Francis Welch Crowninshield was born on June 24, 1872 in Paris, France. He was one of three children of Frederic Crowninshield and Helen Suzette (Fairbanks) Crowninshield. The father's American progenitor, Johannes von Kronenscheldt, had anglicized the name upon his emigration from Germany to Salem, Massachussets, in 1670. A more recent ancestor, Benjamin W. Crownin-shield, was secretary of the navy under Presidents Madison and Monroe. Frederic Crowninshield, an artist specializing in watercolors, murals, and stained glass, was studying in Italy at the time of Frank's birth. From 1878 to 1885, with frequent interludes in Europe, the family lived in Boston, where Frederic Crowninshield taught in the museum school of the Museum of Fine Arts.