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This is a narrative history of my Carson ancestors, illustrated with photographs, where these are available. Family group charts can be viewed by clicking on underlined names.

Origins of the Name

The first record of the name occurred in the 13th century, in the form Acarson. Other early forms of the name were de Carsan, a Carsan, Acrassane, Acarsane, Akersan, a Kersane and Carssane. The name appears to have originated in the south-west of Scotland and to be of British (i.e. Welsh) derivation although the actual meaning is unclear.

Carsons in Early History

The first persons to have been recorded as bearing the name Carson or a variant of it were:-

  • Maurice Acarsan, bailiff of Isle of Man, appointed by King Alexander

  • Robert de Carsan, parson, Kircandres, Dumfriesshire,1296

  • John Acarson took Dumfries castle, 1305

  • Morice and Gilbert Acrassane, jurors at Dumfries, 1367

The Carsons were an ancient family in Galloway, which ended in the direct line in the reign of James IV.

Migration of the Carsons to Ulster

In the early 17th century the plantation of Ulster commenced, this being a scheme by King James I of Great Britain to settle this rebellious province of Ireland with loyal Protestant subjects. Many of the settlers came from south-west Scotland, and included people of the name Carson. Carsons settled first in Co Tyrone and later spread to other parts of the province, especially Antrim and Derry. Carson is still a common name in these counties.

The Antrim Carsons


Our earliest known Carson ancestor was Matthew Carson, who was born around 1803, probably in the county of Antrim in Ulster. He married Agnes Ferguson (known as Nancy), born about 1821, the daughter of John Ferguson, a farm labourer, and Janet Wallace. Matthew was a quarry labourer, working in the coastal limestone quarry at Whitehead at the mouth of Belfast Lough. Matthew and Nancy had at least six children, Eliza, or Elizabeth, born c1844, Jane, born c1846, John, c1852, Matthew c1854, Thomas in 1855 and William James in 1857. The family appears to have belonged to the Church of Ireland, as Thomas and William were baptized into that denomination. It is believed that the family lived in the quarry workers' cottages above the old harbour of Whitehead, which are still inhabited. When the family lived there, the town of Whitehead had not even begun to be built. In 1865, while living at Whitehead, Jane had an illegitimate son, William, whose father is unknown. Two years later her sister Eliza also had an illegitimate son, Andrew Downey, who is believed to have been named after his father, Andrew Downey. Sadly the infant died after only 2 months of life. In 1871, Matthew senior died at Whitehead, aged 68. The following year, a happier family occasion took place when Eliza married Richard Johnston, a sailor, son of Francis and Elizabeth Johnston, in Templecorran Parish Church in the nearby village of Ballycarry. A happy occasion was soon followed by a tragedy, however, when Thomas died the next month, aged only 16. Later that year Eliza and Richard had their first child, Elizabeth.

Migration to Scotland by Some of the Family


Around December 1873, Jane Carson, then aged about 28, her son William, aged 8, and her mother, left Ireland to settle in Stevenston, Ayrshire, Scotland. By December 1874, Jane's sister Eliza and her husband Richard and their infant daughter had also migrated to Stevenston, where their second daughter was born in that month. The reason for various family members moving to Scotland is not known, though Stevenston lies near the ferry port of Ardrossan. Many Irish people came to Stevenston in the nineteenth century, particularly to work in the local coal mines. The widowed Nancy Carson worked as a washerwoman, but in June 1875 she fell ill with fever and died at the age of 54. Jane found work in Stevenston as a seamstress or fringer and at other times as a washerwoman. While living at Fullerton Place in 1876 she had another illegitimate son, John, the father's name again being unknown. By 1881, the family was living in Boglemart Street and stayed at various different addresses there over the years. Jane died there in 1907 at the age of 62.

It is not known whether Matthew junior came across at the same time, but by January 1875 he was living at Lugton, also in Ayrshire and working as a miner, probably in the local iron ore mine. There he married Eliza Howard, also from County Antrim, the daughter of Arthur Howard and Ellen Bryson.

Eliza Carson (c1844-1920)

After arriving from Ireland, Eliza, also known as Elizabeth, and her husband Richard Johnston remained in Stevenston for the rest of their lives, staying at various addresses in Boglemart Street and Townhead Street. Soon after settling in Stevenston, they had a second daughter, Agnes, in 1874. Richard found employment initially in the local ironworks as a furnace filler, but by 1891 he had become a dock labourer, though it is not known which port he worked at. By 1901 he had found work as a labourer in Nobel's huge Ardeer dynamite works. In 1905, Richard died of a heart and lung disease and anaemia. After Richard's death Eliza went to live in Auchenharvie Cottages in Stevenston, but in 1920 she had to be admitted to the Cunninghame Poorhouse, where she died that year.

