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
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