Born in Camp Point, Adams County, Illinois, Joseph Downing was the second son of William Downing and Mary Elzada Bates. He had six siblings : three brothers and three sisters. Joseph married Anna Tipton on 7 June 1880 in Adams County.
Dr. Downing was an 1882 graduate of the Rush School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.
By 1890, he was practicing medicine in Saunders County, Nebraska, later moving to Butler County.
His brother, Albert R. Downing, also graduated from Rush Medical College, and moved to Custer County, Nebraska.
Anna and Joseph had two daughters : Jessie, born in 1893, and Helen, born in 1898. A son, Robert Downing, died in infancy in 1897.
Dr. Downing passed on 25 May 1942 in Columbus, Nebraska. His wife, Anna, passed on 2 December 1945 in Rising City, Nebraska.