Agnes married Alexander Love Dinning, a coal miner, in 1896, and they had at least 3 children, Elizabeth, born c1897, Janet Love, born 1898, and Agnes Johnston, born 1900. Sadly, Agnes junior died of bronchitis after only six weeks of life. In 1920 Elizabeth married James Marshall, a paper mill worker, while in 1922 Janet married John McLuckie, a coal miner. Janet and John had at least one son. At some stage Alexander and Agnes moved to the nearby town of Kilwinning, where Agnes died in 1925 and Alexander in 1952.

Elizabeth junior married Thomas McCubbin, an explosives worker, in 1901. In January of the next year Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth Carson, but tragically she died only a month later of the kidney disease, nephritis. In 1905, Thomas married again, to Margaret Wylie, but another tragedy struck in 1915 when he died in an explosion at Nobel's factory, in which 3 men were killed. Thomas and Elizabeth's daughter Elizabeth married Robert Houston in 1929, and they had a daughter, Elizabeth Johnstone, in 1929. Tragedy was soon to strike yet again, when the infant died after only 4 days. Elizabeth Carson McCubbin lived until 1981, when she died in the nearby town of Saltcoats.

Return to Ireland by Matthew

By the next year, Matthew junior had left Scotland again with his new wife and had returned to Co. Antrim. They settled in Glynn parish, on the shores of Larne Lough, where they had at least eight children - Ellen, born 1876, Agnes, 1878, John 1880, Margaret 1883, Matthew 1885, Arthur 1886, Sarah Howard 1890 and Lizzie Jane 1893. At first the family stayed in the townland of Ballypollard, but later they were in adjacent Ballylig. Matthew worked as a labourer, probably in the large Magheramorne limestone quarry nearby.


Matthew & Eliza Carson and family c1884

Eliza died in 1925, and Matthew again moved across the water to Scotland, to live with his daughter Maggie and family in the small town of Kilbirnie in Ayrshire (see below). There Matthew died in 1934, aged 81.

Of Matthew and Eliza's children, Ellen married Thomas Howard, her mother's cousin, in 1897. Thomas was a ship's officer. and they had at least five children - Matthew, born 1898, Mary, 1901, John, 1904, Isabella, 1911 and Thomas, 1919. The family lived alternately at Ballylig and Belfast. After 1916 they stayed at 30 Edlingham Street, Belfast, which they moved into after Ellen's brother John and his family vacated it in c1916, following some disturbances in the area. Ellen died in 1937, aged 60 and Thomas died in 1943, aged 81. Of their children, Matthew died in 1979, aged 80. Mary married Thomas John Hull, a doctor, went to live in London, and had two children. John remained unmarried and died in Belfast in 1956, aged 51. Isabella married Richard Harvey in Belfast in 1930, and had 3 children. Later she married for a second time, to George Henry Bull, and had 4 more children. She died in 2005. Thomas married Maud Rose Katherine Wood in Essex, and they set up home in Romford. They had two children, Thomas, who died in 1977, and Maud, who died in 1995.

Agnes married James Hughes, a cabinetmaker, in Ballymena in 1900, and they lived at first at Larne in Co. Antrim, before setting up home in Belfast by 1905, where James owned a furniture shop. They lived firstly at 53 Belmont Street and later at 33 Campbell Park Avenue. By 1912, the family had moved again, this time to the town of Antrim, but by 1917 they were back in Belfast. Agnes and James had at least seven children - Matthew Carson, born 1903, Jane, 1905, Elizabeth, 1907, Ellen, 1909, John, 1912, Arthur James, 1915 and David Harold, 1917. Little is known of the children, except for Arthur, who died in 1994, and David, who followed his father into the cabinetmaking trade. In 1962, he was living in the family home at 33 Campbell Park Avenue. Agnes died in 1944 aged 65, and is buried in Dundonald Cemetery, Belfast. James lived to the age of 92, and is buried beside his wife.

