DNA Connections to the Townsend and Richardson Families

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

Citing this biography: Boyd, Michelle, "DNA Connections to the Townsend and Richardson Families," article, Olive and Eliza, last accessed [current date]."

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's name, William Henry Boyd, was really 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. At least one of Grandpa's sisters knew about the name change prior to that time but it is unclear if she or any of the other siblings knew the reason behind the change.

However, I can make a guess. The name change would have taken place after 25 September 1893 when he was committed to prison in New Mexico as William Richardson (and probably after 10 April 1894 when a Richardson, probably him, was returned to prison after a prison escape) and before he married his second wife Bertha in 1897 (as he appears as William H. Boyd on their marriage record). William Henry was incarcerated three times (once in 1888 in Wisconsin, once in 1893 in New Mexico, and once in 1933 in a federal penitentiary in Washington (arrested in California)). 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 to hide his whereabouts from his first wife, the fact that Charlie Richardson visited him in the 1920s means that his eldest son knew where he was 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 specific reason was still 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 from personal experience, Grandpa did not change his name to Richardson or ever use the Richardson name 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 ever 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 and the Connection to the Townsend Family

Hill Richardson has long been a brick wall ancestor. 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 significant 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 (NPE). NPEs include births due to an infidelity or to an unwed mother, an adoption that was kept secret, and so on.

Establishing a Genetic Connection to Earlier Generations

To establish the earliest generation in which the NPE might have taken place, a further examination of autosomal DNA results proved useful (click on the categories below to learn more):

First, while I had no reason to doubt my own parentage, Ancestry and 23andme DNA testing both confirm the relationships of my most immediate family members. 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. Likewise, Ancestry DNA tests taken by both myself and my parents show a parent-child relationship (my brother has not been tested by Ancestry).

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.

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:

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 far less 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:

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:

* 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:

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.:

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 ThruLines for my Ancestry DNA results, 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 my DNA results do not confirm or refute this.

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.

Further clues about when the NPE happened were provided when my father and my uncle subsequently took the Ancestry DNA test and shared the results with me. This allowed for a look further back in time. Thrulines, in my father's fifth-great-grandparents' generation, suggested a possible descent from one Daniel Townsend and Huldah Hopkins, his wife, as well as David Richardson and Esther Smith, his wife. Note that these are only suggestions, based on reported ancestries of DNA matches, and are subject to error, depending on the quality of the research behind the reported ancestries. A closer look is required.

Let us take a look first at the possible Richardson connection, then at the possible Townsend connection.

Narrowing Down the Possibilities for Hill's Mother: The Possible Richardson Connection

The Data

In my father's ThruLines, David Richardson is suggested as an ancestor (his wife was given as Esther Smith but documentary evidence shows that the name Esther is almost certainly an error and that she was really Jemima Smith) with a match to my father through a descendant of Freeman Richardson, the son of their son Rufus Richardson and his wife Ruth Holden:

Unfortunately, the match's tree is not large but no overlaps are detected in the little that is available.

In addition, in the ThruLines for my uncle (father's brother), Rachel Richardson is suggested as an ancestor with a match to my uncle through a descendant of Aaron Holden, the son of her son Timothy Holden and his wife Elizabeth Ellis:

There are no known overlaps between my uncle and this descendant's tree. There are Ellises on both trees but no known connection.

Possible Scenarios

Let us back up a moment and review what we know and can extrapolate about the NPE. Without the possible Richardson DNA match and given the other DNA evidence above, there are several scenarios that are likely:

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.

A Further Look at the Connection to Rufus Richardson

Now, assuming no additional overlaps in the match's tree, we can establish that there is a connection of some sort between our Richardsons and the family of Rufus and Ruth (Holden) Richardson. In light of this, I propose that scenario 2 above is the most likely. Ancestry estimates that the match is a sixth cousin, indicating that his parents David and Jemima are the common link between him and us. This estimate, however, is just that - an estimate - and there is the possibility that it is not exact.

But documentary evidence seems to favor a close tie between Hill Richardson and Rufus Richardson. The two moved from place to place together and both Hill and Rufus has sons named Freeman. We can safely rule out Rufus or any other men in his family being the father of Freeman. If he were, the yDNA results would match Richardson DNA, which it doesn't. We need to account for both the matches to Townsend and Richardson descendants, making it unlikely that the NPE child was Freeman. Instead, Rufus is most likely a close family member of Hill.

The Most Likely Candidate: Rachel Richardson

The most likely candidate is a sister of Rufus Richardson, which would make Rufus the uncle of Hill. The Richardson Memorial lists two sisters for Rufus:

"Esther, b. Dec. 29, 1748; d. June 22, 1755.
Rachel,5 b. May 10, 1756."

As Esther died at the age of six, this leaves only one sister, Rachel, who was about 19 at Hill's birth and unmarried at the time (she married 30 Oct 1777 in Barre, Worcester, Massachusetts to Aaron Holden).

