy blogger Melissa Finlay, author of the Finlay Family blog, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

May I Introduce to You . . . Melissa Finlay

An old black and white photo fills the computer screen. Overlaid are text boxes highlighting recent blog posts. What a dynamic first look at all the goodies that the Finlay Family website offers. Clearly Melissa Finlay is all about family and sharing her research findings with family and friends whether through her blog or social media. She is active on Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and a number of Facebook groups. Somewhere in all that she finds time to lecture on genealogy, develop genealogy apps, and homeschool her children. I am proud to introduce to you Melissa Finlay and her blog Finlay Family.

Melissa, can you tell a little about yourself?

“I grew up in Boise, Idaho, and my husband grew up in Eagar, Arizona. We both came to attend college in Utah, met, married and have lived here for nearly 20 years. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Family History-Genealogy from Brigham Young University. My husband and I have seven fantastic children, aged 17 to 3, and I homeschool most of them. Outside of my family and genealogy pursuits, I am an avid gardener. I grow a large vegetable garden, over twenty varieties of fruit, and flowers and plants of all kinds.”

When and how did you get interested in doing your family history?

“I found a small box of my father’s genealogy charts when I was a thirteen-year-old girl. My parents had divorced when I was only six, so I didn’t know a lot about my father’s side of the family. As I began reading the names on these charts and learning little bits about this part of my heritage, my heart opened wide. I just loved these ancestors from the very beginning and couldn’t help wanting to know more (and more, and More!).”

Has your research focus changed over time?

“Since I caught the ‘genealogy bug’ at such a young age, I was fortunate to interview three of my grandparents about their memories and knowledge of their ancestors for many years before they passed away. I focused on their ‘living knowledge’ first, collecting all the information I could from my grandparents. As I found gaps in their information, I slowly delved into document research. Now that I have most of my direct lines researched out several generations, I am coming back down the tree and finding all the descendants of my ancestors.”

What has been your most exciting discovery through research?

“My husband’s paternal line goes back to an Irish Methodist minister in Ohio, Joseph John Finlay Jr. He, all his siblings, and his mother emigrated from Ireland in the 1850s-1870s, but his father never did. No one knew much about Joseph John Finlay Sr. My husband and I started our search by ordering his death record from the General Register Office of Ireland. When it came, my husband and in-laws reacted with ‘Well, that doesn’t tell us much.’ (Bless their hearts!) I replied with ‘It tells us plenty – it tells us he was a pensioner with the Coast Guard!’ Thus began my flurry of research into the Irish Coast Guard. Most of the records are available on digital microfilm from the UK National Archives. I searched roll by roll (one of those genealogy time warps where you sit glued to the computer transfixed on image after image looking for that one name and lose all sense of life outside of that goal). Through these records, I was able to uncover Joseph John Finlay Sr’s entire coast guard career. This also made sense of several records of his children that seemed to have discrepancies of location but really just followed along with his coast guard assignments. It was wonderful to share all of this information with my husband and his family.”

Besides major websites (like Ancestry and FamilySearch), what research tool or source has been particularly helpful in researching your family history?

“I adore finding the story about each individual person I research, beyond the dry facts, and I think the little snippets you can find in old books and newspapers provide the most thrilling findings! I have learned AMAZING stories about my ancestors through newspapers and old books. Thankfully there are many online sources for these now: Internet Archive, Google Books, Newspapers.com, and Genealogy Bank.”

When and why did you start a genealogy blog?

“I have been blogging at finlayfamily.org since 2002. However, the site started out as a simple family journal of sorts to share photos and events with our out-of-state extended family. Over the years, much of our extended family moved near us, and the need for that type of blog really disappeared. So, during the summer of 2014, I reinvented our site into a family history blog. The website always had a page with my family tree on it; I thought a blog to share the stories I shake out of my tree would complement it well. I moved my garden blogging to its own domain at homegrownhabitat.com at the same time.”

Melissa, how do you decide what to write about?

“I have so many more blog post ideas than I have time to write! Every ancestor I have ever studied has an interesting tale to tell. My grandparents told me many stories that I have yet to share publicly. Some stories I have uncovered through documents, records, photos and newspaper stories. Whether the stories are tragic, heroic, or touching, I love to learn them and share them; stories make our ancestors live again in our memory.