John became a baker in Belfast, later moving to Larne. He married Sarah Young in 1904 and they had seven children - Matthew, born 1906, Margaret Evelyn, 1910, John, 1912, James, 1913, Arthur, 1914, Frederick, 1917 and Sarah, 1921. Frederick died as an infant. Matthew became a baker like his father, and emigrated to Montreal in Canada, where he died in 1985. Margaret Evelyn, known as Evelyn, married David McDowell and died in Larne in 2007. John junior, known as Jack, also became a baker, but nothing more is known of him. James was unmarried and died in 1988. Arthur moved to England, married, and died in Yeovil, Somerset, in 1979. Sarah married Robert Aiken and they went to live in Ballymena. John senior in 1960, aged 79, while Sarah senior died in 1969.

Margaret went to Ayrshire in 1905 to be her cousin John's second wife (see below).

Matthew became a sailor, probably at first in the merchant service, before joining the Royal Navy in 1906. He served as a stoker until 1911, when he was invalided out. In 1912 he married Elizabeth Bowes, and they had at least five children. In the 1920s and 30s he was back in the Merchant Navy, when he was employed on various ships as a greaser, trimmer and fireman, sailing to Australia and USA. The family home was at 102 Mervue St, Belfast, just round the corner from Edlingham St, where Matthew's parents lived. In 1954 he was living in Glynn, but by the time of his death in 1964, his home was in Carryduff in County Down. His wife Elizabeth had probably already died, as the informant on his death certificate was M J Carson, widow, presumably a second wife.

Arthur died in 1907, aged 20, while Sarah and Lizzie Jane are believed to have remained unmarried and to have moved together to England.

William Carson (1865-1902)


In the latter part of the nineteenth century, coal mining was a prosperous industry in the Stevenston area, as it had been for more than a hundred years, especially since the construction of a canal had allowed easy export of coal to Ireland from Saltcoats harbour. By 1881, William was working as a pit boy. In that year he was unable to work for several months, being confined to bed with sores on his body, and he was forced to apply for poor relief from the parish. Although the family had earlier stayed at Fullerton Place, by 1881 they were at Boglemart Street, where many miners lived. In 1888, William left the pits and found employment as a labourer in Nobel's dynamite factory at Ardeer, a fateful decision. This factory, which opened in 1873, was to grow into one of the biggest in Scotland, employing many thousands.


William Carson (1865-1902) c1900


The Carson Family c1904

In 1888, William married Elizabeth Beveridge Smith, daughter of Samuel Smith, engine-keeper at Bartonholm Colliery between Kilwinning and Irvine, and Marion Hunter. (See "The Story of the Smith Family"). William and Elizabeth's first house was at Schoolwell Street in Stevenston, before they moved to Carment Drive and lived there for about seven years. Finally they returned to the Boglemart about 1899. William and Elizabeth had seven children.

Tragedy struck the family on 7th October 1902, when William was killed in an explosion at work. Newspaper reports stated that the bang could be heard as far away as Arran and Troon, and windows were broken in Ardrossan and Irvine.



The Carson family at their shop in Boglemart Street, Stevenston c1906



After William's death Elizabeth ran a grocer's shop in Stevenston and thereby met her second husband, James Robertson Paton, a traveller in confectionery, whom she married in 1907. It appears that the marriage was not a happy one, however, as they separated in 1918. Paton went to London where he committed bigamy with a Mrs Henriette Wheeler, going through a marriage ceremony with her at Kensington Registry Office in 1919. He separated from her in 1922, and later Mrs Wheeler discovered him living with another woman, also calling herself 'Mrs Paton'. Suspecting bigamy, Mrs Wheeler reported this to the police, who investigated the matter, discovering that Paton had been previously married in Scotland. Elizabeth and Mrs Wheeler testified at Paton's trial at the Old Bailey on 23 June 1922, when he was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, served in Pentonville Jail, London. Elizabeth divorced Paton in 1923. Only three years later Elizabeth died of stomach cancer in Glasgow's Western Infirmary, aged 65.

John Carson (1876-1943) and Margaret Carson (1883-1952)



John was born in 1876, the second son of Jane Carson and younger brother of William. He began work as an apprentice brickmaker, but by 1898 he had found employment in Nobel's dynamite works, becoming a foreman and remained there till at least 1916. In June 1898 he married Mary Miller, daughter of William Miller and Mary McDougall. Tragedy was soon to strike them, as Mary died soon after giving birth to their first child, Matthew, in November of the same year. Then little Matthew died after only seventeen days of life. John was alone again.

