Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Three boroughs/four records offices in one summer’s day

On 8/17/06 (a decade ago today), I was a human pinball. I made a hot mad dash around New York City in search of various vital records of Bill Finger’s family.

It felt like I did an inhuman amount in one day, and looking back, I was surprised to see that I didn’t even get started on the intensive portion till midday. The timeline:

9 a.m. Leonard Grossman’s apartment to watch short video of a 1950s DC Comics holiday party to see if Bill made an appearance, Leonard’s father was cartoonist Rube Grossman, who amassed quite a collection of Golden Age comics art

11 a.m. short meeting at Nickelodeon (where I was freelancing at the time)

11:30 Midtown Comics

12 p.m. Manhattan City Clerk to look for the marriage certificate of Bill and his first wife Portia, but they search only three years for $15 and I have a larger range, 1940-1948, so I planned to find out more and come back

2 p.m. Queens Surrogate’s Court to look for the will of Bill’s father Louis, but it was not there; according to the Death Index, Louis died in Queens, but according to Social Security, he died in Brooklyn, so I shot over (via LIRR and subway) to…

3:15 p.m. Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court to look for the wills of both Louis and Bill’s son Fred, who died in 1992 (the most recent of all Finger deaths); however, Louis’s was not there, either; on the court’s computer, I tried “Frederic Finger”—no hits; then “Fred Finger”—no hits; finally just “Finger” (what possessed me, I don’t know)…and he finally turned up; it was not a will but rather a seemingly similar document called a settlement of estate, only two pages; the person to whom Fred bequeathed his possessions was new to me: Charles Dennis Shaheen; I was lucky that (a) Fred left this document, (b) I found this document, (c) it had a name, (d) the name was not so common, which makes it easier to search for online; more this fall on Fred
s will...

4 p.m. Manhattan Surrogate’s Court to look for the wills of Bill or his first wife Portia; I figured neither would be there and I was right

5 p.m. back to Brooklyn to go to Fred’s (and Charles’s) last known address, 388 Sackett Street in Carroll Gardens; first called information but Charles’s number was unlisted at the customer’s request; I took that as a sign that Charles was still alive and still in Brooklyn; got to the brownstone on a lovely street and could not see a name on the door; I asked two young smokers next door if they knew if a “Charles” lived here and they said yes; when I asked a couple more questions they directed me to his restaurant (another good sign—Fred was a chef), around the corner; they asked if I am with the IRS; sign at restaurant read “Gone Fishing” so I went back to the brownstone; then I learned the Charles there is not Charles Shaheen; this was pre-iPhone, so I had to wait till I was home to search online, at which point I learned that Shaheen had died in 2002

The days travels, in sum:


(Told you I was a pinball.)

The differences among the various offices in accessing vital records were baffling.

Related: at the Queens and Brooklyn courts, they held my voice recorder, but not at the Manhattan court.

But the important thing: learning that Shaheen was dead meant I was inadvertently on the track to helping Bill’s granddaughter receive Batman royalties. Except I did not yet know Bill had a granddaughter...

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