Mystery Grandpa

First published on August 15, 2015.

Mystery Grandpa was my first real snag in researching my family. His name was Andrew J (or H) Dwinells (or Dwinnels) and he is my paternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather or my great-great grandfather. One problem that I encounter frequently is that the spelling of his, and my, last name is often different or transcribed wrong. That sometimes makes it difficult to find the correct information and is confusing, so excuse my spelling if it differs from documents.

From what I know, Andrew J Dwinells was born on August 15, 1846 (The date of this post!). His father was Joseph James Dwinells and his mother was Hannah Maria Kelly. I could not find a record of birth for Andrew, his birthdate comes from marriage and death certificates. The first record I found of Andrew was in the 1850 Federal Census for Haverhill, Massachusetts.

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He is listed (highlighted in purple) as a four-year-old, born in Massachusetts and his occupation is a pauper, which makes sense because he lived in the “Poor House” (highlighted in green). Also listed is his brother, Frederic Dwinnels. He appears five years later in the 1855 Massachusetts Census, still living in the poor house with his brother.

When I first saw this information I was intrigued. I didn’t even know what a poor house was. I also wanted to know why Andrew and his brother were there. I could not find any information about the deaths of Andrew’s parents, thus the beginning of the mystery. There are more mysteries involving Mystery Grandpa, that I will write about later, but recently I came closer to solving this first mystery.

I was reading “The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts: From its First Settlement, in 1640, to the Year 1860” by George Wingate Chase, when I found this paragraph:

In the early part of 1850, the small-pox broke out in the western part of the town, and for a time raged fearfully. It was confined principally to the northern part of the West Parish. In School District No. 2, there were between thirty and forty cases, several of them fatal. The loathsome disease was introduced into the parish by a young lady, on a visit from Boston.

I am at the beginning stages of fully researching this, but my theory now is that Andrew’s parents died in the small pox outbreak, leaving him and his brother orphans. I will have to try to pinpoint where Andrew and his parents would have lived and possibly try to get some records about the outbreak. I know that it is kind of a grim find, but I was excited to get one step closer to solving the mysteries of Mystery Grandpa.

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