Seven years later, however, he found happiness again, when in 1905 he married his cousin Margaret, known as Maggie, the daughter of Matthew Carson and Elizabeth Howard. Maggie had been born in Ballylig, Glynn parish, Co. Antrim. John and Margaret lived at various different addresses in Stevenston, including Boglemart Street, Glen Sannox Cottage and Nobel's Villas, until after 1916. While in Stevenston they had six children - Elizabeth Howard, born 1906, Matthew, 1908, Arthur, 1910, Jane, 1912, John, 1914 and William James. Around the end of the First World War, John found a new job as a producer gas worker at Glengarnock Steelworks, about ten miles from Stevenston, and the family flitted to the adjacent town of Kilbirnie, staying first in Central Avenue and later in South Neuk, both in the Garden City area. After flitting to Kilbirnie, John and Margaret had another three children - Ellen, born 1920, Samuel, 1922 and Robert 1923. Following the death of his wife Eliza, Maggie's father Matthew came from Ireland to Kilbirnie to live with the family. He died in 1934 at the age of 81.

John died in Ayr in 1943 of a stroke, aged 66, while Maggie, having moved to Muirpark in Beith, died there of heart failure in 1952, aged 69.

Of the children, Elizabeth, known as Betty, married John Bell in 1932 and they had two children. John died in 1971 and Betty in 1972, aged 66.

Matthew and Arthur emigrated to Brisbane in Australia in 1926, aged only 18 and 16. At some stage Matthew moved to Hobart, Tasmania, where he found employment in a zinc smelting works. In 1936 he married Doris Emily Mills and they had seven children. Matthew died in 1986 and Doris in 1989.

Arthur remained in the Brisbane area, where he married and set up home at nearby Southport. He and his wife had three children. Arthur died in 1988 at the age of 78.

In 1933, the family suffered a tragic loss, when Jeanie, as Jane was known, drowned in the bath on her twenty-first birthday. It is thought that she had taken an epileptic fit, to which she was subject.

John married Agnes Burrows Paterson in 1938 and they had three children. John died in 1985, aged 70, and Agnes in 2003.

Ellen remained unmarried, and lived most of her life in Kilbirnie, latterly moving to nearby Beith, where she died in 1994, aged 74.

William James married Isabella Harrison in 1944 and they had one child. About 1950 the family moved to Lancashire, where William found work at the Leyland commercial vehicle factory. He died at Penwortham, Preston, in 1980, and Isabella died at Chorley, Lancashire in 1986.

Samuel joined the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and became a Leading Aircraftman. He served in the Far East, where he was captured by the Japanese and died in a prisoner of war camp in Kalioe Village, Haroekoe (Haruku) Island in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He is buried in Ambon War Cemetery, and is commemorated on Kilbirnie War memorial.

The youngest child, Robert, sadly died after only 6 hours of life.

Samuel Carson (1888-1970)

Samuel (known as Sam) was the eldest child of William and Elizabeth and was a bright boy, who is believed to have studied at Glasgow and Oxford Universities, graduating from the latter in Latin & Greek. It is known that after the death of Samuel's father the family received financial assistance from the Nobel company, and this probably allowed Sam to receive a University education.

He took up teaching as a career, and in 1911 was working in Blackridge, West Lothian. When the First World War began he enlisted in the army and served on the Western Front, becoming a First Lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade. Having survived the war, he was living in Newmilns, a small town in Ayrshire's Irvine Valley, when in 1919 he married Enid Eleanor Hopkins, a widow from Birmingham. Samuel and his wife soon went to live at Cullercoats, Whitley Bay, Northumberland, where they had one daughter. Later the family moved to the nearby city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After Enid's death in 1970 Sam moved to Edinburgh to live with his daughter, but he died a few months later at the age of 82.

Samuel Carson (b 1888)

Robert Hunter Smith Carson (1890-1977)

Robert, known as Bob, the second child of William and Elizabeth, was also a bright boy and the dux of Stevenston Public School. Before leaving school he acted for a time as a pupil teacher, a system whereby due to the shortage of trained teachers, the older pupils taught the younger. He was not lucky enough, however, to go to college, possibly as his mother could not afford to send more than one child there. While a boy, Robert was unfortunately poked in an eye with a stick, and much later lost the eye. His first employment was as a farm labourer on the Diddup farm near Stevenston.