The challenge to this relationship is that the records show that Rufus is the son of David and Jemima, that Rachel is the daughter of David and Esther, and that David and Jemima had children after Rachel's birth (indicating that Jemima did not likely die between Rufus and Rachel's births, leaving David to marry Esther). However, there was a significant gap between David and Jemima's first set of children and second set and that during that gap, David and Esther are recorded having two children. There are no other records for a David and Esther. It is also interesting to note that David was the son of an Esther. There is a good possibility that the clerk, in error, wrote David's mother's name Esther in two of the children's records, instead of his wife's name Jemima.

It is necessary, however, to take a look at Rufus and Rachel's spouses. According to Eben Putnam's Holden Genealogy, Rufus's wife Ruth Holden and Rachel's husband Aaron Holden were siblings. There is a possibility then that the DNA connection is to the Holdens, not the Richardsons, and that Hill was the son of Ruth and nephew of Aaron, instead of being the son of Rachel and nephew of Rufus. However, Ruth would have been about 13 when Hill was conceived, possible but not as likely as the somewhat older Rachel (who would have been about 18). Ruth and Rufus were married in 1787, when Hill was about 12 years old. This would mean that he spent the first 12 years of his life as Hill Holden, then switched his name to his stepfather's name. While a very young mother and a late name change is possible, it seems fairly unlikely.

Given the close DNA and documentary ties between Hill and Rufus, Rachel's age, and her place as Rufus's only surviving sister, Rachel Richardson is the most likely candidate for Hill's mother. This is not 100% certain but highly likely.

Looking at the Possibilities for Hill's Father: The Townsends of Dutchess County and Oyster Bay, New York

Using Genetic Distance to Determine Candidate #1: Caleb Townsend

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), FamilyTree DNA suggests the following estimates related to genetic distance.

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

Genetic Distance 50% 90% 95%

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).

In addition to the FamilyTree DNA match to my brother, the Ancestry results for my father also includes a match to Caleb through a descendant of his son, John Kelly Townsend:

Do these results mean that Caleb was Hill's father? Not necessarily. There is still the chance that the father was a brother to Caleb (or other close relative who shares his yDNA). But Caleb is certainly a strong candidate.

Candidate #2: Isaac Townsend

The Ancestry test results for my father presents a second possibility for Hill's father: Isaac Townsend. One match traces his ancestry to Isaac's daughter, Phoebe Townsend:

The second match tentatively traces their ancestry to another daughter of Isaac, Hannah Townsend:

Isaac was born 31 March 1742 in Southeast, Dutchess (now Putnam), New York. He fought in the Revolution, married Hannah Wixon 14 Aug 1777 in Southeast, and died 10 September 1803 in Southeast.

How Do Caleb and Isaac Connect and Who Were Their Ancestors?

The exact connection between Caleb and Isaac is not known but given the data from the DNA tests cited above and the fact that both men had known connections to Dutchess county, it is likely that they were closely related to each other, possibly even brothers. Neither man's parents have been identified with any certainty. However, let's take a look at was is known about the ancestry of each man.

No theories about Caleb's parentage has been previously been put forward to my knowledge. Hints about his ancestry can be gleaned from the FamilyTree DNA results. 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. Dutchess county is in southeast New York, as is Long Island, where Oyster Bay is located. Caleb or a prior generation could have easily moved from Long Island to Dutchess county.

A guess at the identity of Isaac's father was made by the prominent genealogist, Harry Macy, Jr., in "Placing Charles Townsend of Dutchess County in the Oyster Bay Townsend Family" (Townsend Genealogical Journal, Spring 2004, published by the Townsend Society of America). He stated, "A prime candidate to be a son of Daniel-4 is Lieutenant Isaac Townsend, who married Hannah Wixon..." For more information about Daniel's ancestry, see the link for the Townsend family at the bottom of this page.

Harry Macy also listed other Townsend men in Dutchess county who could perhaps be Daniel's sons: "Other unplaced Townsends who might be candidates for sons of Daniel-4 are Levi, Amos, Zephaniah, and Gilbert, but placing them more firmly will require further study." If any of these men are indeed Isaac's brothers, they could also be candidates for Hill's father.

Summary of Findings about the Townsend to Richardson NPE

One likely theory was that Hill was illegitimate, born during the early years of the upheaval of the Revolution.

Possible candidates for his father are members of the Townsend family (probably of the Dutchess county Townsends and almost certainly descended from the Townsend brothers of Oyster Bay), including Caleb, Isaac, Levi, Amos, Zephaniah, and Gilbert. DNA evidence suggests a genetic link between Caleb, Isaac, and Hill but their exact relationships to each other are not known for certain. Macy identified the other men as possible sons of Daniel Townsend, who is the possible father of Isaac.

If Hill was illegitimate, the name Richardson most likely came from his mother. Indeed, DNA evidence suggests a connection to Rufus Richardson, with whom documentary evidence also suggests a connection (moving together in that era often suggests a family connection) and who is of age to be his uncle but not his father. Therefore, Hill's mother was almost certainly related to Rufus, with the most likely candidate being his sister, Rachel Richardson.

More Information about the Boyds/Richardsons/Townsends Listed Above

A Theoretical Townsend ancestry

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Rachel Richardson and her ancestry

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Plowman alias Canne


My known Boyd/Richardson family

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Author: Michelle A. Boyd


Last updated 30 January 2022