John George McDowell (1877- 1936)

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Quick Facts About John George McDowell

Update – May 25th, 2021:
I received several amazing emails from someone who only provided “GenealogyMum” as a name in their email address, on the 24th of May. This person, who I would like to thank deeply and sincerely had come across this post about John McDowell, the one about Hugh McDowell Scott, and also noted I had been researching Alexander Greig. I’ll write about what I was sent shortly in regard to Alexander Greig, but for the purposes of this bio on John McDowell, I can now confirm some information add information. The documents that I was sent included a match for his birth record (so we now have an actual date and address of residence), John McDowell’s WWI Draft Registration, the record of John’s marriage, and a copy of the 1920 US Census that mentions John and his wife, Jane.

So to slightly rewrite with the new information (including his now known middle name of George) and add the supporting references:

Born: 1878 probably in Belfast 31 March 1877, 18 Vere Street, Belfast.
Son Of: Hugh McDowell & Mary Keenan
Wife and Children: Unknown Jane Finlay – Wedding Date – 21 July 1909 (Children still unknown if any).
Probable Address In Belfast With Wife Jane: 54 Parkmount St (as on ship manifest, Boston, MA).
Immigration To USA: Departure 24 July, 1909 – Arrival Boston, MA – 02 August 1909 (May have been his second trip to the USA).
Died: 169 Alexandra Park Ave, Belfast, Northern Ireland – 7 December 1936. Buried at Carnmoney Cemetery along with sister Agnes, wife Jane, and cousin Millicent Porter Nee Scott
Relationship to Ian Scott: Great-Granduncle

Biography Of John McDowell

I really don’t know very much about John McDowell (or the McDowells in general). Information has been hard to come by and while many hours of research have been put into this line of the family, I’ve not been able to find out very much.

With thanks as mentioned to “GenealogyMum,” I can add new information.

This line of the family intrigues me however, for a number of reasons. My father had mentioned that there was some land in Florida that was supposed to have come into his ownership somehow, but there was some issue with one or more McDowells that the land was not properly and legally passed on.

I suspect it may have something to do with John McDowell – but only because he’s the only McDowell that I’m aware of that went to America. But I have no other details. Additionally, I only learned of the fact that John had immigrated to the USA recently, by accident – upon discovering the passenger list of the S.S. Leviathan upon arrival in New York, which included the name of my grandfather, Hugh McDowell Scott. Hugh was on his way to stay with his Uncle John McDowell.

Early Life Of John McDowell

I am not now certain that John McDowell was born in Belfast at 18 Vere Street although I believe his parents were originally from and married in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland on the 21st November, 1857.

John was the youngest of what appears to be 6 children of Hugh McDowell/Mary Keenan. Two of his older sisters (first Sarah and then Mary Ellen would marry John Scott (My Great-Grandfather) – and although this sounds weird, it would not have been outrageous at the time, considering the circumstances. Another sister, Agnes, would live with his brother-in-law John Scott’s family in Belfast.

In the late 19th century, Belfast was a booming city with a growing economy. Much new building took place as many industries expanded including ship building, linen works, rope (made of hemp) works, and more. It is quite likely that Hugh (a carpenter) and Mary McDowell left Ballymena to take advantage of the need for workers and the jobs available.

Unfortunately, many of the records that would give us more information about John’s early life were burned in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. On June 30th, according to Irish Genealogy Toolkit, “after a two-day bombardment, an explosion and fire ravaged the building.”

John McDowell As A Young Man

We do know that John would become a plaster by trade, but by 1901 was unemployed. According to the 1901 census, his family resided at 130 Upper Meadow Street in Dock Ward (virtually the same as today’s New Lodge Ward) Belfast.

In 1901 at about 23 years old, John had not married. At the time, his neighbourhood including Upper Meadow Street was of mixed religion/denominations, and as far as I can tell at that time, living in relative peace together.


With the marriage record, we can confirm that the brown hair and blue eyed John married Jane Finlay on the 21st of July, 1909. Jane had resided with her family before the marriage on Parkmount Street, Belfast. According to the 1901 Census, the Finlay’s resided at 54 Parkmount Street, about a 15 minute walk from the McDowell’s on Upper Meadow Street.

Interestingly, Jane has no occupation listed on the date of the wedding, but in 1901 at 22 years old, held the occupation of “Dressmaker.” She would have been about 31 years old when she married.

The witnesses to the marriage include John’s mother Mary (perhaps his father Hugh had passed away by this time), and Jane’s brother Robert Finlay. They were married at Castleton Presbyterian Church would later amalgamate with York Street Presbyterian Church to become Alexandra Presbyterian Church.

In 1911, the Finlay family were still residing at 54 Parkmount Street.

