James Frank Bowie (1851-1930), Scottish immigrant

Our Scottish Heritage Mystery

My great-great-grandfather, James Frank Bowie, born Aug. 12, 1851 in Scotland, immigrated to the United States around 1875-1880. We know this through census information as well as his naturalization approval information recorded in Robertson County, Tenn, but they don’t mention where in Scotland.  His Scottish family lineage is a mystery that my great-uncle, James Boyd Bowie, has been trying to solve for decades. He traveled to Scotland years ago, without success, and I did the same a few years ago.

James Frank Bowie, born Aug. 12, 1851 in Scotland, note the distinctive long face

Our main problem is that we don’t know his parent’s names, and James Bowie is such a common name in Scotland. His death certificate has his parent’s names listed as “unknown”. I’ve tracked down every Scottish James Bowie born in 1851 in census records on ancestry.com with no concrete evidence of any of them being ours. He appears to possibly have been born after the census-taking date, so he might not have appeared in 1851 Scottish census.

My mother, Carol Bowie, has always been interested in family history and she took notes years ago when my grandfather, Robin Earl Bowie was alive of his family memories. According to my mother’s notes,  supposedly James Bowie came to the U.S. from Edinburgh, working aboard a grain ship that first went to China, then came to the U.S. landing at New York. The note says he was born in the Highlands and that he was married and her name was Jessie. Supposedly they were divorced – which this would have been between 1869-1879.

Another note that someone in the family had written down has that he was born in “Murray” Scotland and moved to Huntly, Scotland. After researching and eventually traveling to Scotland, I discerned that Murray was probably actually “Moray” County, and the old map in 1809 shows Murray Firth, later called Moray Firth. This note also has written that “Bro. named Willie”, Sister named Maggie” so we have sibling nicknames, but once again, very common names.

If anyone is knowledgeable about police history in Scotland, perhaps he had to fill out his parent’s names or county of birth on a police application? Also at what age could he have applied to verify he was in fact a policeman. Family history says that James Frank Bowie was a policeman in Scotland and perhaps he was a policeman in Huntly or that area. My grandfather, Robin Earl Bowie inherited from his grandfather, James Frank Bowie, a silver pocket watch inscribed “James Walker, Dufftown”, a small British Bulldog police issue pistol and a Seth Thomas mantle clock. (more closeups later in blog)

Mantle clock, Bulldog pistol and pocket watch passed down from James Frank Bowie.

These items were passed to my father, Robin Paul Bowie and I photographed them several years ago before going to Scotland. A cousin, Lucian Bowie, had inherited the police whistle that went along with the pocket watch and pistol, but it has been lost over the years, so we don’t know if it had anything engraved on it. Sadly, during a robbery, the pocket watch and Bulldog pistol were stolen from our family. (I have an update on the pocket watch later in the blog!)

As the clock is a Seth Thomas and American made, he probably bought that at some once he was in the U.S. (see photos deeper in blog on police clues).

The first real proof of James Frank Bowie in the U.S. is his marriage to Susan Elizabeth Starks in Todd Co., Kentucky in November 1882. We have found no ship immigration proof and have not been able to verify him in the 1880 census (there is a married James Bowie in Buffalo, NY in the 1880 census but I think this is the Banffshire James Bowie).

My grandfather, Robin Earl Bowie, was born in 1912 and had some memories of his grandfather, James Frank Bowie, who died in 1930 when Robin was 18. Grandfather Bowie (Robin Earl) had inherited a small photo album that was filled with pictures of Scottish relatives – none of who were identified. I remember him showing it to me as a child and being fascinated by their fancy clothing and hair styles

There were also two photos from Buffalo, New York, USA, and after having looked at them several times in doing this blog, I’m beginning to wonder if they might be his brother and sister, Maggie and Willie. They both have long faces and the man has a receding hairline similar to our James. What do you think? The photographer information when they were taken ranges from 1862-1881 and James supposedly arrived around 1875 in the U.S. in New York.

