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 been two probable name changes in my direct male ancestral line over the course of the past 200-300 years, 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
Establishing William Henry’s Alias
In the 1980s, my father and grandfather both 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 confirmed again 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.

The Probable Reason for the Change
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. The name change would have taken place before he married his second wife Bertha, as he appears as William H. Boyd on their marriage record. Years later, 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 upon 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.

Surnames of William Henry’s Children
One thing should be noted when recording information about this family: I have seen at least one instance on Ancestry where my Grandpa's name was recorded with the surname of Richardson (as in Frank Richard Richardson Boyd) but this is incorrect. He never went by that name. By the time that he found out about his father’s birth name, Grandpa 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, all of his siblings (with the exception of Charlie) went by Boyd, not Richardson.

Not much is known about Charlie but he seems to have gone by the surname Richardson, at least when he visited his father and likely at birth. I have no evidence that he went by Boyd or any other surname—but again, too little is known about him with much certainty.

Townsend to Richardson
The Richardson Brick Wall
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).

A yDNA Connection to the Townsend Family
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 (NPE). NPEs include births due to an infidelity or to an unwed mother, an adoption that was kept secret, and so on.

Establishing a DNA Trail to Sarah (Lee) Richardson, Part 1
To establish the earliest generation in which the NPE might have taken place, a further examination of autosomal DNA results proved useful.

First, I established my own connection to my brother as full-blooded siblings. To me, my mother’s character is one of integrity and trustworthiness. That said, my trust is supported by DNA results. 23andMe tests taken by me, my brother, and both our parents indicate that my brother and I share about half our DNA, as would be expected with full siblings, and we each share about half of our DNA with each parent. Therefore, my brother and I logically share the same exact ancestry and I too would be descended from the Townsends in my direct paternal line.

The Use of ThruLines
At this point, Ancestry’s ThruLines offered additional insights. Ancestry describes this feature: “ThruLines™ shows you the common ancestors who likely connect you to your DNA matches and gives you a clearer view of how you all may be related through those shared ancestors.” There are some caveats to note, however.

First, ThruLines depends on both DNA matches and the user-submitted trees of the people matched. In other words, the DNA match determines through analysis of DNA that two people have a connection, while the common DNA ancestor and the ancestors between the two matches are estimated based on the matches’ trees. Errors introduced in the trees can impact the results. However, this is true of any estimated DNA relationship--matches can be proved but determining precisely how the two matches connect still relies on the accuracy of documentary research.

Second, the exact nature of the connection can be estimated but may actually be a range of potential relationships. Ancestry explains, “For example, if you have someone listed in your tree as a second cousin, and that person appears as a DNA match and in a ThruLine as your second cousin, they could still actually be a first cousin once removed, a half-first cousin, or a number of other relationships to you.” Again, however, this can be a pitfall in other DNA research.

Finally, a DNA match with a specific person could actually appear in more than one ThruLine. For example, I have multiple connections to the Fairbanks family (these are all too far back to appear in Thrulines, but let’s say for the sake of the illustration that my Fairbanks are covered by ThruLines). If another person with multiple connections to the Fairbanks were to appear as a DNA match, theoretically this person could appear on multiple ThruLines. It also brings up the question: If a match who incorrectly traced back on one line while not tracing back on another line and if the untraced line included a common DNA ancestor, will a ThruLine trace show the incorrect line? Clearly, caution is warranted.

That said, ThruLines can be valuable. Potential error, for example, can be reduced through solid genealogical research. An analysis of the matches’ trees can show, through factors such as geographical locations of other lines, how likely it is that there are additional matching lines.

Establishing a DNA Trail to Sarah (Lee) Richardson, Part 2
A look at my ThruLines really starts at William Henry Richardson alias Boyd and his wife, Bertha Amanda Brown. This is because there are no matches in the ThruLines for my parents and paternal grandparents. This is to be expected--no other descendant of my paternal grandparents, as of yet, have submitted an Ancestry DNA test.

A look at the ThruLines for William Henry and Bertha shows DNA matches through two of their children:
  • Jim Boyd (descendants are listed as 1) a second cousin 1x removed (8 segments, 180 cM) and 2) a second cousin 2x removed (the previous match’s child, 3 segments, 41 cM)
  • Julia (Boyd) Dorato: a first cousin 1x removed (27 segments, 531 cM)
While, as is often the case in genealogy, we cannot be 100% certain, the data above suggests strong probabilities. If the NPE had occurred at the birth of Frank Richard Boyd, a connection to Jim Boyd and Julia (Boyd) Dorato would still have been possible if they shared one parent (often, in a NPE, the mother) though the amount of DNA shared between half-siblings would be less than full siblings. However, a DNA connection between me and a descendant of Julia (Richardson) Morgan would only be likely either if that descendant shares other ancestral lines in common with me or if Frank Boyd was indeed the son of William Henry Richardson alias Boyd.

