Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Great detective work by US cop to track down ancestral Belfast home from one photo

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

It was a bit of a transatlantic long shot. But that didn't stop an American policeman locating his great-great-grandmother's house using nothing but an old photograph from the 1920s.

Tom Decker arrived in Ireland looking for the house in the treasured family image, believing it was in either Dublin or Cork. But his hunt brought him to Beechfield Street in the Ballymacarret area of east Belfast.

What should have been a busman's holiday for the Michigan policeman to catch up with gardai friends turned into a personal discovery of his roots.

Tom yesterday travelled to see the house on his first trip outside the US, which confirmed his Northern Ireland roots – and introduced him to a few long-lost distant cousins.

He met with owner Dan Mallon, who was born and bred in the house, and who welcomed him with a cup of tea and slice of brack bread.

"This has been so much bigger and more exciting than I ever thought possible," said a delighted Tom. "My family back home has been following my progress and they are as overwhelmed as I am."

Dan (41) added: "It's really been lovely to have been able to help Tom to find out more about his family roots."

The two were put together by the Mooney programme on RTE Radio 1, which picked up on the story. Initially all Tom had to locate his ancestor Rose Ann Decker (nee Carson) was a faded black and white photograph taken in the 1920s. It later turned out not to be of Rose's family home, but that of sister Maggie McGouran, who she had been visiting.

While he was flying to Dublin last week a friend posted it on the Reddit website with a promise of a $150 reward to anyone who could identify the house.

By the time he had touched down in Dublin more than 200 people had responded.

The original 1920s photograph
The original 1920s photograph

Once they put the address into Google maps it was clear it was the house, despite a few changes down the years.

Tom's potential 'cousins', brother and sister Joe and Briege McGouran, were also there to meet him.

They believe that they are connected through Rose Ann's sister Maggie, who married Joseph McGouran.

The original post on the Reddit website that sparked the hunt.

"I will Paypal you $150 USD if you can find this building in Dublin on Google maps (original image of house).

"My friend landed in Dublin today and is there for 10 days."

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