08 September 2012

The Wilsons at Fourth Street School, Hudson, New York

Fourth Street School, Hudson, NY
Postcard published by J. Ruben, Photographer, Newburgh, NY
[used card postmarked Aug 17, 1924; in possession of author]
I think my favorite part of the newly available 1940 U.S. Census is the question "Highest grade of school completed." This is a piece of information not seen on previous census records. Enumerators were instructed to enter the last completed full grade of school or college. If the subject's schooling had been in an ungraded school or in a foreign country, the enumerator was to determine the equivalent grade in our school system or the number of years of schooling completed.[1]

I'd never asked my grandfather, Joe Wilson, how many years of school he'd completed. I'd not really thought about it until a few months ago when I found three Hudson (New York) Evening Register newspaper articles from 30 June 1898, 2 July 1900 and 1 July 1901 with his name as well as the names of his younger brother, Ben, and older sister, Nina, on the Old Fulton New York Historic Newspapers website.[2] All of them were reported as having made sufficient progress to be promoted to the next grade.

All three children were in the same grade and, in fact, in the same class. This despite the fact that Nina was probably born 15 January 1887, Joe 11 October 1889 and Ben 5 March 1891. They had arrived as the Wilensky family at Ellis Island from the village they called Kazan (today Kozyany) in the Russian Empire (now in Belarus) on 1 June of 1897.[3] I do not know whether they'd attended school in their shtetl (village), but in the United States there certainly would have been a language barrier, at least initially.

So, I was not surprised that in June 1898, just one year after arrival, when Nina would have been 10, Joe 8 and Ben 7, they had all completed the same grade: first, at the Fourth Street School under the tutelage of Miss Rosella Brown.

The newspaper from 2 July 1900 reported that they all had been promoted to fourth grade after having completed their third grade class. And the following year on 1 July 1901, they had satisfactorily completed Miss Daley's fourth grade and were promoted to fifth. By that time, Nina would have been 13, Joe 11, and Ben 10.

The Wilsons, show up in Hudson city directories through 1904.[4] Currently, the Fulton website does not carry Hudson, NY newspapers for 1902 - 1905 (the last years the Wilson family would have still been resident in Hudson), so I do not know how many more of these newspapers will report Nina, Joe and Ben's continued academic success. I am planning, however, a first ever trip to Hudson this fall and will try to locate newspaper editions from the end of the school year to see if I can track them further. I'll try to locate academic records, as well.

The Fourth Street School was located at the intersection of Fourth and State Streets in Hudson. From the post card, shown above, it looks to have been an impressive structure. At some point it became a high school. It stood until 1994. It had been deteriorating under private ownership and the City of Hudson, in a fit of urban renewal, allowed it to be torn down for a parking lot.[5]

The 1905 New York State Census finds the Wilson family in Albany where Nina, 17, worked as a saleslady. All of her siblings were still in school: Joe 15, Ben 14, and Esther 6. [6]

1905 New York State Census, 196 S. Pearl Street, Albany
The 1940 Census reports that Joe completed the eighth grade [7] and that Ben completed the first year of high school.[8] Nina, unfortunately, died in New York City in the midst of the influenza epidemic in January of 1919.[9]

If Joe and Ben continued their progress in school they would have each been about 15 when they left school: Joe 15 in eighth grade and Ben 15 in ninth (the first year of high school). So, this record in Albany may have reflected Joe's last year in school.

A 1905 Albany City Directory confirms the family's presence in Albany in 1905.[10] And, a 1906 Albany Directory [11] notes that they'd moved to New York City (I love directories!).

1906 Albany City Directory (FHL Microfilm 1,759,485)
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the Wilsons in NYC in 1906. Joe Wilson, however, seems to have gone his separate way back to Hudson. The 1906 Hudson City Directory [12] reports that Joe is living at 508 State Street as a boarder. Unfortunately, no occupation is listed. Further searching in the directory indicates that he was residing with the Emma Wise family at that address. This family was shown living next door to the Wilsons in Hudson in the 1900 US Census and Andrew Wise, Emma's son, was close in age to Joe.[13]

In this family there is almost immediate change in educational aspiration with birth in the United States. Esther, the youngest child in the family and the only one born in the United States (Hudson in 1898[14]), eventually graduated from Hunter College and became a high school teacher. Both of Joe's children (my mother Norma, and my uncle Ira) attended New York University. And my uncle went on to graduate from NYU law school. 

It's amazing what can happen given opportunity!

1. Bureau of Census, U.S. Department of Commerce. "Abridged Instructions to Enumerators, Population, Form P-103, Washington: 19 January 1940.
2. Hudson Evening Register (Hudson, New York). Old Fulton New York Post Cards.com. Digital images. http://www.fultonhistory.com/fulton.html : accessed 31 December 2011.  Articles from: 30 June 1898, 2 July 1900, and 1 July 1901.
3. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 7 September 2009), manifest, Pisa, Hamburg to New York, arriving 1 June 1897, list 7, Hode, Nachame, Josef and Benjamin Wilensky, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial M237.
4. Hudson City, Claverack and Stottville Directory for 1904 (Hudson, NY: JH Lant
Co., Inc., 1904), 150, entry for "Wilson, Saul," FHL Film 1,759,798.
5. Osterink, Carole. "Almost Two Decades Later." The Gossips of Rivertown, 17 March 2010 (http://gossipsofrivertown.blogspot.com/2010/03/almost-two-decades-later.html : accessed 8 September 2012).
6.  1905 New York States Census, Albany County, New York, enumeration of inhabitants, Ward 4, Enumeration District 1, sheet 20, Saul, Hoda, Nina, Joseph, Benjamin and Ester Wilson; digital image, FamilySearch.org (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 18 November 2010), New York State Archives: Albany, New York.
7. 1940 U.S. Census, Kings County, New York, population schedule, Brooklyn, Enumeration District 24-1839, sheet 3A, household 40, Joseph Wilson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 April 2012).
8. 1940 U.S. Census, New York County, New York, population schedule, Manhattan, Enumeration District 31-1894, sheet 6B, household 166, Benjamin Wilson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 August 2012).
9. New York City Department of Health, death certificate 1585 (11 January 1919), Nina Herman; New York City Municipal Archives, New York.
10. Directory for the Year 1905 of the Cities of Albany and Renssalaer (Albany, NY: Sampson & Murdock Co., 1905), 636, entry for "Wilson, Saul," FHL Film 1,759,484.
11. Directory for the Year 1906 of the Cities of Albany and Renssalaer (Albany, NY: Sampson & Murdock Co., 1906), 640, entry for "Wilson, Saul," FHL Film 1,759,485.
12. Hudson City, Claverack and Stottville Directory for 1906 (Hudson, NY: JH LantCo., Inc., 1904), 138, entry for "Wilson, Joseph," FHL Film 1,759,798.
13. 1900 U.S. Census, Columbia County, New York, population schedule, Hudson, Enumeration District 19, sheet 8A, dwelling 126, Family 172, Cyrus Wilson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 August 2008).
14. "Information from the City of Hudson of Births," extracted record for Esther Wilson, born 10 September 1898, Hudson, New York; City Clerk, Hudson, New York, extract by Clerk, City of Hudson and received (and in possession of author) 18 July 2008.


  1. I enjoyed this post. I've researched a couple of lines of my husband's where I've seen the same thing. The immigrants didn't have much schooling at all, but their children (and presumably grandchildren) graduated high school and some attended college (and in one line, some went on to become lawyers).

  2. Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth. Two generations removed from the old country, I grew up with the expectation of attending college. When I look back at my immigrant ancestors' experiences, I am truly humbled (and thankful).


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