The Risley Surname

05/28/07

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Are We Risleys or Wrisleys?

c) 1993 Risley Family Association, Inc.

What is the original spelling of the surname? Which is correct? Did Richard have a preference? The answer is that we don't know. The only thing that we can say for a certainty is that of all the different variations in the spelling of the name used during Richard's lifetime referring to him and members of his family, these two are the most often used to the present day. Therefore both are correct.

It has been believed that because of the difference in spelling that there are two families, the Risleys and the Wrisleys. This could not be further from the truth. The sole immigrant ancestor to arrive on these shores during the 17th Century was Richard Risley Sr. of Hartford, Conn. He is the founder of the family in America. Two others arrived in the 18th Century. Both adopted the American spelling of the name rather than retain the European spellings of their surname. Their descendants are by far and away less numerous than Richard's descendants.

When we look at records made during Richard's lifetime, primarily the deed and church records, they being the only records taken during his short life. We find the following spelling referring to him: Risley, Riselie, Risla, Risly, Rizley, Rizely, Rizly, Wrisle, Wrislea and of course Wrisley, among others. It seems to have more to do with the literacy of the record keeper or the lack of it, rather than what our Richard may have preferred. In the distribution of the undivided lands of Hartford beginning in 1639 we often find two different spellings in the same deed record. It should be noted that the Wriothesley rendition does not appear, even once. Most often the name appears as Risley and Wrisley. The two spellings seem to be synonymous for Richard more than any of the other renditions. In his probate record Richard is declared as Richard Risley, late of Hockanum, yet, in the text of the document the children are named as Risly.

In the second generation there is a deed dealing with a boundary dispute between Richard Jr. and one Samuel Wells, dated May 13, 1705. Richard is named as Risley in the text and he signed his name as Richard Risley. He was so known during his lifetime and his family who remained in East Hartford retained the Risley spelling, and when they went elsewhere in later generations.

In the third generation we find that Richard Jr's sons: Thomas, Richard III and Jeremiah removed to New Jersey in the early 1700's. In all the records for them in NJ and their heirs the name almost always appears as Risley. The eldest son Samuel removed to Glastonbury about 1705. It is here that we begin to see the Wrisley spelling appear for Samuel and his sons more often, yet they are also given as Risleys. Samuel signed his will by "mark" his name having been written for him as Risley. As such this too is inconclusive.

With the arrival of David, the third son of Samuel, in the fourth generation we begin to see a pattern, David moved to Franklin Co. Mass from Glastonbury in 1752. Almost from the minute of his arrival there and at Gill, Mass he appears as David Wrisley, nearly without exception. His sons and grandsons, to the present generation have retained the Wrisley name. There are a few exceptions, yet the vast majority of his, David's descendants, are Wrisleys. Several of David's brothers also were known as Wrisley or as Risley or both. David appears to be the only one who steadfastly maintained that he was Wrisley. It can be stated that by doing so David established a distinct and readily identifiable branch of the family.

The Rizleys are also a distinct branch of the family appearing in a branch of the family in the Midwest, descending from John Risley of the fourth generation who was from New Jersey.

Who is to say which is correct? I cannot. Of one thing we can be sure, whether the name is Risley, Wrisley or Rizley the blood-line is from Richard Sr. of Hartford, Connecticut, a founder of the Commonwealth of Connecticut and none other. Of this there can be no question, none
whatsoever. Whether we are plain "R" Risleys, silent "W" Risleys, or Risleys with a "Z" our family trees are from the same tap root, we are Family.

 

 

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This site was last updated 05/28/07