The first is less far likely given both the matches’ recorded pedigrees (which do not show other overlapping ancestral lines or ancestors on other lines in similar geographical regions as my other lines). This is assuming the accuracy of documented lines but the likelihood that all both Julia’s descendants and Jim’s descendants have inaccurate documentation is small and this likelihood decreases in the light of further matches in prior generations, as will be discussed below. Therefore, it is very highly likely that Frank Richard Boyd was the biological son of William Henry Richardson alias Boyd and his wife, Bertha Amanda Brown.

Again, using the same assumptions as above, the same logic can be applied to William Henry as the son of Squire and Squire as the son of Freeman. The ThruLines for Squire and Caroline (Devol) Richardson show a match through their daughter Julia (Richardson) Morgan:
  • A third cousin 1x removed (5 segments, 37 cM)
This match’s pedigree shows little other potential overlap. There is a separate Richardson line that extends into New England (Connecticut, specifically) but not until before the mid-1700s, not as likely to produce such high levels of shared DNA as shown above, and with no known connections to my Richardsons.

The ThruLines for Freeman and Rebecca (Smith) Richardson show matches through their children:
  • Myra (Richardson) Walters: a fourth cousin (1 segment, 11 cM)
  • Florilla (Richardson) Gear: a fourth cousin (1 segment, 6 cM), a fourth cousin (1 segment, 7 cM), a fourth cousin (1 segment, 12 cM), a fourth cousin (1 segment, 12 cM), a third cousin 1x removed (3 segments, 42 cM), a fourth cousin (1 segment, 12 cM)*
  • One other match, possibly a descendant of Matilda (Richardson) Cyrus: a fourth cousin 1x removed (1 segment, 11 cM)**
* Some, but not all of Florilla’s descendants show potential overlap with my other ancestral lines, though the common ancestors were further back in time than Freeman and Rebecca (as in mid to late 1600s): Day, Coffin, and Bushnell.
** ThruLines gives a descent from Matilda through a supposed son, Eugene Lamphier. This is problematic as this pedigree gives Eugene’s birth year as 1855 in New Hampshire and his father Simon Lamphier’s death in 1869 in Vermont. However, Freeman’s probate in 1868 (a year before Simon’s death) lists his daughter Matilda Cyrus in Tecumseh, Nebraska and a Mrs. Nelson Cyrus had an obituary written in 1917 which names Mrs. M. W. Gear, Mrs. William Purdy, Mrs. James Walters, and Jasper Richardson (known children of Freeman and Rebecca) as siblings. Other potential overlaps are on the Bliss, Fairbanks, and Hussey lines (all with common ancestors in the 1600s).

From there, we can look even further back. The ThruLines for Hill and Sarah (Lee) Richardson show a match through their son William Richardson:
  • A fifth cousin 1x removed (1 segment, 8 cM)
No potential overlaps noted.

The ThruLines for Sarah’s parents, Nathan and Sarah (Metcalf) Lee, show a match through a potential son Nathan Lee Jr.:
  • A sixth cousin (1 segment, 8 cM)
It should be noted that Nathan Jr.’s parentage has not been determined by documentation. Ancestry user brettdb identified two Nathans of an appropriate age to be Nathan Jr.’s father in Lebanon, Connecticut (where Nathan Jr. resided)—the Nathan that married Sarah Metcalf and the Nathan who married Eunice Porter. He felt the latter more likely as Nathan Jr. named a daughter Eunice and he appeared next to a Nathan Sr. in the 1800 census in Lebanon while the Nathan who married Sarah Metcalf was in Otsego, New York. However, brettdb notes that he’s not “absolutely certain.” In brettdb’s research, the Nathan who married Eunice Porter may be the son of one of the uncles (Samuel or Asahel) of the Nathan who married Sarah Metcalf. No matter who Nathan Jr.’s father was, the connection between me and the descendant of Nathan Jr. is intriguing because it suggests a genetic connection to the Lees of Lebanon, Connecticut.
There is a potential overlap on the Harris line with a common ancestral couple in the early 1600s. Also, a David Tryon of Middletown (m. Susannah Bevin) is shown on the match’s tree but with no parents. TAG 83:90 shows this David as the son of David, son of William Tryon, my ancestor (making the common ancestor on this line born in about 1646).

