DNA Connections to the Townsend Family

My probable line of descent: -- Townsend → Hill Richardson → Freeman Richardson Squire Freeman Richardson William Henry Richardson alias Boyd Frank Richard Boyd (Grandpa)

My direct paternal line merits a special explanation. As can be seen above, there are three separate surnames in this line: Boyd, Richardson, and Townsend. In other words, there have, since the 1770s, been two separate name changes in my direct male ancestral line--a fairly unique situation. I'll start by explaining the most recent change (Richardson to Boyd), then move to the earlier change (Townsend to Richardson).

Richardson to Boyd
In the 1980s, my father and grandfather learned that my great-grandfather, William Henry Boyd, had used an alias. His birth name was William Henry Richardson. This was deduced by a friend of the family and confirmed by one of Grandpa's older siblings. It was also confirmed in 2017 with the discovery of a newspaper article that called him "William Boyd, alias William Richardson" ("Molder of Stolen Silver into Bad Dollars Jailed," Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), Monday 20 Feb 1933, p. 2.). In addition, Grandpa learned that one Charlie Richardson, who had visited the Boyds in Arizona from time to time, was really Grandpa's half-brother.

Why did William Henry change his name to Boyd? I don't really know for sure. By the time Grandpa had learned about the name change, William Henry had been dead for nearly 30 years, so he could not provide answers. Grandpa's siblings either didn't know or didn't share any information they did know about the reason behind the change.

However, I can make a guess. Well after the name change (which would have taken place before he married his second wife), William Henry was caught and imprisoned for counterfeiting (a crime that, decades before, his father, Squire, had been convicted of). Records for William Henry seem to hint at a desire to keep his personal details hidden; the information he would have given to census takers and those completing vital records (such as the last names of his parents and his birthplace) vary from record to record. While it is possible that he changed his name after leaving his first wife and child, the fact that Charlie Richardson visited him in the 1920s means that his eldest son knew his whereabouts at least by that time. William Henry would no longer have needed to hide his personal information if that was the only reason. In all likelihood, Boyd was an alias that he took to hide his identity for some illegal reason. What the illegal reason was specifically remains a mystery.

One thing that should be noted: I have seen at least one instance on Ancestry where my Grandpa's name was recorded with the surname of Richardson. He never went by that name. By the time that he found out, he was in his sixties and had always gone by the name of Frank Richard Boyd, the only name he had known. Boyd was his legal name (as well as the legal name of many of Grandpa's descendants). As I can attest, Grandpa did not change his name to Richardson or ever use it in any context, but rather kept his legal name of Boyd. In addition, his siblings (with the exception of Charlie) went by Boyd, not Richardson.

Now, to William Henry's great-grandfather, Hill Richardson...

Townsend to Richardson
For many years, Hill Richardson has been a brick wall ancestor (and to some degree, still is). He was, according to the 1850 census, born in Rhode Island in about 1775. No records of his birth have been found. My father noted a possible connection to one Rufus Richardson but Rufus (b. 1760) was too young to have been his father. Rufus's father, David (b. 1724), could have been his father, though he would have been in his fifties when Hill was born. There is no record of a Hill born to David and there would have been a gap between Hill and the next youngest recorded child, Asa (b. 1766).

In an effort to discover a possible connection between Hill and other Richardsons, my brother's yDNA was tested. The haplogroup as R-M269. On FamilyTree DNA, a list of yDNA matches in their database were posted. The results were interesting. There were no Richardsons listed in the matches but an overwhelming number of Townsends. This could potentially be due to a non-paternal event (such as an illegitimacy). As both my brother and I have genetic matches on 23andMe to a descendant of Florilla Richardson, one of Squire's sisters and through Ancestry DNA, I have matches to several descendants of Florilla and her sister, Matilda, a NPE would have taken place prior to that generation.

FamilyTree DNA shows two matches to my brother with a genetic distance of 0 (likely no more than one generation back from Hill), both Townsends. One match does not have any additional information about the participant's lineage but an email from the match's daughter indicates that her Townsend family have been longtime Long Island residents. The other match traces back to a Caleb Townsend (b. 27 Oct 1743 in Beekman, Dutchess, New York, m. Johanna Kelley, d. 3 Aug 1817 in Catskill, Greene, New York).

While it is difficult to trace Caleb's line back, there are hints about his ancestry. Dutchess county is in southeast New York, as is Long Island.  The Townsend Society of America DNA study groups Caleb with the Oyster Bay (John, Henry, and Richard Townsend) group (study accessed 15 Oct 2017) with a haplogroup of R-M269. Looking at matches with a further genetic distance, there seems to be a strong connection to the Townsends of Oyster Bay (on Long Island).

One likely theory was that Hill was illegitimate, born during the early years of the upheaval of the Revolution. This could account for the difficulty in finding any records of his parentage and for the yDNA connection to the Townsend family, instead of any Richardsons. Caleb is of an appropriate age to have fathered Hill. However, it not certain that he did so. Because of the genetic distance, however, if Caleb was not the father, a close relative probably was. If Hill was illegitimate, the name Richardson most likely came from his mother. While any connection to Rufus Richardson is uncertain, if there was a connection to Rufus, Hill's mother might have been a sister or cousin of Rufus.

Townsend brothers
Whatever the specific connection of my Richardsons to the Townsends, the yDNA data strongly suggests that the Richardsons were descended from one of three brothers, John, Henry, or Richard Townsend, who settled in and near Oyster Bay.

More Information about the Boyds/Richardsons/Townsends listed above:
Caleb Townsend and Johanna Kelley
John Townsend
Henry Townsend
Richard Townsend
Rufus Richardson and his ancestry
My Boyd/Richardson family

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Author: Michelle A. Boyd


Last updated 16 October 2017