In 1912 he decided to improve his lot by emigrating to Australia, where his uncle Samuel Smith, his mother's brother, had done well for himself, becoming a trade union leader, a member of the New South Wales Parliament and a member of the Arbitration Court. It is believed his uncle may have promised to help him get a job. Robert travelled around Australia a great deal and had a number of jobs, including on a steamer serving islands in the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. It seems that Robert could not settle "down under" and he returned to Scotland in 1914. During the First World War he served briefly as a gunner in the Machine Gun Corps, where he spent several weeks in the front line in Flanders before having the good fortune to be discharged from the Army, probably because of his poor eyesight.

After this he moved to Paisley where he worked at Potterhill Railway Station. While there he met Helen Neilson (known as Nellie), daughter of James Neilson and Annie Briggs, who was working in service at one of the big houses in the nearby Thornly Park district. They married in Paisley in 1918. The employment situation between the wars was difficult in the west of Scotland and Robert moved from job to job a great deal, as well as experiencing periods of unemployment. Robert and Helen lived in Paisley nearly twenty years and had two sons.

Robert and Helen Carson

In 1939 the family moved to Canal Street, Saltcoats, where Bob took on a general store vacated by his aunts, Elizabeth and Agnes Carson. After a fairly short time, the aunts wanted back into the shop, so Bob managed to obtain another general store in Parkend Road, Saltcoats and lived with Nellie in the adjacent flat. During the Second World War, Bob worked in the ICI explosives factory at Ardeer, formerly Nobel's, and Nellie ran the shop. Bob retired in 1952 and he and Nellie then moved to a larger flat upstairs in the same building, before obtaining tenancy of a old people's flat in Canal Street. Bob died in 1977 aged 87 and Nellie died in 1982 aged 89.

William Carson (1892-1961)

Known as Bill, he served in the First World War, remaining in the army to serve in the occupation army in the Rhineland till 1921. In 1923 he emigrated to Canada and went to live in the Winnipeg area, where he worked on farms. By 1929 he had returned to Britain, for in that year he married Ada Wingfield in Birmingham, and they set up home there. Bill and Ada had no children. He worked as a salesman for a scientific instrument company, and died in 1961 of liver cancer, aged 69. Ada died in 1977.

William Carson (1892-1961)

Jane Carson (1895-1976)

Known as Jeanie, Jane was married twice, first to Joseph Cartner in 1939, then after his death in 1962, to Walter Ferguson in 1964. Jeanie lived latterly in Clydebank, Dunbartonshire, with her second husband who died in 1973. She suffered from diabetes and died in 1976, aged 80, from gangrene of the foot. Jeanie had no children.

Elizabeth Carson (1897-1983)

Elizabeth, often called Lizzie, never married and for much of her life lived with her younger sister Agnes. Together they ran general stores, first in Saltcoats and later in Glasgow. On retirement they bought a house at Tillietudlem, an old mining settlement near Blackwood, Lanarkshire. At first they owned a car, but when they had to give up driving, they found life difficult, as the village had no shops or other facilities. They were both members of the Christian Brethren at Crossford on the Clyde. Elizabeth died of cancer in Law Hospital in 1983, aged 86.

Agnes Carson (1899-1990)

Agnes also never married. In 1929 she emigrated to the USA, but later returned to Scotland, possibly as a result of the Great Depression. She then lived with her sister Elizabeth (see above) until her death in 1983. Agnes was then unable to look after herself and after spending a year in Law Hospital she moved into Auchlochan old folk's home at Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, where she died in 1990, aged 90.

Henry Beveridge Smith Carson (1901-1964)

Henry, known as Harry, became a blacksmith and worked in Nobel's dynamite factory at Ardeer, Stevenston. He lived all his life in Stevenston, mostly in Boglemart Street. The old house, part of the terrace fronting onto the street, was demolished in the 1930s and rebuilt further back as a bungalow. Harry married Ann Jane Beattie in 1930 and they had four children. In 1952 Harry stood unsuccessfully for the first Stevenston Town Council after it attained burgh status. He died of a stroke in 1964, aged 63 and Ann Jane died in 1966.

Iain Bradley of County Antrim has been of great assistance in providing details of the Ulster branch of the family, while Margaret Carson Rendall of Renfrewshire has been invaluable in expanding the story of the Kilbirnie branch of the family as well as in discovering Eliza Carson, her husband Richard Johnston, and researching their descendants.

© Robert James Carson 2009. All rights reserved.

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