Based on DNA evidence, with multiple matches starting at Jim and Julia Boyd’s descendants and going back to William Richardson’s descendant and a likely connection to the Lees of Lebanon, I conclude that my brother and I are probably the descendants of, through our father, Frank Richard Boyd → William Henry Richardson → Squire Freeman Richardson → Freeman Richardson → Sarah (Lee) Richardson. Documentary evidence suggests that Hill was Freeman’s father but because we are currently unable to identify siblings, cousins, or other relatives by birth for Hill, we cannot confirm this through DNA.

Establishing a Probable Timeframe for the NPE
Having demonstrated the likelihood of a DNA connection to Sarah and other Lees, one can conclude that the NPE likely took place either at Freeman’s birth, Hill’s birth, or one of the unknown generations prior to Hill.

To learn more information about the timeframe in which the NPE probably happened, another look at the Y-DNA test is needed, this time at genetic distances. FamilyTreeDNA defines genetic distance as, “the number of differences, or mutations, between two sets of results. A genetic distance of zero means there are no differences in the results being compared against one another, i.e., an exact match.” (“Genetic Distance,” FamilyTreeDNA Learning Center, https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/faq-items/genetic-distance/, last accessed 5 July 2019.) For the Y-DNA37 test (the one taken by my brother), FamilyTreeDNA suggests the following estimates related to genetic distance.

Probability that your common ancestor lived no longer than this number of generations ago.

Genetic Distance





5 7








Source: “Paternal Lineages Tests,” FamilyTreeDNA Learning Center, https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/dna-basics/ydna/, last accessed 5 July 2019.

A review of Y-DNA matches for my brother shows a high number of matches who trace their ancestry to the Townsend brothers (John, Henry, and Richard) who settled in Oyster Bay, Long Island. John obtained a patent for the town of Flushing in 1645 and died in 1668. Henry settled in Oyster Bay in 1661. Richard first appears in records at Jamaica, Long Island in 1656 and his estate was settled in 1671. (See A Memorial of John, Henry, and Richard Townsend, and Their Descendants, 1865, for more information about these brothers.) The chances are high that one of these brothers’ descendants was the Townsend father, through an NPE, of a Richardson child.

In the FamilyTree DNA list of matches to my brother, those that have been traced back through records to the Townsend brothers have genetic distances between 1 and 4. Those with genetic distances of 1 have fewer differences between the match and my brother (and probably have a more recent common ancestor) than those with higher genetic distances.

In addition, 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.

Theories about the Townsend to Richardson NPE
Given the DNA evidence above, there are several scenarios that are likely:
  • Perhaps Freeman was the son of a Townsend, not Hill Richardson. As Freeman was born in 1802 and had three older siblings, this would have to mean that either Freeman was a result of infidelity or the four oldest children of Hill and Sarah were not Hill’s but all four took on Hill’s surname. Hill is listed in the 1800 census with an adult woman, as well as two boys and a girl, all under 10, in his household, so the second scenario seems especially unlikely.
  • Perhaps Hill was illegitimate or adopted. This may explain why it has been so difficult to find any information on his parentage.
  • Perhaps one of Hill’s ancestors was illegitimate or adopted. Given the genetic distances above, it is more likely that this NPE took place closer to the time of Hill’s birth, rather than closer to the time that the Townsend brothers were settling in Long Island.
Whichever scenario above is more likely, it is likely that the father of the NPE child was a descendant of the Townsend brothers of Oyster Bay.

One possible theory was that Hill was illegitimate, born during the early years of the upheaval of the Revolution. Caleb is of an appropriate age to have fathered Hill. However, it is not certain that he did so. Because of the genetic distance, however, if Caleb was not the father, a close relative of Caleb’s probably was. If Hill was illegitimate, the name Richardson most likely came from his mother. While any connection to Rufus Richardson is uncertain, it was common for family members to move together in that era. If there is indeed a connection to Rufus, Hill's mother might have been a sister or cousin of Rufus.

More Information about the Boyds/Richardsons/Townsends listed above:
UNDER CONSTRUCTION (links to be added)
A person of interest:
Caleb Townsend

The Townsend Brothers of Oyster Bay (one of whom is the likely immigrant ancestors on my direct paternal line):
John Townsend
Henry Townsend
Richard Townsend

A Richardson with a possible connection to Hill:
Rufus Richardson and his ancestry

My Boyd/Richardson family

Return: Home > Boyd

Author: Michelle A. Boyd


Last updated 7 July 2019