Immigration To USA

I’m not entirely sure when John immigrated to the USAWith the help of the information sent by “GenealogyMum,” we believe that John McDowell immigrated to the United States in 1910, and his wife followed in 1911.

Update On Immigration (Added May 30, 2021)
Locating passenger records to the USA can provide helpful information – but it can also be liking looking for a needle in a haystack. For example, there were over 200 John McDowells that arrived in New York City up to about 1955. Of course, we can narrow down the time frame, but even still – this number of John McDowells goes to show how easy it is to slip up on genealogy research, or the time consuming work it can be.

In fact, I was unable to find a match for our John McDowell arriving at NYC. However, I have found what appears to be a match for one that arrived at Boston.

It’s not an exact match; John’s census record indicates he arrived in 1910 but this passenger list says 2nd of August 1909. Having said that, we know that mistakes (perhaps even intentional) are orally provided to census takers in regards to age, life events, etc.

What we do have on the Boston Arrivals matches other information:

  • John McDowell was from Belfast (He reported his nationality as British, but being of the Irish “Race or People”).
  • He had blue eyes (also, reported to have fair hair. Elsewhere, it’s brown but light brown and fair are often used interchangeably).
  • He was heading to Canton, Ohio.
  • His wife was not on board (which we know they immigrated separately)
  • John’s occupation or calling is listed as a Plasterer
  • He was short (5’4″) which also matches description on another record
  • On the manifest, John McDowell listed 54 Parkmount Street – on their wedding record, Jane Finlay’s address is Parkmount St.

Some new and possibly interesting information is that he intended to travel to Canton, Ohio to an address of 1325 Jackson St, Canton where a “Mr. Redmond” resided. We don’t know if this was a relative or a friend of John’s, and perhaps some interesting research can be done in this area: Did one of his female McDowell relatives marry a man with the surname Redmond?

There are of course, other possibilities – Mr Redmond may have simply been a friend. A friend from Belfast? That is a possibility, but there is another possibility that would require further research, as on the manifest, it’s reported that John had been to the USA previously. Unfortunately, the year and place he visited was not filled in. But Mr. Redmond could have been a friend that our John McDowell had met on a previous visit.

He apparently arrived at Boston with $15.00USD in his pocket, the equivalent of $440.20 in 2021 US dollars.

John left Ireland from the port of Londonderry (24 July 1909) along with 5 other passengers from that port on board. If this information is correct, John would have left Ireland just a few days after he married Jane. Perhaps they had planned this during their courtship; I don’t know.

The Ship – S.S. Laurentian

S.S. Laurentian

For those interested in more details about what John’s life might have been like, he arrived on the S.S. Laurentian, a steam ship with sails that had sailed from Londonderry, after originally sailing from Glasgow.

Research indicates it might not have been a pleasant journey – and indeed, this was the last successful voyage of the Laurentian as it would later be wrecked off the coast of Newfoundland in fog, near Cape Race (September 6, 1909), carrying passengers from Boston to Glasgow on its return trip after our John McDowell disembarked.

The investigation into the wreck found the Master, Captain Henry Imrie, negligent in the wreck of the ship ((Investigation & Findings Report Here – PDF)).

When it was originally built (1872) in Greenock by the Robert Steele & Co. ship building company, the ship was named the S.S. Polynesian and would be nicknamed the “Rollin Polly” for a bad reputation of rolling in the sea.

The ship was owned by the Canadian company (although founded by a Scotsman), the Allan Line (Montreal Ocean Steamship Company), and was primarily used at first for passenger travel between Liverpool and Quebec City/Montreal. It was rebuilt and renamed the S.S. Laurentian in 1893.

John McDowell’s time on board the ship began on the 24th of July, 1909 when it departed Londonderry until the 2nd of August, 1909 when it arrived in Boston.

John McDowell – Other Records

According to John’s WWI United States Draft registration dated September 12, 1918, he was living with his wife at 1107 3rd St. S.W., Canton and had continued his trade as a plasterer that he learned in Ireland, and employed with what appears to be the “Windline Construction Co.” At 41 years old, his physique was considered short and slender by the person recording McDowell’s draft registration information.

In 1920, the McDowells were living in their own house (but with a mortgage) at 1205 Third (3rd) Street S.W., Canton, Ohio. There appears to be no longer a house at that location today.

We first discovered that he had immigrated to the USA by virtue of the List Or Manifest Of Alien Passengers For The United States Immigration Officer At Port Of Arrival (New York, 1923). On the manifest is listed his nephew, Hugh McD. Scott who had landed at New York in 1923 with intent to immigrate and was on his way to stay with his Uncle John McDowell.