“I also share my own thoughts on genealogy, sharing family history with children, and tips others may find useful.”

What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

“My favorite post is called The Ended Branch: Why Descendancy and Collateral Genealogy Research Matters. This piece expresses the essence of who I am as a genealogist, and what drives me in my research, not only on my direct lines, but in all the directions that the tree can be extended.”

What is your favorite family heirloom?

“My grandmother gave me a settee that has passed down in the family for several generations. It has a prominent place in our master bedroom. I only wish I had clarified with my grandmother exactly who the first owner of the settee was.”

What do you enjoy most about blogging, and how do you motivate yourself to keep at it?

“Blogging allows me (or forces me) to pull the completed story of my ancestor together. In other words, I have all these materials I have collected: photos, documents, interviews, etc. But, in writing the blog post, I pull it all together into a cohesive narrative. Occasionally I also find gaping holes as I write, so I go back and research to fill the gap before I can complete my writing.

“As a busy mother, in the middle of my mothering years, I have learned to use the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 Rule) to stay motivated to blog. When I restructured the site as a genealogy blog, I posted infrequently for one reason: I never felt my writing was polished enough. But I never had enough time to polish it to my satisfaction. Enter the 80/20 Rule: 20% of my time and effort on a story or post will get that article to an 80% polished state; and it would take another 80% effort to obtain the rest of the 20% polish. I have come to accept the 80% polish as publishable, and save the rest of my efforts for more writing, and/or other tasks in my life. In other words, I had to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and just write and share.”

You have a companion page on Facebook for your blog. What motivated you to create a Facebook page?

“I have expanded my reach into social media throughout this year, on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. I wanted to make it easy for extended family, distant cousins, and fellow genealogists to find me and see what and whom I am writing about. For me, the greatest generator of traffic for the blog and other networking opportunities comes from Instagram.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“Archive: Over the 25 years I have been researching my ancestors, I have amassed a large collection of research, photos, interviews, letters, journals, mementos, etc. Many relatives have shipped things to me when no one else is interested in inheriting them. I am currently in the middle of a project to carefully digitize, index and archive those collections, so that they will be easy to pass on and store for future generations. I also plan to distribute the digital collections as far and wide as I can, so all descendants can find them.

“Travel: I have not yet visited very many of the places my ancestors lived, not even the ones within a few hours of where I live. This summer I crossed off a few, including Oklahoma. I plan to visit more. At the top of my list: Kentucky and Ireland.

“Research: Even after 25 years, there are so many more family lines to document, expand, extend, and then trace back down through the descendants. I really thrive in the genealogy hunt. I am sure I will never be finished researching because I just enjoy it too much. I also have several ancestral bricks walls that I continue to chisel away at. I won’t quit until those walls come down.

“Accreditation: It will be a few more years, but I do plan to become an accredited genealogist. I would like to add an AG to my BA. Perhaps when my youngest reaches school age I can do that ‘one more thing.’”

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Please take a moment to visit Melissa at Finlay Family and leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Thank-you, Melissa, for letting us inside your blogging world.

© 2016, copyright Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wendy Mathias is a retired teacher who divides her time between her home in Chesapeake, Virginia and Smith Mountain Lake.  She enjoys researching her family and digging for the story behind old family photos for her blog Jollett Etc. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Wendy via email wendymath@cox.net.


May I Introduce to You . . . Ruth Blair

Come meet genealogy blogger Ruth Blair, author of The Passionate Genealogist blog in this interview by Gini Webb at GeneaBloggers.

MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . RUTH BLAIR

I have the pleasure of introducing you to Ruth Blair and her blog, The Passionate Genealogist, described as, “. . . The Passionate Genealogist blog covers stories from Canada, Ireland, England and Scotland. It includes family stories as well as personal opinion and industry related posts.”

A Little About Ruth

“I was born in Northern Ontario. It was my parents first home together after they married and emigrated from Ireland. I currently live in Oakville Ontario and have been here for nearly 50 years. I am a first generation Canadian.”

How did you get started in Genealogy?

“My interest in genealogy began with a school project in 1970 which had me researching my family tree. My parents couldn’t tell me very much. I had to ask my Dad’s parents, who lived near us, and then write letters to my Mum’s Aunts to get information on her side. It was before email so it took a couple of weeks to get the information. This sparked an interest that has never waned. Every time I visited family in Ireland I would collect information and stories from my Grand Aunts. Now when I visit family in Ireland research is done in the local repositories.”

When and why did you start your genealogy blog?

“The Passionate Genealogist blog started in January of 2010. I had been following Geneabloggers and thought it sounded like a fun way to share my passion for family history. I was a little leery about starting but just jumped in one day. I enjoy writing about my own family history as well as local history. If I find an interesting person in my local history I research them and write their story. I have had several people contact me through my blog who have found my local history stories on their ancestors.”

How did you choose the name for your blog?

“Since family history/genealogy is my life’s passion it just seemed to fit.”

Besides major websites like Ancestry and FamilySearch, what research tool or source has been helpful in researching your family history?

“Being a first generation Canadian most of my research has to be done in Ireland, Scotland and England. I have found the website Scotlandspeople very useful and have been using it since 2003. I was ecstatic when Irish records started to come online and that the Irish government was providing them for free.”

What tips can you share with someone just starting a family history blog?

“Read other blogs and learn from the ones you find interesting. Find your own special niche, jump in and start blogging. Don’t let the fear of writing a blog stop you. The community is supportive and you will meet many interesting people. Whenever you think of a topic that might be good for a blog post write it down. Keep a list going so that when you are ready to start writing you have some topics available.”

What other genealogy blogs inspire you?

“Some of the blogs I enjoy reading are Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy News blog. She keeps me up to date on everything going on in Irish genealogy. Chris Paton of the GENE’s blog is another. Archive and library blogs can be very useful and I follow some in Ireland, Scotland, England and Canada. I follow over 250 different blogs. Some aren’t related to genealogy specifically but are related to local history or another topic that can help with the research.”

Ruth, what has been your most exciting genealogy discovery in your research?

“That is a hard one but I would think finding the divorce of my 2x Great Grandfather in Scotland. John Sheddens Campbell divorced his first wife in 1876. Divorce was extremely rare at that time in Scotland. Finding the record was a challenge but the results were worth it.”

Ruth’s favorite blog posts

“Since my most exciting discovery was the divorce of John Sheddens Campbell my favourite post relates to this story.

Part 1 – The Campbell McDonald Feud – The Story of a Scottish Divorce

Part 2 – The Campbell McDonald Feud – The Story of a Scottish Divorce – Part 2

Another favourite was my research into the life of Lady Diana Taylour. She lived in Oakville and died in 1957. I was asked to find out what she did during the First World War so she could get a flag on her grave for Remembrance Day. Since most of the records that needed to be researched were from the 20th century it was a challenge due to Canadian privacy laws. The only death certificate I could get was a short form which only provides very basic information such as name, date and place of death, age at death, marital status and gender. The Lady Diana Taylour research led me on a journey of discovery that was very exciting.

Part 1 – Solving the Mystery of Lady Diana Taylour – In the beginning

Part 2 – Solving the Mystery of Lady Diana Taylour – What came next?

Part 3 – Solving the Mystery of Lady Diana Taylour – The mystery is solved.”

Ruth, how much time do you get to spend on research?

“Since I am a professional genealogist I do research every day. My own research takes a bit of a back seat so it is a fun day off when I can focus on my own family history.”

Who are your favorite ancestors and why?

“My favourite Ancestor is whomever I am researching at the time. I get very involved in the research and that Ancestor is my main focus. Right now it is the Bourne family. I am trying to make a connection between my 4x Great Grandfather Walter Bourne and a Daniel Bourne. The time period for this research is the mid-1700s in Dublin Ireland. Spelling variations for the Bourne surname during this time period include Byrne and Burn which adds to the challenge as does the fact that this research primarily needs to be done in Irish repositories.”

Ruth, what family story or heirlooms do you cherish?

“This is a tough question as there are a few. I would say the family heirloom I cherish the most is a portrait of my 4x Great Grandmother Francis Catherine Minchin. The portrait was bought by a friend of my Grandmother’s and she gave it to her when she learned about the family connection.”

