American Owstons and the Political Process

· Politics

For at least a week, has been inviting its subscribers to “discover how your ancestors voted.”  While you might be able to determine with which party your ancestors were registered, how they voted isn’t a given.  With the American presidential election being today, I thought I would analyze how Owstons were registered in the US.  Despite your political leanings, you may find an ancestor or close relative listed and see how you match others with the name.

Since Owston is a low frequency surname, Ancestry’s database only was able to provide listings for certain California cities where Owstons lived.  I supplemented this with expired voter registration cards for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and newspaper articles that listed a person’s political preference.  The number of Owston registrations that could be obtained was a small percentage of those bearing the surname in the US.  Since only a handful of Oustons ever lived in America, the political preference of these few individuals was unavailable.


James Wilson Owston (1809-1858) of Pittsburgh, PA is listed as the sole known Whig party member among American Owstons.  He was listed among Whigs who supported the candidacy of Robert M. Riddle for city mayor in 1852.  During the next year, Owston was on the Whig ticket for Fourth Ward Inspector.  It is not known whether he was a member of the Whig’s successor party – the Republicans, which had significant support in Pittsburgh during the late 1850s.


While James Wilson Owston was a Whig, the party of his older brother Thomas Owston (1804-1874) is not specifically mentioned; however, it may be ascertained that he eventually was a Republican. He may have also been a Democrat prior 1861.  In 1860, he was appointed as a Pittsburgh city alderman.  This was a position that had financial rewards, as aldermen were allowed to set their own fees and made their living accordingly.

According to the laws of incorporation for Pittsburgh, aldermen were appointed by the governor.  Since he is listed as being an alderman in 1860, it means he was appointed by Democratic governor William Packer; however, the fact that his entire term of office nearly coincides with the two terms of Republican governor Andrew Gregg Curtin may indicate that he eventually became a Republican.  The appointment by either governor may not have been based on politics but rather on his membership in the Masonic brotherhood since 1844.  Either theory is just speculation and we cannot say for certain where his political loyalties were.

Known Republican Owstons include the following:

From California:

  • Arthur Henry Owston (1879-1958) and his wife Hattie Olson Owston (1889-1974).
  • Carol Jane Owston (1934-)
  • Clarence Lovel Owston (1908-2001) and his wife Mary E. Wills Owston (1906-1967).
  • Ernest Harold Owston, Sr. (1907-1985) and his wife Matle E. Keen Owston (1909-1984).
  • Ernest Harold Owston, Jr. (1931-1978).
  • Linus Creighton Owston, Jr. (1924-1988).
  • Margaret May Boak Owston (1877-????) wife of Henry Franklin Owston (1867-1922).
  • Robert Lee Owston (1935-2003) and his wife Doreen Glenda Taylor Owston.
  • Thomas Burton McKibben (who was born as Thomas Burton Owston) (1917-1982).

From New York:

  • Adelbert John Owston (1855-1917).
  • William Henry Owston (1840-1913).

From Pennsylvania:

  • Charles Ellsworth Owston (1913-1962).
  • Elizabeth Wilson Owston (1884-1952) wife of Clarence Robinson Owston (1870-1922).
  • James Harry Owston (1883-1945) and his wife Adia E Aiken Owston (1879-1945).
  • James Moye Owston (1910-1972).
  • Saphronia Delphine Reed Owston (1878-1958) wife of John Owston (1881-1941).


Henry H. Owston (1835-1895), who was the former Democratic marshal of Logansport, Indiana, was embroiled in a controversy concerning the 1888 presidential election.  Acting as a special election policeman, Owston prevented a suspicious voter from casting his vote for the Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison.  Owston was indicted on federal charges of voter intimidation and was found guilty.  He was fined $100, but additional court costs and the costs of the defense totaled over $1100.  The total amount was raised among the Democratic citizenry of Logansport and Owston was not required to produce the money on his own.

Other Known Democrats include the following:

From California:

  • Ernest Harold Owston, Jr. (1931-1978) and his wife Beverly Ann Haage Owston (1935-????).
  • Frederick Kruck Owston, Jr. (1909-1984).
  • Geneva G. Osman Owston (1905-1988) wife of Floyd Brady Owston (1902-1968).
  • Linus Creighton Owston, Jr. (1924-1988) and his wife June Florienne Rogers Owston (1926-1992).
  • Thomas M. Owston (1871-1953) and his wife Sallie E. Owston.

From Ohio:

  • Charles Vickerman Owston (1845-1912).  Marshal of Delaware, Ohio.

From Pennsylvania:

  • Clarence Wilson Owston (1912-1984) and his wife Eleanor C. Glover Owston (1915-2001).
  • Genevieve Beryl Brakeall Owston Akerberg (1918-2016) wife of Charles Ellsworth Owston (1913-1962).
  • Robert William Owston (1940-1993).


Two of individuals in the above listing were noted as switching party loyalties.  Linus C. Owston, Jr. was registered in Los Angeles in 1952 as a Republican; however, he is listed as a Democrat in San Bernadino County in 1956 and 1958.  Ernest Harold Owston, Jr. changed registration twice while living in Anaheim.  In 1958, he was listed as a Republican, two years later as a Democrat, and back to being a Republican in 1962.

Being registered for one party doesn’t preclude that your allegiance is always to the candidates of that party.  An example of this was Adelbert John Owston of Kirkland, New York who was a lifelong Republican, but voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the 1896 election.  He was a bimetalist and supported using both a gold and silver standard that was proposed by William Jennings Bryan.

While only a fraction of US Owstons are listed here, it is interesting to see their political loyalties.

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