Francis Smith Findlay, known universally and in some official records as "Frank," was born in Abingdon, in Washington County, Virginia on June 9, 1834. He was the son of a moderately wealthy Irish immigrant farmer named Alexander Findlay and his Virginian born wife, Catherine Ann Spiller Findlay. He was schooled locally, worked as a clerk for a merchant in Abingdon and then prepared for college at the Abingdon Academy. He entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1853 with the class of 1857. He was a popular and lively student, a close friend of Horatio Collins King of his class, and a fellow founder member of the controversial Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter at the College. He was also elected to the Union Philosophical Society. He graduated with his class in the early summer of 1857, returned to Abingdon and took up the study of law.
During the Civil War, he served in the Confederate forces, gaining a commission as captain and raising a cavalry company locally in Washington County for the 4th Regiment of the Virginia Line in 1862. He commanded the company in the fighting around Prestonburg, Kentucky in December 1862 and was wounded there. Following the war, he returned to Abingdon to practice law, work as an architect, and serve as an agent for the railroad.
He had married Julia A. Gardner in October 1866 and the couple had two sons, Charles and Alexander, before Julia died in 1877. Findlay remarried in October 1880 to Bessie G. Paine of Richmond, Virginia. Frank Smith Findlay died at his home in Abingdon on September 5, 1905. He was seventy one years old.