Mystery Solved

The mystery of a 1920s photo of Rose Decker’s visit from the USA to her Irish relatives was solved with input from researchers in diverse locations including Dublin, Brooklyn and Cork, and her ancestor Tom is now planning to visit the house depicted and chat to the new occupants.

(Updated – see below)

The following photo was posted on the Ireland section of forum Reddit by Hudson (lludson) on Wednesday 19th February, and asked if anyone could find the location on behalf of friend Tom, a Policeman from Michigan, who was on his way to visit Ireland, on his first trip ever outside the USA.

1920s Photo including Rose Carson

The photo shows Tom’s ancestor on a trip from Michigan to visit relatives in Ireland, however the location has always been a mystery. Stories seemed to indicate that this was somewhere in Dublin so this seemed the place for Tom to start his search.

The Reddit post was mentioned on the online newspaper ‘The Daily Edge’, and numerous suggestions were put forward of houses as people scoured around Google maps and looked at streets near to their location. Whilst a number of these looked very similar none was a good match and it turns out that this type of house is quite common not only in and around Dublin, but also in other parts of Ireland.

Various searches in Census returns and directories of Dublin addresses for possible Carson households showed nothing promising. The crucial starting clues were posted to Reddit by posters Scamallnaoi and ptegen, and the first of these was a Michigan marriage record for Rose Carson, her maiden surname, to Horace Decker. This showed Rose’s parents as Charles Carson and Mary Mullen.

1893 Marriage in Michigan of Horace Decker and Rose A. Mullen

1893 Marriage in Michigan of Horace Decker and Rose A. Mullen

The next important clue was a passport application form for Rose Decker which gave a likely timeframe for Rose’s trip of July 1920, and also a date of birth for her on the 31st October 1864 (possibly estimated) and crucial clue in the form of the place of birth shown on the form – “Sanfield”

Passport Application for Rose A. Decker

Passport Application for Rose A. Decker in July 1920

Following on from the passport a passenger manifest was located confirming that Rose travelled back across the Atlantic after her trip in October 1920 on the “Empress of France”. Travelling on the same ship was a Margaret Mullen – could this be a relation on Rose’s mother’s side ?

Empress of France Manifest October 1920The link to a likely location in Ireland was confirmed by a Church marriage record for Rose based on the parents names given on her marriage record, and a transcript of the marriage for a Charles Carson and Mary Mullen was located on RootsIreland. This gave the name of the parish they married in as Saintfield, Co. Down. So sounding very similar to the reported place of birth of “Sanfield” appearing on the passport application, so looking that might have been a misheard placename by a passport official.

Carson Mullen marriage in Saintfield, Co. Down 1856Additionally a number of children were found  born to parents Charles Carson and Mary Mullen, first Mary Jane baptised in 1859,  William in 1863, Margaret born May 1864, Charles in December 1866, Emily June 1868, John in November 1871, Henry in January 1874, Edward in June 1876 and Agnes Maria in November 1879. No sign of Rose, but there may have been a few gaps where records might have missed her.

Census records showed a probable match for the family, with both parents and the two youngest children living at a townland named Ballygowan, Co. Down, and not too far from Saintfield.

Carson Household, Ballygowan townland 1901 census

1901 Census showing Rose’s parents and younger brother and sister

Carson Household, Ballygowan townland 1911 census

1911 Census showing Carson household at Ballygowan Co. Down.

The next stages of the search were posted on where a search of Land Valuation records showed that Charles and later his son Edward farmed at Ballygowan townland until at least the 1920s, so doesn’t seem likely that the photo depicts the Carson family home but rather of another family member, possibly a sibling to Rose or other relation. The next find was Passenger arrival record showing a Rose Decker age 54 arriving in Liverpool on the 18th August 1920 on the “Empress of France”. She is included on the list of Alien passengers, presumably since she was by then a US citizen due to her marriage.  Mentioned on the same list is a Margaret Mullen age 70, the same name that appears on the records for the return voyage. Both Rose and Margaret give their European address as ’51 Beachfield, Belfast’

Empress of France - Passenger Arrival List 1920

A search of Google maps and streetview located 51 Beechfield Street, and the other than a few minor changes due to upgrades of the windows and hall door, the house at that location looked a very good match to the original photo.

15 Beechfield Street, BelfastA search of a 1918 Belfast street directory showed the principle householder as a Mrs. Maggie McGouran and a follow up search of the census showed Maggie in 1911, 46 years old, living at 51 Beechfield Street with her children and husband John. They had been married 29 years (so approx. 1881) and Margaret was listed as having been born in County Down. The census return transcripts show enumerators references, which are not always the same as street number, but for this street and for number 51, the address of the McGouran household was confirmed as 51 on the reverse of the census form.

Birth records already investigated show that Charles and Mary Carson had a child Margaret in 1864 and a search of Irishroots for a marriage of a Margaret Carson between 1880 (when she was 16) and 1900 revealed a marriage match for Margaret Carson to a John Magouran in Saintfield Roman Catholic Church in November 1881, and so likely the younger sister to Rose Carson. A search for John and Margaret McGouran in 1901 traced them living with seven children at Epworth Street, which is about 1 km from Beechfield street.

So not only does the house on Beechfield Street closely match the photo there is a highly likely family link also.

Photo c1920 and Google Street viewA close-up of the people in the photograph. Rose is believed to be the lady in the hat close to the hall door, possibly next to her younger sister Margaret.

McGouran / Carson household at Beechfield Street, Belfast c1920

McGouran / Carson household at Beechfield Street, Belfast c1920

Derek Mooney on his show on RTE Radio spoke to Tom Decker, Rose’s direct ancestor, also to the current occupant of the house on Beechfield Street, Dan Mallon, and Paul (ptegan) who is one of the researchers involved in the search and he outlined the various investigation steps.

(Research by Scamallnaoi/Ciara, ptegan/Ponster/Paul & shanew/Shane, and thanks to others on for their input and encouragement.)

Update :

Tom Decker (centre) with possible distant relatives Briege McGouran and her brother Joe

Tom Decker (centre) with possible distant relatives Briege McGouran and her brother Joe (photo : Befast Telegraph)

Links to Records :
Marriage of Horace Decker and Rose Carson (Michigan marriages on FamilySearch)
Children of Charles Carson and Mary Mullen (Extracted Civil birth records on FamilySearch)
1901 Census for Carson household Ballygowan townland, Co. Down
1911 Census for Carson household Ballygowan townland, Co. Down
1911 Census for McGouran household at 51 Beechfield Street, Belfast, Co. Down
1901 Census for McGouran household at Epworth Street, Belfast, Co. Down

Links :
Initial Query and replies on Reddit
Posts on
Follow up post on Reddit
Mooney Show, RTE (includes audio of the Interview with Tom, Paul & Dan on 20th Feb 2014)
Mooney Show, RTE – Follow up (Visit to Beechfield Street, Belfast and Interviews with Tom Decker & Dan Mallon on 26th Feb 2014)
Find this Dublin house (Daily Edge / The Journal – Wed 19th Feb 2014)
Mystery Solved (Daily Edge / The Journal – Thu 20th Feb 2014)

US detective locates ancestral Belfast home (Irish Central – 5th Mar 2014)

US cop tracks down ancestral Belfast home (Belfast Telegraph – 27th Feb 2014)

1901/1911 Census of Ireland (National Archives of Ireland)
RootsIreland (Pay-website)
Ancestry.Co.Uk (Pay-website)


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