Thursday, June 28, 2012

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

Part 1.

The story so far: I was searching for Emily, the only sister/sibling of Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman; since she was born in 1918 and I knew only her maiden name, I was not confident I would find her. After spending hours futilely looking through vital records in the New York Public Library, I made two lists.

reasons why Bill's sister may not be in NYC Birth Indexes:

  • she was not born in NYC, although that seems unlikely
  • her paperwork got lost in the influenza epidemic of 1918
  • her family didn’t file her birth (could she have been born at home?)
  • she was born under another name (i.e. to a family member or friend, and the Fingers immediately adopted her?)
  • “Emily” was actually her middle name or nickname
  • she was not who I thought she was

reasons why Bill's sister may not be in NYC Death Indexes:

  • she is, but under a married (or otherwise changed) name I don’t know
  • her death went unreported
  • she died after 1982
  • she died outside NYC
  • she isn’t dead

In other words, all I confirmed is that no one with the name “Emily Finger died in NYC between 1930-1982.

Eventually I realized another way I could use death to determine if Emily was alive. The New York City Death Index revealed that Bill and Emily’s parents had died within six weeks of each other in 1961, but did not name not their final resting place. I’d been assuming that the Jewish cemeteries of the Bronx would be too numerous to check. Then I learned that most Bronx Jews were buried in one of two cemeteries in New Jersey. I called the first and asked if these particular Fingers were there.

They were.

I asked who was maintaining the graves.

Some cemeteries won’t give out a name. But this one did.

It was Emily.

Luckily, her married name was unusual, and I quickly found her listing online. I called, possibly more nervous than the first time I called a girl my own age. She answered. And like that, I was connected to Bill’s closest living relative and the person who went back the furthest with him.

However, my excitement was short-lived. After all my efforts to track her down, she declined to answer most of my questions. She wouldn’t tell me why but did say that she and Bill had been estranged since even before Batman began. She barely even knew of his role in Batman, nor did she seem to care. She was tired and apologized that she had virtually nothing to contribute. Bill was estranged from his parents, too. They had pressured him to be a doctor, which didn't interest him. When he became a comics writer, they apparently would wait outside the office on payday and make Bill hand over his checks for the family. For these reasons, and possibly others, I imagine Bill developed resentment toward his mom and dad. I suspect this was the cause of the estrangement between them, and that Emily sided with their parents.

Close as I came, I ultimately had to accept that a significant part of Bill Finger, his sister Emily and her memories, will have to remain a mystery. I just couldn’t sway her.

But I did find her.

7/9/12 addendum: Because of the way the earliest biographical sketch of Bill Finger was worded, I originally thought Bill was an only child. Then I learned he had a younger sister. Then via the 1940 census, which was made public in April 2012, I learned Bill had a second younger sister...Gilda, born about 1930.


Alisha Gabriel said...

I'm impressed with your research and could learn a thing or two from you. Congrats on finding Emily!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Alisha. It comes easy when you tell yourself you're always close to discovering something big!

Bill said...

Marc, great detective work, as usual. Will there be a follow-up post on younger sister, Gilda?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Bill. There will be...but hopefully only after I find her, or what happened to her...

Boswell said...

My guess is that there is no younger sister Gilda. Rather, Gilda is more likely Bill's first wife. As an initial matter, if you look at the 1940 census, it's hard to decipher how old Gilda is (10 or 20) - Ancestry indexes her as being 10, but it has to be 20 as she is listed as working as a clerk in "insurance" at a salary of $900 per year. Also, Gilda doesn't appear on any prior census that she should appear in if she is a sister - i.e., 1925 (NY) and 1930 (US), and possibly 1920. Now, the 1940 census does indicate that both Bill and Gilda are single, which is not consistent with marriage, but these census takers were notoriously inaccurate (e.g., was Louis Finger born in Austria or Poland?), so that could well be wrong (as could Gilda's last name for that matter). But, if she was Bill's wife, that would be consistent with the military initially classifying him as 3A in WWII when he registered a few months later.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Boswell - very interesting theory. Please email me: