Son of Robert and Jane Donald. Robert was a farmer and Innkeeper. John was the younger brother of Frederick, who was killed on 18 September 1916, a sister called Margaret (Six Chimneys Farm) and was the older brother of Thomas (a Carter by trade and described as "simple"). In 1901, John and brother Frederick were living with their sister at Six Chimneys Farm. By 1911, John was living with his parents and Thomas at Gallow Hill, Bowes. His parents later moved to Romaldkirk.