Decendents of Jane and George Finley. Photo submitted

Hunt for History: Researching family roots

Judy Hagen

Special to the Record

Have you started to research your roots and realize that you are missing a piece of the puzzle? Maybe a family member who was once there but “went away” and was never heard from again?

Have you ever considered that maybe you could find a lost person by participating in a DNA research?

A Courtenay family has indeed solved a century-old mystery of what happened to George. He left the Valley before the turn of the 20th century. There were a few snippets of information, but with 100 years between then and now, there were questions after he left, such as why and where he had gone. The family believed that “he went to the states,” but not how or what he did there.

Putting together a story that begins 150 years ago is difficult. There was at that time no local newspaper. This was still colonial territory, and government and church records were not well kept. The records of the arrival of George’s father, Thomas Finley, are vague. Other than pre-emption records there is little to say that Thomas Finley was one of the original settlers.

There were no passenger lists when the Grappler brought the settlers in the fall and winter of 1862/3, but there is a memorial, a piece from a fir tree, now in the Courtenay Museum, which lists the original 100 settlers, and Thomas Finley is there.

When he is listed on the voting register in 1874, his last name is spelled Finlay and at times he is listed on official records as Findley. Surveyor Drabble notes that Thomas Finley took up 100 acres on Nov. 26, 1863.

He would eventually take up four pre-emptions and have more than 300 acres on the Upper Road at Huband Road over to what is now the Meadowland development.

The Finley name would be given to the little creek that ambles down from Huband Road, across the Island Highway down the Mission valley into Portuguese Creek which flows into the Tsolum River.

Thomas Finley is listed on census records as an Irish Presbyterian. Eric Duncan, who wrote so much of the first 50 years of settlement, had very little to say of Finley, only commenting that he had taken over the land originally pre-empted by George Ford who had lost his potato crop to an early frost so he went over to Hornby Island to raise sheep. Duncan believed that the Ford property was the best land on the Upper Road.

Thomas Finley, like George Ford, took a wife.

Katherine, known as Kitty, bore Thomas three children: Jane, born in 1873, Margarette, also known as Margaret or Maggie, born in 1875 and George who was born in 1877. Another son, John, was baptized in 1880 but was not listed on other records.

Thomas Finley died Oct. 16, 1891. Jane and Margaret had “left home” to work for Mrs. Robb of Comox, the first woman to settle in the Valley.

At about that same time, Frank Albert Childs, a Welshman, had also been hired to work on the Robb’s farm. Frank had many tales of adventures since he had spent time in Chile, South America before arriving in Comox. Although Jane had many admirers, it was Frank who won her heart, so on Jan. 28, 1897, Frank and Jane were married by the Presbyterian minister Mr. Tait.

The ceremony was held in the Robb home. The newlyweds did not go on a honeymoon, instead, they moved into the now empty Finley home and took over the farm.

At the death of their father, the three children had inherited the farm, but the estate could not be settled until George, who was only 14, came of age. George was not interested in farming so as soon as he could, he sold his share to his sisters who divided the land between them.

Jane would, except for the short time working for the Robb family, live her entire life on the Finley farm. In 1900, she would be the only member of the Finley family still living in the Comox Valley. Her sister Maggie had married Charles Cowlin on April 25, 1895; they had moved to Calgary. Maggie’s children would later move to the Kootenay area. George had “gone to the states” and they would never see him again.

It must have been sad for the two girls that their brother did not write to tell them where he had gone. When the probate began in 1893, the guardian of the children, William Duncan of Comox, recorded receipts of money sent to George in San Francisco, Chicago and the last one to New York. The family would later surmise that he had taken a freighter from Union Bay down to San Francisco because at that time there were regular coal shipments going down to California.

Now more than 150 years since Thomas Finley came to Comox, through the persistence of his descendants and modern DNA, the family of George Finley has contacted the descendants of Jane and Margaret. Mona Law, Jane’s granddaughter, says that her mom always said that Jane would often ask, ‘I wonder whatever happened to George?’ Well, the story has now been revealed.

He became a photographer, lived in New Jersey and married in 1903, but he died 10 years later and his children had not learned any “stories” to connect with the Comox Valley. They did believe that he had once worked with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. His son was so keen to find out about his “roots” that every year on his annual two week holiday, he devoted one day to search records for a clue about his family.

So when a great-granddaughter of Jane and a grandchild of George decided to do a DNA search, they were matched. Soon, the American branch was making plans to come to the Valley to meet with Mona Law and her family.

They were delighted to learn that George did indeed have a native American mother, which they had always suspected. The short trip to the west coast to meet “the cousins” included visits to Fort Rupert and Alert Bay. At the Courtenay Museum, they saw records pertaining to Thomas Finley and his farm.

Jane Finley Childs had been a remarkable woman. When she died at age 94 she was well known and a well-respected member of the Valley.

She had experienced so many of the “firsts” that she was a pioneer extraordinaire. Her parents were among the first settlers, she was the first child born to an original settler, and she attended the first school in the Valley at Mission Hill.

She had worked for the first family of Comox. In 1901, her husband became a founding member of the new Co-op Creamery. In 1922, Jane helped to organize the First Women’s Institute in the Valley.

Now the descendants of Jane and Margaret are making plans to see all of their “American cousins,” the descendants of George, the member of the family “who had gone to the states.”

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