Mystery Monday – Belfast, Ireland Couple – Photographer, J. Thompson

J. Thompson, Photo Artist, Belfast, Ireland
J. Thompson, Photo Artist, Belfast, Ireland

During a recent visit to my father’s cousins in New Jersey, my brother, John, and I came across this mystery photograph. He was looking through an old religious book that had belonged to their maiden great-aunt, Lizzie Hall. There stuck inside one of the pages, was this picture that neither Ted nor MaryLou had remembered seeing before! Their father, William John Doran,  had received the book, along with some holy pictures, from the estate of Lizzie Hall in 1933.

They both said that I could keep the picture and research the history. The photo was one of the early post cards popular from the early 20th Century on.

Back of photograph.

When I saw this photograph I instantly remembered a similar picture, that had been emailed to my sister and I, from a fellow Belfast Doran clan researcher, James Doran. His photo shows his father, “wee Artie” and his grandparents, Arthur Patrick and Sarah Hermon Doran. It was taken about 1911 in Belfast. When my brother and I got back to his house we compared the two photographs. The two men are sitting on the same type of chair, called a throne chair, popular in photographers’ studios in the early 20th century. Looking at the pictures closely, we all agree that it seems to be the same chair the men are sitting on, and a different chair that the ladies are sitting on. James Doran said his mother has the original and he will try to locate it to see if there is anything printed or written on the back. It is possible we are related since our two families were next door neighbors in Belfast at one point, plus a few other similarities. Thanks, James, for your permission to share the photo!

Arthur Patrick Doran Family, taken in Belfast, Ireland, circa 1911. Photograph courtesy of James Doran.
Arthur Patrick & Sarah Hermon Doran, and their child, wee Artie, taken in Belfast, Ireland, circa 1911. Photograph courtesy of James Doran.

Along with my brother, my sister and I started researching the photographer. James Thompson was listed in both the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses as a Belfast photographer. In the 1911 Irish Census he was living with his family at 33 Cranmore Avenue, in the Windsor Ward of Belfast. He was 42 years old, and born in England. His son, also James Thompson, was age 17, born in Belfast, and also a photographer.

Taking in account the address on the back, our mystery photo was taken around 1912, or later in Belfast. Grosvener House, now called Grosvenor House, was designed by the Irish architects, Patterson and Grahame, active circa 1911 – 1915. The building has a date of 1912 for completion. To find out more about their work please look at his link:

Prior to being in this building, the photographer, James Thompson, was in the Cranes Building, in the same vicinity, Wellington Place, Belfast, near the Belfast City Hall. Information from the website of Lennon Wylie, in his databases – Belfast / Ulster Street Directories, was researched by my sister, Veronica, my brother, John, and myself to try and pinpoint when the photo was taken [ ].

1907 Belfast / Ulster Street Directory: Thompson, Jas., photographer, #26, Fourth Floor, Wellington Place, Donegall Square to College Square East, Cranes Building.

1908 Belfast / Ulster Street Directory: Thompson, Jas., photographer # 26, Cranes Building [same as 1907].

1910 Belfast / Ulster Street Directory: Thompson, James, photographic artist, #26, Cranes Building [same as 1907].

1918 Belfast / Ulster Street Directory: Thompson, Jas., photographer, Grosvenor House, Donegall Square North to College Square East, St. Anne’s Ward, South Par. Div., 5 Wellington Place, res., 17 Stranmillies Road.

1913 Belfast Telephone Directory: Thompson, James, photographer, 5 Wellington Place.

Now that we know the mystery photo was taken after about 1911 in Belfast, Ireland, we can start researching any family members that were still living in Belfast during that time. The unknown picture could show Doran or Hall family members, or turn out to be simply friends of Lizzie Hall. Lizzie emigrated to New Jersey from Belfast in 1914. By researching when the Belfast YMCA was in the same building as James Thompson, we may be able to narrow the dates. Here is the back of the photograph postcard.

BelfastPhotoBMystery Monday is a blogging prompt suggested by Geneabloggers. Many thanks to my father’s first cousins, Ted and MaryLou, and their spouses, for the mystery photograph, and all of their help researching our Doran family, and for a wonderful day spent together! Thanks also to James Doran, who is our honorary cousin, if not our direct cousin!

Copyright 2015 by Maryann Barnes and Genealogy Sisters.

7 thoughts on “Mystery Monday – Belfast, Ireland Couple – Photographer, J. Thompson

  1. James Thompson was my great grandfather, he had a studio in Belfast. His eldest son my grandfather Nevay Robert had a studio in Londonderry, James his brother had a studio in Ballymena. It is nice to see a couple of photos that my great grandfather took.


    1. Thanks, Pat! I’m always so happy to hear from any of the families. I’m also so glad I could see the J. Thompson, Photo Artist, on the back of our mystery photo. Just think of the delight these photos brought to people that lived far away from Northern Ireland.


      1. Hi Maryann,
        Thanks for getting back to me. If Julie sends you a copy of her grandmother photo I would very much like to see it as it was taken by my great grandfather James. Would you like to see some family photos taken by his son , Nevay who ran The Studio in Londonderry.
        Kind regards,


      2. Hi Pat,
        I will share the photo if Julie gives me permission, as I hope she does. How exciting for your family to have these gems of photos. Yes, I would like to also see the family photos taken by Nevay. Possibly the easiest way to share the photos is through the Genealogy Sisters Facebook page, by posting them, or by sending them to me by message. Please let me know if you give me permission to share them, or if you would like me to only see them. If you want to share the photos on the blog then write up what you know about them. You can also send them by email from the link. Thank you for sharing about your family of noted photographers.
        Best regards,


  2. Hello, I have been attempting to find any information about my Grandmother who was also from Belfast in the early 1900’s. I, too have a post card photo of my Grandma at age 9, taken by Mr. Thompson of 5 Wellington Place, Belfast on October 17, 1919! I would be happy to share the image if you are interested.


    1. Thanks for contacting me, Julie! Do you know what year the photo was taken based on her age at the time? If you would like to share on our Facebook page – Genealogy Sisters – please do! Or, send it via the email link here as a jpeg. I have heard from some of the Thompson family, and I would think they will really like seeing another one of his photos, and so would I. What was your grandmothers name at the time of the 1911 Irish Census? Have you found her there?

      Best regards, Maryann


      1. Hi MaryAnne! My Great Grandmother wrote the date the photo was taken and the age of my Grandmother on that day on the back of the postcard ! Unfortunately there was some cardboard from a frame stuck to the back, but I was able to carefully remove most of it. My Great Grandfather’s name was Joseph Scott and I found a handful of them on the 1911 census that were living in Belfast at that time but am unsure which one is my family. I plan on doing more research on it- I just wish I had been interested in this while my dear Grandma was still living! 😢 I will post the photo on the FB page you recommended.

        Liked by 1 person

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