The youngest head shot we have of James Frank Bowie

Is this Willie Bowie? Photo by B.F. Powelson, in business in Buffalo from 1862-1881
Could this be Maggie Bowie, his sister? Photo was taken by H. McMichael, 1871-1881 in Buffalo, New York. Several have suggested she is dressed in “widow’s weeds”

Town names from the photographers in the Scottish album include Lossiemouth, Paisley, Huntly, Brora, Elgin, Keith, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and others. I have photographed each one individually, front and back which will appear in a photo gallery later in this blog, but recently sorted the photos into groups by town and photographer identification – all have been sized that they can be printed easily.

Note the long face structure in several of them.  I would love feedback on perhaps what their dress, jewelry, hair styles, etc. says about them and their status in society for the 1850s-1870s. This might help me narrow down family groups if I can distinguish this group as being merchants, wealthy, working class, etc., when cross referencing with census professions for the men of that time. Also, any researchers that might have information on associated families in the 1870s that married Bowies – these might have been a wife or mother’s family photos.

Photographer, Johnston from Forres, Morayshire

Photos from Huntly, Scotland. Supposedly our James moved to Huntly

Huntly women closeup

Corresponding backs to the Huntly photos

Elgin, photos by R. Stewart and Young

Corresponding backs of Elgin photos

Lossiemouth sisters? by J. Watts (note the long faces)

Paisley photos

Keith man and woman

Aberdeen woman

Aberdeen woman and brothers?

J. Smith photo, Rhynie

Brora, George Adams photographer

Edinburgh, Howie June sisters?

Edinburgh, Bashford photographer

Edinburgh photos

This Archibald Burns carte de viste  of the Sir Walter Scott Memorial was included in the album.

1808 Scotland Map – note Murray Firth later becomes Moray Firth up in northeast corner

Scottish Census Research:

From the census research I’ve done over the years I’ve ruled out some of the James Bowie’s born around 1851 as not being mine as they were still in Scotland after he supposedly immigrated in 1875. They were:
James Bowie:
Dreghorn, Ayrshire
Abby, Renfrew, Renfrewshire
Linlithgow, West Lothian

James Bowie, born February 1851 of Banffshire comes to US, marries Helen, lives in Illinois and then moves to Rhode island where he dies, so he’s not mine either.

A “maybe” I had bookmarked from research over the years is from the 1861 census, Moray County,

Head of household, William Bowie (Mason), 52, wife Margaret, children Betsy, Helen, James (10 – which would have him born in 1851), Jean, and Robert

In 1871 census there is a James Bowie, 20 and William Bowie, 24 (matches up to above record) working in Glasgow St George Lanarkshire as masons.

I’m not sure if I followed that group further than that or if I lost track of them.. ***I think I have now ruled him out as well


Here are the items that descended through our family from James Frank Bowie:

If anyone can help us date/identify the pistol please let me know – my regular email is busybeetrader@msn.com!

I can happily report as of March 2013, that we have recovered our pocket watch! Due to this blog and my photos of the pocket watch, I was contacted by someone that had purchased the watch from someone else (that probably got it from whoever stole it, etc.) and he was researching the watch’s history when he came across this blog.

He emailed me with photos of the watch and due to the obscure watchmaker, hallmarks and the paper lion label still in it, we both realized it was our watch. He continued his research on the watch history for us, and discovered through the hallmarks and inscriptions that it was made around 1815 by an obscure watchmaker James Walker that worked in Dufftown and Aberdeenshire, Scotland in the early 1800s. The silver case was made by a silversmith John Keene, who worked from the late 18th to early 19th century in Dublin, Ireland.

So the watch could have been James Bowie’s fathers or grandfathers that was passed down to him – or maybe even given to him as a present before he left Scotland to voyage to a new life in America. I’m just thrilled we’ll have it back as part of our family heritage to hopefully pass down to younger generations of Bowies. Now if someone runs across the British Bulldog pistol, let me know!

