Sweet lord no, I don’t mean that lasciviously. I mean research.
Finding anyone old is hard since elderly people are not likely to be on social media or have much other trace online. Finding anyone old and female is especially hard, especially if you don’t know her married name. (At times I have had to look for a woman who intersected with the subject of my book when they were both young, meaning that, to start, I know only her maiden name.)
For my 2012 book on Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of a fella you mighta hearda called Batman, I found myself interacting with a large number of people over the age of 80. (Bill was born in 1914 and I’d set out to speak to as many of his contemporaries who knew him personally as I could.)
Once I covered the essentials, I dug into the wild cards. One of those had a perfect name for a wild card—Dorcas. In 2006, Charles Sinclair, Bill’s longtime friend and writing partner (on radio, TV, and film, but not on Batman comics), amazingly remembered that a woman named Dorcas had once invited Bill to Thanksgiving.
(I’d normally say you don’t forget a name like Dorcas, but when you’re talking about an event going back at least 50 years, you just might.)
The reason I was so keen on finding Dorcas is because Thanksgiving is a holiday and holidays are when it’s more likely than usual for people to take photos. (So few photos of Bill had been published that I zealously followed any lead that might turn up a “new” one.)
While Charles remembered the first name and the holiday, as well the church through which she and Bill met, that was it—no last name, no state. Yet from those meager roots, I was able to find Dorcas. Here’s how:
- I contacted a former priest from the church who allegedly had great memory of church members from from that era. Indeed he did remember Dorcas and gave me both her last name (Young) and last known address, in St. Petersburg, Florida. This was a huge first step in the right direction.
- I Googled her—no one by her name in St. Petersburg but one in Davenport, Florida. Even though the phone number for that one was out of service, I figured this was a more current city for her than the St. Petersburg one.
- I checked PeopleFinder where I found my Dorcas Young in both St. Petersburg and Davenport, living with a man named Norman (it was indicated that she was 85, he 88).
- I Googled Norman in both cities and called info for both cities and both their names. I called a few of the phone numbers this generated. Some were wrong numbers; others were answering machines on which I didn’t bother to leave a message.
- I Googled for obituaries and found one listed on a pay site. Much as I wanted to find Dorcas, she wasn’t essential so not worth spending $70 for the one-year subscription required.
- I figured out what newspaper covers Davenport. I searched for obits for either and found that Norman did die, in 8/05 (see below).
- The obit listed their daughter Kaorin so I tried to find her on Google and People Finder. Neither listed anyone with her unusually spelled first name (love when that happens) in St. Petersburg (or even Florida), but one did list another unusually spelled similar name—Kaaren—age 64, in St. Petersburg. The number I found online was out of service, so I called information and got another for her. I called and got the machine but she sounded the right age.
- The obit also listed two churches Norman was affiliated with. I called both. Neither answered. (It was a Sunday.)
- The obit also listed the place that held the memorial service for Norman. I called there and it turned out to be a retirement home and…a big “and”...Dorcas lived there! Clair, the woman who answered, told me that Dorcas was totally lucid and that she would ask Dorcas about this. When I told Clair that the Dorcas I’m looking for had invited a lonely acquaintance from her church (who I’m now writing about) to her Thanksgiving one year, Clair said "That sounds like her."
All that, however, was for nothing. Clair (super nicely) reported back that Dorcas remembered that Bill had come to a Thanksgiving, but nothing more. And she had no photos.
By the way, given that my Dorcas quest was five years ago, I should point out that in recounting this story, I am not going on memory (even though the name Dorcas is, as mentioned above, memorable). I recorded this research strand immediately after I did it or else I surely would have forgotten it.