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 firstname.lastname@example.org.