Bowie watch face and inner paper liner

The original paper label – can anyone identify the jeweler?

Dufftown (town name), James Walker (watch maker) engraved on the inside of the watch

Watch outer case hallmarks

pocket watch inner case hallmarks

Moray County Archives Research

As the photos seemed to start up in the Highlands and moved down to the bigger cities, I chose to research up in Moray with my limited time. As I didn’t have but an hour or so to research at the Moray Archives in Scotland (they were closing), I left all the information I had and copies of my photos. A while later the historian emailed me with their findings. I’ll include them here for everyone along with the Archives information:

Contact     The Local Heritage Officer
Address     East End School, Institution Road, Elgin, Moray
Postcode     IV301RP
Telephone     01343 569011
Email: heritage@moray.gov.uk

Books – over 8000 titles.
Newspapers – back files of all local newspapers from 1827 to date.
Maps and Estate plans.
Photographs – over 20,000 images from 1860 to the present day.
Architects’ Plans – including the Doig Collection of distillery plans and Wittet collection of local buildings designed between 1810 and 1960.
Archives – from medieval to modern times.
Genealogical records.

(***Here’s the historian’s info)

Bowie family‏
Graeme Wilson (graeme.wilson@moray.gov.uk)
Fri 10/03/08 5:20 AM
Dear Mrs Dudiak

My sincere apologies for the delay in answering your email about your Bowie
ancestors. My only excuse is that during the holiday season we have been
inundated with visitors and email enquiries and, with a staff of two, we
have been unable to stem the build-up of an enormous backlog of enquiries.

We have been unable to find any reference to the birth of James Frank Bowie
in the surviving baptism registers.  Unfortunately he was born after the
1851 census was drawn up and, since we don’t know where he was living in
1861, we are unable to trace him. We also checked the birth notices in the
local newspapers without success.  Since he moved to Huntly, it may be
worthwhile contacting the Aberdeen & North East Scotland Family History
Society (www.anesfhs.org.uk) as Huntly falls within their area of expertise.

The Christian names William and Margaret are both very common in this area
and we have found no Bowies with that name who have a brother James Frank.
The “Jessie” he was apparently married to may also have been known as
“Janet” as the two names are interchangeable.  Unfortunately we have not
found any reference to a marriage.

We haven’t been able to reproduce the connection with the Clan Grant
although it seems probable that there were Bowies and Grants in Moray who
were related (Grant is the commonest surname in this area).

Thank you for the photographs which we will keep on file.

I am sorry we have been unable to help you further at this stage.  However
new records are continually be added to the Libindx database
(http://libindx.moray.gov.uk) and hopefully some relevant information will
come to light in the future.

All the best for your future research.

Graeme Wilson


My mother’s notes show that he got a job on a farm in Sharon Grove, Kentucky (Todd County), owned by J.L. and Nancy Morgan Starks. He married their daughter, Susan Elizabeth “Lizzie” Starks in 1882, and “after they married they left Sharon Grove, Ky and moved to Price’s Mill, Kentucky (Simpson Co) where most of their children were born.”

James and Lizzie Bowie, Lizzie’s sister, Colorado “Rada” and her husband ? Murphey

James Bowie, Etta, Ethel, Fred, Rosa Dell, Elizabeth Bowie and Belle Starks

They later moved to Robertson County, Tennessee, to Springfield, where they lived for many years. In 1892, James Bowie applied for his Naturalization papers through the Robertson County, Tenn., courts.

James Frank Bowie application for Naturalization

Naturalization page 1 of 2 court records (at bottom, cont. on 2nd page at top)

page 2 of Naturalization record

James Bowie was a road builder and I featured several old photos I had on a previous blog: Robertson County Road Builders. He and Lizzie worked for the Jewish Temple Cemetery in Nashville between about 1924 to 1930.  After he died in 1930, his son Fred and his wife Rosa Dell took over.  Fred died quickly after that and Rosa Dell continued on for some time.