In what ways has genealogy improved your life?

“By understanding my Ancestors I have learned to understand myself. There are events, characteristics and other things that are found in my life and theirs. I can see how their decisions have led me to where I am today.”

What do you love most about doing your genealogy/family history?

“I love research. I can do it for hours and it doesn’t feel like it. I enjoy getting into the libraries and archives looking at the old documents. I was in Belfast last fall researching at PRONI and was looking at very old documents. My hands were black with the dirt of the ages, they didn’t require gloves. The dirtier I am the more fun I am having.”

Ruth, what is on your genealogy bucket list?

“I would love to go back to Ireland, Scotland and England on a regular basis to do research. Most of my research needs to be done in repositories in those countries. Unfortunately not much of my family history can be found online.”

If you wanted to leave a message for future generations, what would you tell them?

“To the future generations of genealogists/family historians, enjoy the process. Share the stories. Writing a blog post about each discovery can lead to your written family history.  It is hard to inspire the next generation but those who are the keepers of their family history can share the family stories with the next generation. Send them a link to your blog post through social media. To those who have yet to start researching their family history, remember that researching your family history begins with you. Talk to your family members and share stories. You won’t find it all on the internet.

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Please take a moment to visit Ruth’s blog. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Welcome Ruth, it’s great to have you here!

© 2017, copyright Gini Webb. All rights reserved.

Gini Webb lives in San Diego, California and manages her own blog, Ginisology, while also researching her own German heritage, retired, enjoying life with wonderful husband Steve and visiting with her grandchildren! Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Gini Webb via e-mail.

May I Introduce To You . . . Susan LeBlanc

Come meet genealogy blogger Susan LeBlanc of the Gopher Genealogy blog as interviewed by Jana Last at GeneaBloggers

MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . Susan LeBlanc

I have the pleasure of introducing you to Susan LeBlanc and her blog, Gopher Genealogy, described as, “Gopher Genealogy by Susan LeBlanc provides information about research, lectures, published articles and book reviews, and Serendipity Moments that are the results of searching for ancestors both personally and for clients. The objective of the blog is for others to receive insight and inspiration in doing their family history research. It is an evolving method of communication, and input from reviewers is welcome.”

Susan, please tell us a little about yourself.

“My life began in Portland, Oregon. Our family lived in the area of Linton and St. Johns until we moved to northeast Portland when I was about three. I have one sister and two brothers. In 1978 I married David in Idaho Falls, Idaho. We have lived in the Portland area in the towns of Carver, Gladstone and now Scappoose. Our family has grown to include six children, four in-laws and five grandchildren. They are supportive of my interest in doing family history research.”

How did you get started in genealogy?

“When I was in high school my paternal grandmother shared with me her family history. Her mother died when she was four, and while her father and stepmothers did their best in raising her, she found the family history was an important support for her. She also had three sons and they had little interest in this information. That is when I became the family collector for both paternal and maternal artifacts, pictures, documents, etc. In the process our family history is enriched by this collection.”

When and why did you start your genealogy blog?

“In April of 2011 my blog was created with the help of my youngest daughter. All of my children are much more technology savvy than I am. In 2005 I graduated from BYU with a BGS degree in Family History. Then in 2010 I became an accredited genealogist through ICAPGen. In 2011 my background in research had grown considerably and it was time to create a place for sharing those experiences. I write more for me and my posterity than for anyone else. When my clients consent, then I may post something about the experiences with their work.”

How did you choose the name for your blog?

“It just evolved. Several times this name came to me, and probably is the result of knowing how hard gophers work at their jobs. No one else was using the term gopher in their blog titles. It is catchy and easy for people to remember. Doing genealogy research is challenging and demanding work.”

What are your tips for new bloggers?

  • “Keep writing as often as possible and carefully edit for errors.”
  • “Read all comments and suggestions from readers. They are usually encouraging and helpful.”
  • “Organize your blog and keep it updated so readers can use it efficiently. Look at other blogs to see what will work best for you.”
  • “Maintain a backup to your blog, make books of your posts, and watch the stats so you can see what interests the readers.”

Please tell us about your favorite post(s) on your blog.

“Genealogy Serendipity Moments – The Riggs Family”

“This is the post with the highest number of views, 1398, written May 13, 2011, just two weeks after setting up the blog. It was just recently published in our local quarterly, The Bulletin, of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon. It was written about an unusual experience when working on a client’s family.”

How much time do you spend on family history research?

“At least two to four hours a day. This depends upon how much family activities we have going on. One day a week I work at our local Family History Center. When I get going on an intriguing project I often work until I am too tired to stay focused.”

Who is your favorite ancestor(s) and why?

“My favorite ancestors are the Tidd family. They are the original ancestors that my grandmother shared with me. This family honored and respected their Revolutionary War ancestors and passed on some interesting artifacts. An original copy of an 1806 newspaper article about Daniel Tidd’s death (linking him to his father), his powder horn, pictures, etc. The women who were a part of this family fascinate me.”

How has genealogy improved your life?

“Genealogy is the basis of my life’s work. When I was recovering from several serious injuries and surgeries it provided me a way to stay focused. My family has been with me to cemeteries, courthouses, libraries, genealogy facilities, and have grown to understand the history of our country. As we packed up our home and moved a year ago they discovered many artifacts that they know little about. That has peaked their interest and concern about preserving the collection.”

What do you love the most about genealogy?

“Genealogy is always providing new learning experiences. My preconceived notions are often adjusted as I study families of varying backgrounds. The building blocks that brought me to where I am today are the teachings of some very knowledgeable genealogists or historians.”

What family story or heirloom do you cherish?

“The basket that my grandmother used to carry her few belongings with her when she moved from Iowa to Oregon as a teenager. It is beautifully woven, about 12” x 24”, with leather straps and a top. This was kept in her hope chest, with the other family keepsakes, and I am grateful she passed all of this on to me.”

Besides major websites like Ancestry and FamilySearch, what research tool or source has been helpful in researching your family history?

“The US Genweb is probably the most important research tool for locating information on the county basis. My favorite was in Carroll County, Iowa where there are translations of German newspaper articles about collateral relatives and some family pictures.”

Which genealogy blogs inspire you?

“Randy Seaver’s blog has great detailed information about genealogy happenings and his own research. Each Monday I review his top favorites of the week and often read some of them. He and I have ancestors in common, so once in a while he posts something for one of them.”

“There are too many others to list.”

What interesting connections have you made through blogging?

“The most interesting connections are people who contact me about family posts that are about their relatives. For clients I let them know about the person wanting to make a connection. For my own relatives we start a conversation about our connections, which often result in sharing of documents, pictures and stories. On my Neppl family I was sent the funeral card for my great grandfather, actually listing the very town where he was born in Germany.”

What do you think is the most interesting change in the past ten years in genealogy/family history?

“The most interesting change has to be internet access to records and research. The key is then knowing where to go for further research. Deep digging in documents and places is where one finds the proof for detailing the previous research. These skills are often learned from years of practice and attending classes, institutes, etc.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“Going to Massachusetts, Maine and Iowa to visit the places where my Tidd family ancestors lived. Having been to England and Norway I know the keen sense of roots when standing on the lands where they lived.”

If you wanted to leave a message for future generations, what would you tell them?

“Never give up. Put something aside if you can’t find the answers. Talk with other people with more experience in working in certain places. Things are still buried in attics and basements just waiting to be discovered.”

An additional message from Susan.

“This month is my all-time high for page views almost 7,000, for a total of 86,568 in 5 1/2 years. My followers are consistent at 71, but many more see my posts through Google and Facebook. It amazes me that while I have not written as much as at first, the page views continue to grow. I still have plenty to write about and hope to do more writing in the coming year.”

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Please take a moment to head over to Susan’s blog, Gopher Genealogy and leave her a comment, letting her know you stopped by. Thank you Susan for telling us about yourself and your blog. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you better.

 

© 2017, copyright Jana Last. All rights reserved.

Jana Last is a wife, mom and grandma living in sunny California. She loves family history and enjoys learning about her ancestors. She started her family history research in 1996 after the death of her maternal grandfather. She is the author of three blogs and a website: Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog, Grandpa’s Postcards, Jana’s Place and Jana’s Genealogy and Social Media Hub. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Jana via email at jmlast61@gmail.com.