Finding a photo of a Piper Cub, so I could envision my client’s first plane, was easy. That took about one minute. But tracking down his transcripts from seven different schools beginning in 1939 on Long Island—that took some time. Each school had an online form that had to be found, filled out, printed, put in the mail with a check. Then, the waiting. After that was the “We couldn’t find any records,” letter they sent me. Followed by me calling and getting real human beings on the phone and telling a story or two in an attempt to draw the person into the process, to get him or her to care.
Then there were the name changes to deal with, since more than 70 years have passed. He recalled graduating from CUNY, City University of New York, which at the time was called City College of New York. When CUNY said they had no records of his attendance, a kind bureaucrat suggested that I check one of the other schools associated with the New York college system.
When I call my client to give him the update, he instantly says: “Bernard Baruch College, how about that? That’s where I got my undergraduate; and the day I got my master’s degree, Martin Luther King was the commencement speaker.”
Aaah, the sweet taste of success. Now I had his graduation date as 1963, when MLK is documented as speaking to CUNY graduates. I go through the online transcript request process again, this time for Baruch College. Bingo! I received, and he received copies of every single class he took, and the grade and credit, from Baruch College between February, 1955 through June 4, 1961; dates I was thrilled to have.
As an incredible bonus, the college transcript included a handwritten note of the dates he was out of college for military service. While you can talk your way past the SS number in requesting a college transcript, the U.S. government is a big beast that won’t move on your behalf without one. Since I don’t want to be in possession of his Social Security number, I have been skirting the issue. When Baruch gave me the military dates, I was spared many hours of work.
And that’s one very small example of why a biography costs so much. Time, time, time. Oh yeah, and expertise. How long does it take me to write a biography? Eleven months and 25 years.