Every spring (particularly when it was time to clean the windows!), I would see them yet again. Year after year, for nearly a decade, whenever I approached my living room’s French-style casement, I could not help but notice two names etched onto one of the six glass panes that composed the venerable curtain-clad opening. ‘A. Hudson and Rose Hudson,’ they read inoffensively enough.
Initially, I thought little of my seasonal companions but as the years went by my inquisitiveness was roused about who actually took the time to engrave these letters on a window in my Victorian row home. Needless to say, I was also curious about when it was done. So, one spring rather than cleaning the windows, I decided to investigate them! I further determined that a visit to my nearby municipal library was in order.
Once there early one morning, I sought assistance in the Reference Room where a very mannered young woman suggested that I start my research by examining the local street directories. “Be careful,” she cautioned me, “sometimes the address of a home may have changed down through the years.” In retrospect, it was good that she forewarned me of this possibility for, in fact, I subsequently learned that the civic number of my home had been altered four times since the building’s construction in 1873.
At the outset, for whatever reason, I anticipated finding the name ‘Hudson’ at my home address in a post World War II directory but as I proceeded backward in my search, it became increasingly evident that the window etchings were much older than I had originally thought. Eventually, with great astonishment, I backed my way into the 1800’s and continued my quest in that century’s records. Losing faith somewhat as my now-frenetic pursuit took me to within the period of the first decade of my home’s erection, suddenly, before my incredulous eyes appeared in the 1881 Montreal Lovell’s Directory the entry ‘Alfred Hudson, commercial traveller, 258 St. Andre Street.’ After having rummaged through nearly 100 years of this city’s frequently heavy and cumbersome street annuals, it was as an apparition to see his name before me. Unknowingly, I uttered a rather muffled cry of joy. My eyes caught those of the librarian.
Continuing regressively in order to determine the year of the family’s arrival in my home, I quickly established that theirs was a relatively brief stay under my roof – in fact, only four years. But who exactly was this family that left behind a century and a quarter old heirloom on my dining room window? Might I learn more, I wondered? That same attentive librarian said that I could. “If the family you are researching, Monsieur Wilkins, lived in 1881 at your address, you would find them on the census of that year!”
Moments later, the patient young woman introduced me to the microfilm reader, while at the same time presenting me with the roll of film upon which the Hudson family would most likely appear. “There is no index so you must search through it very conscientiously,” she stated, quite bubbly. “Now you must start.”
Almost dutifully, I sat down in front of my reader, thread the film through its elaborate feeding mechanism, and earnestly began my examination of its contents. After nearly two hours of what became rather tedious foraging about the Montreal – St. James reel of the 1881 Census of Canada, I finally came upon the household for which I was looking: Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hudson and their three daughters, one of whom was named ‘Rose.’ All five were born in Britain, according to the document.
I returned quickly to that ever so dedicated librarian with yet more questions. I was particularly interested in ascertaining when exactly they may have come to Canada. Upon seeing me before her once again, she smiled pleasantly. “To determine that, Monsieur Wilkins, you must find the family on the manifest of the ship which brought them here. Again, there is no index and it is very demanding research, especially for the eyes.”
Within minutes, I found myself one more time in front of that same reader, only on this occasion with a microfilm of various ship passenger lists from the 1870’s. The search took well over three hours before the family appeared Montreal bound on the manifest of the S.S.Polynesian in October of 1876. Only this time, there was a fourth daughter with them!
“Perhaps, Monsieur Wilkins, the child died here in Montreal,” volunteered my now increasingly-intrigued bibliothécaire who rapidly handed me yet another microfilm – this one for nineteenth century city deaths. This film (which was in alphabetical order) did quickly locate the unfortunate child – dead of diphtheria in her Montreal abode – my home- at the age four. Oddly, I felt somewhat rueful for a child who had been deceased well over a century.
Gertrude Hudson, 1873-1877 (Mount Royal Cemetery)
Nonetheless, I mused that I had acquired a great deal of knowledge about this family in a very short period of time. As I was leaving the library, I encountered that helpful young woman anew. I told her that I appreciated her assistance and that I might like one day to learn more about the origins of that same Hudson family. “I think, Monsieur Wilkins, that you will have to go to Britain to achieve that,” she declared with a playful look about her.