Here are their family group sheets:

James Frank Bowie’s wife and children

Susan Elizabeth Starks parents and siblings

So if you are a long-lost relative that has information to help us find living “cousins” and those past, please email me at busybeetrader@msn.com


I photographed the backs and fronts of each photo and have them photo identified to match up. The towns that there were taken range from Edinburgh up through the Highlands, where supposedly our James was born. (**see photographer history footnote at end)

**Scottish photographer history I found:

Source: http://www.edinphoto.org.uk

William T Bashford   was miniature painter and photographer.  Between 1878 (or probably a few years earlier)  and 1930, he was based at several addresses in Portobello – a popular seaside resort in the 1890s, situated about five miles from Edinburgh.

His studio appears to have been well located for visitors.  His cartes de visite from 1882 to 1893, when he was based at 163 High Street, Portobello, advertised:

“WT Bashford, Argyle House, Portobello, NB. (North Britain)

Precisely at the Tramway Terminus”.


“Millar”, Paisley

James Millar Mackay

EPS Member

J M Mackay appeared in the Edinburgh trade directories as  a photographer from 1872 to 1874, and then became an artist.

However, the subjects of his lectures to EPS suggest that his photographic business began several years before 1872.


Studios at 7 Leith Street

Thomas Begbie’s photographic studio was at  7 Leith Street.  He was based at this address from 1874 until 1881

After Thomas Begbie left, a succession of other photographers were based at this address:


Nimmo & Son

Peter Nimmo  was photographer, working under his own name from 1863 and forming a company with his son from 1869 onwards.  They advertised:

“All Works of Photography Executed in the Highest Style of the Art”

Peter Nimmo contributed 4 photographs to 1876 EPS Exhibition.

He died on 9 January 1900, aged 82.

Nimmo Studios

Nimmo,  Peter
44 South Bridge 1863-68

Nimmo,  Peter, & Son
39 South Bridge 1869-96

Nimmo,  Peter, & Son
44 South Bridge 1869-96

****OUR NIMMO & SONS PHOTO IS CA 1872 (compared to photos on site)


Here’s some Wikipedi overview information on the County of Moray:

Moray (Moireibh in Gaelic) is one of the registration counties of Scotland, bordering Nairnshire to the west, Inverness-shire to the south, and Banffshire to the east. It was formerly in use as a local government county until 1975, when Elgin was the county town.

Prior to 1889 there were two large detached portions of Moray situated locally in Inverness-shire, and a corresponding part of Inverness-shire situated locally in Moray. With the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 these parts were merged into the areas in which they locally lay. The county was officially called Elginshire, or informally ‘Morayshire’ (see Scotlandshire), sharing the name of the Elginshire parliamentary constituency, so named since 1708.

In 1975, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, most of the county was combined with Aberlour, Buckie, Cullen, Dufftown, Findochty, Keith and Portknockie areas of the county of Banffshire to form the Moray district of the Grampian region. Grantown-on-Spey and Cromdale areas were combined with Kingussie and Badenoch areas of the county of Inverness-shire to form the Badenoch and Strathspey district of the Highland region.

The registration county, for property, is ‘County of Moray’, and a slightly smaller area, also based on the former county, is a lieutenancy area named ‘Moray’. Administrative Morayshire 1889-1975

Towns and villages of the county

* Burghead
* Charlestown of Aberlour
* Craigellachie
* Elgin
* Findochty
* Glenlivet
* Grantown-on-Spey
* Lossiemouth
* Maggieknockater
* Portknockie
* Rothes
* Dufftown
* Hopeman
* Forres
* Buckie
* Keith
* Kinloss
* Kellas
* Alves
* Fochabers
* Mosstodloch
* Lhanbryde

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