John Livingston Lowes was born on December 20, 1867 in Decatur, Indiana, United States. He was the older of two children and the only son of Abraham (or Abram) Brower Lowes and Mary Bella (Elliott) Lowes, both of Welsh, Scottish, and English descent. His father, a native of Warren County, Ohio, had graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His studies had been interrupted by service in the Civil War. His mother was the daughter of the Reverend David Elliott, a professor at the seminary. Abraham Lowes was ordained in the Presbyterian ministry in 1867 and during his son's childhood served in Decatur, Indiana (1867 - 1868), Tidioute, Pennsylvania (1869 - 1870), Mason, Ohio (1871 - 1874), Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania (1874 - 1882).