John’s address was listed as:

308 High Avenue, Canton Ohio.

What John was employed at or doing in Canton, Ohio is unknown at this time.

Return To Belfast And Death (Updated February 16th, 2024)

I have not been able to determine yet, when John and Jane returned to Northern Ireland however, at some point the did. We know this from two records that support each other:

  • A document titled U.S., Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974
  • The burial record at Carnmoney Cemetery

John, who became a Citizen of the United States of America on February 14, 1924 at the Pleas Court of Stark County, Ohio, has a record of death in Belfast while living at 169 Alexandra Park Ave with his wife Jane. This document shows he passed away in the early morning (4:15AM) on December 7th, 1936 and was buried at “Family Burying Ground, Carnmoney Graveyard, Belfast, Northern Ireland.”

This matches with the Carnmoney Cemetery Records. He was buried in the same plot as his sister, Agnes, and later his wife Jane would also be interred in this plot (Died 10 Oct 1950), and his cousin, Millicent Porter (Nee Scott).

Photographs Of John McDowell

I’m not aware of any photographs of John McDowell although I have seen at least one photo of a family probably in the USA with an American flag behind them. At the time of this writing, I don’t have access to the photo but it is quite possibly John McDowell and his family.

Request For Information About John McDowell

Do you know anything about this John McDowell? Do any of the details match a John McDowell that you know? I’d appreciate it if you would get in touch or leave a comment below with information that I can confirm and authenticate. I’m very interested in learning more about this McDowell family that my great-grandfather married into.


Birth Registration of John George McDowell

National Archives Of Ireland Census 1901

Norway Heritage – Laurentian

Norway Heritage – Allan Line



Marriage Registration Of John George McDowell & Jane Finlay

USA WWI Draft Registration Card & Report – John McDowell

1920 USA Census – Canton, Ohio With John & Jane McDowell (Very large PNG – 2.0MB)

List Or Manifest Of Alien Passengers For The United States Immigration Officer At Port Of Arrival (Boston, 1909).

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List Or Manifest Of Alien Passengers For The United States Immigration Officer At Port Of Arrival (New York, 1923).
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john mcdowell family tree

Scott Family Stories Index

3 thoughts on “John George McDowell (1877- 1936)”

  1. Kathleen Lynn Nuzzo

    Dear Ian: What a great read, truly a lot of intense research went into this post! Bravo!! Yes the McDowells have been a mystery for us Thompson’s from Belfast but it is obvious to me that my grandmother Ellen E Lewis may have know these relatives of hers as she is from the same neighborhood in Belfast. Your research is the most intense I have seen into the McDowell connection…so John’s children stayed in America you think?? Ohio?? Please keep me posted and if you choose someday to do a DNA swap maybe consider 23&Me as they will show us our connection on the pseudo-tree they create we would see where we connect to Ellen McDowell born in 1840. My very best to you! Sincerely, cousin Kathleen

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kathleen! Much appreciated – yes, lots of research but I’d really love to put some kind of context around all the names – not just a list of names, but a better understanding of who all these people were, what they went through during their lives, including their dreams, and what they might have done to make their dreams and goals a reality. Also, we know there were lots of hardships as well. I hope that somehow, I can help to make the names come alive.

      I really don’t know yet if John and Jane McDowell had children. If they did, I would imagine they would have stayed in America. I had previously known that some of the McDowells had gone to America, but which one(s), I had no clue. I only learned recently of John’s migration and am still learning about that.

      You might be interested in this latest post, about John’s wife, Jane Finlay.

      As far as DNA tests, I have had contact with a Martin McDowell, who is actively involved in Northern Irish genealogy and may also be related to the McDowell family I’ve been researching. He has suggested Family Tree DNA and wrote to me,

      I wouldn’t recommend 23&Me although I have tested with all the companies as they have very few tools to help you work with your DNA results. For genealogy I would recomend Family Tree DNA which is by far the most popular testing company for people in Northern Ireland and those are the ones you need to compare with.

      I don’t know much about it DNA testing – my main interest is to try to track down as many of the closest ancestors as possible, and trying to bring their lives into some sort of imaginable story with facts 🙂 Perhaps someday I’ll do do the DNA test and will let you know.

    2. Hi Kathleen – another interesting find recently. It seems our John and Jane McDowell actually returned to Belfast from the USA at some point and passed away there…. still no information on whether they had children or not. I also have not found an Ellen McDowell that fits into my research that I’ve done, either. It would be great if you had an actual birth registration for your Ellen which might show the father’s details and possibly mother’s maiden name.

      I have discovered that the Hugh that you were thinking was a brother to your Ellen father Hugh was a lawyer by occupation. Does that fit any of your research?

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