Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bill Finger's sister is not in my book, part 1 of 2

Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, had a sister born in 1918 (four years after him).

She and Bill had been estranged since the late 1930s for reasons no one alive but her seem to know—and she’s not talking. Bill never mentioned her publicly and apparently, never privately either; even his second wife did not know he had a sister. As of this writing, she is still alive.

At one point, the story of how I found her was going to be in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. However, with so many good stories to include, some good ones had to be cut, and hers was one.

So here it is—and expanded far beyond what I would’ve had space for in print:

No comics historians I talked to during my research knew that toward the end of Bill’s life, he had married a second time. As these things so often go, I stumbled upon ES (to protect privacy) without knowing that I should be looking for her. The moment was jubilant and became one of the first “behind-the-scenes” research stories I posted on this blog. But what made it pivotal was a casual comment ES made about Bill, something else no comics historians knew: his actual first name. (Hint: It was not Bill.)

A short biographical sketch of Bill ran in Green Lantern #1, in 1941. (Bill co-created him, too.) In the bio, Bill is referred to as an “only son.” This clouded my thinking for a while, but then it hit me like a gloved sock to the jaw: “only son” does not automatically mean “only child.”

Bill’s given name and the “only son” recalibration collided in my mind, catapulting me several months back to when I had struck out trying to find his family in census records.

Armed with my new knowledge, I revisited a particular census record and confirmed that I only thought I had struck out. That record indeed listed the right Fingers: Bill (but under his given name, which I’d learned only after first seeing the record), his parents (whose names I hadn’t known previously)…and his younger sister/lone sibling, Emily.

I figured Emily would be either deceased or close to impossible to find because she’d almost certainly have a married name. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t look for her. There would be things about Bill that only she would know.

Emily was born in 1918, most likely in New York. In 2006, attempting to find her middle name with the hope that it would narrow the search, I went through the New York City Birth Indexes of 1918-1920. A reference librarian told me that it was rare for someone not to appear in the index. Yet I found no Emily there.

I also spent hours combing through the New York Death Index (from 1930 to 1982) and obituaries of girls with her first name born in 1918, hoping to come across one whose maiden name was Finger, or one whose parents’ names matched the names of Bill’s parents, or even just one born in the Bronx. I found none of the above.

So I made two lists.

Part 2.

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