There is an old story in my mother's family of my great-great-great-grandmother Susan having come from a wealthy family but been 'cut off with an angry shilling' when she married the family coachman, Edward McDowell, who then became a shoemaker to keep them. I am descended from their daughter Sarah who is supposed to have been born in Bristol in 1807, although I've never been able to find evidence of this other than her death certificate. (She emigrated to Tasmania in 1833.)

After searching various genealogical sites' records for decades and consulting the Devon Family History Society, I have only come up with the following:

  • the baptism record of a Susanna Palmer on 10 May 1772 at Marystow, Plymouth
  • the baptism record of a Susanna Palmer 8 April 1799 at Milton Abbott, Devon (thanks to another Stack Exchange contributor, @PolyGeo)
  • the baptism record of an Edward McDowell 7 Jan 1800, Brixham, Devon, Father Edward McDowell and mother Susanna
  • Sarah McDowell is supposed to have been born in Bristol in 1807 (from her death record)
  • the baptism record of a Hannah McDowell 6 Sep 1825, Liverpool, Lancashire, father Edward McDowell and mother Susannah
  • an 1827 marriage record (16 July, East Stonehouse, Devon) for Edward McDowell and Susanna Palmer
  • the baptism record of a Thomas Henry McDowell 2 Feb 1831 at Stoke Damerel, Devon, parents Edward and Susan McDowell; Edward is described as a shoemaker
  • Sarah McDowell arrived in Hobart, Tasmania on the Clyde on 18 Jan 1833 (believed to have travelled alone)
  • Sarah married Charles Frazer on 28 Oct 1833
  • Sarah died 5 May 1861 at Kangaroo Flat, Victoria

So, in sum, it seems that two Edward McDowells, very possibly father and son, married women named Susanna. The younger Susanna was definitely a Palmer, but I now can't be sure at all of the surname of the older Susanna, my forebear. For some time, I believed her to be Susanna Palmer the bride of the 1827 marriage, perhaps because her formal marriage to Edward McDowell had been delayed by family opposition until long after her children were raised and her parents had died. But that 1827 couple, I think, especially in the light of the 1799 baptismal record for a Susanna Palmer, are more likely to be the Edward McDowell baptised in 1800 and the 1799 Susanna Palmer just mentioned. The older Susanna Palmer, baptised in 1772, may be no relation beyond a possible family connection with the younger Susanna Palmer. It stretches credulity a great deal to think that two Edwards, father and son, could have married women with not just the same forename, Susanna, but the same surname, Palmer, although it's logically possible. It's clearly beyond rational to think that a woman baptised in 1772 could have borne children in 1825 and 1831. I hope that another contributor may have these intriguing figures in their lines and be able to answer my question about the surname of the older Susanna, the mother of the Edward McDowell baptised in 1800 and, very probably, my great-great-grandmother Sarah, born in Bristol in 1807.

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! Are you able to give more details of what is written about Sarah's birth on her death record? Also, do you have more details about her emigration to Tasmania in 1833? Was Sarah already married when she emigrated? Who else did she emigrate with? Is there evidence beyond the family story that Sarah's parents were Edward McDowell and Susanna? – PolyGeo Jul 2 '17 at 22:53
  • Again, thanks for your interest. On Sarah's d.c. (she died 5.5.1861 at Kangaroo Flat, Victoria) her birthplace is listed as Bristol, England.She arrived in Hobart, Tasmania on the Clyde 18.1.1833. She married Charles Frazer on 28th October in the same year, 1833. To my knowledge, she emigrated alone. The only evidence beyond the story for her parents' names is that she named her eldest daughter Susan. – JMK Aug 14 '17 at 11:21

Another baptism record that looks like it is within the vicinity of your family story is the baptism of John Frederick McDowell on 24 Dec 1821 at East Stonehouse, Devon that I found via FindMyPast.

His father's name was Edward and Edward was a cordwainer. This Edward appears to have the name and expected occupation, and be from the expected area, as your candidate ancestor, but the name of Edward's wife (or at least John Frederick's mother) is given as Cordelia.

I think it might be useful to try and develop a timeline for this Edward McDowell who married Cordelia to explore whether he may be the same man as your ancestor, or not.

  • Cornelia McDowell born about 1805 (from burial record)
  • Edward McDowell presumably married Cordelia before 1821 (and perhaps before 1805)
  • Edward McDowell (Cordwainer) and Cordelia baptised John Frederick on 24 Dec 1821 at East Stonehouse, Devon
  • Cornelia McDowell, aged 17, buried 12 Aug 1822 at Stoke Damerel, Devon

My understanding is that Stoke Damerel and East Stonehouse are only about a mile apart in Plymouth.


Another record, which may or may not be related, is an 1851 Census Record from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire which records three lodgers:

  • Charlotte Bell, widow, independent, aged 56, born Bristol
  • Susan McDowell, widow, independent, aged 34, born Bristol
  • John McDowell, scholar, aged 7, born Malta

To me it seems possible/likely that Charlotte Bell was the mother of Susan so her maiden name may have been Bell. Perhaps this Susan was married to a brother of your Sarah McDowell.

  • I have seen some records concerning Edward the cordwainer and Cordelia but, unless Susan died and Edward married again and began a new family, I assume that these were McDowell relatives of some degree rather than my direct forebears. I'm grateful for your interest, though. – JMK Jul 3 '17 at 4:04
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    @JMK Just letting you know that I received my AncestryDNA results recently and there is at least one match to someone who seems to share Harriet Palmer as a common ancestor with me. If you've had yours done too then that may be an avenue we can pursue to see if we can find anything that suggests a common Palmer ancestry for both of us. My email is in my usercard. – PolyGeo Sep 14 '17 at 0:43
  • Oh, thanks, PolyGeo, but I haven't had my DNA tested.I'll attempt to find your email. (This is a belated reply because life has been a little full-on.) – JMK Sep 16 '17 at 23:19

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