Brick Wall Case Studies #28: Locating the family of an African American man of unknown origins who lived in St Louis

A man named O.C. Richardson lived in St Louis in the 1920s and 1930s but no documents had been located about him. Family information, autosomal DNA testing, census records, and a death certificate identified his family of origin.

What We Knew

  • According to family information, the father of William L. Richardson and Hutchinson W. Richardson was named O.C. Richardson. William was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1926 and Hutchinson in St Louis, Missouri, in 1929. Their mother was Thelma Berry. Thelma didn't marry O.C. Richardson.
  • Thelma Berry lived with a man with the surname Wilbon and he was listed on the birth certificates of William and Hutchinson though he wasn't their biological father. So the birth certificates for these children did not list their biological father.
  • The family story was that the O.C. Richardson died working in a chain gang in Alabama.
  • There was a family photo located of O.C. Richardson with Thelma. In the photo he looked older than Thelma. No documents had been located about O.C. Richardson and his origins were unknown.

Records We Located

  • We searched for O.C. Richardson in marriage records, city directories, and census records in St Louis. We didn't find any documents about him under that name.
  • A granddaughter of O.C. Richardson had done autosomal DNA testing. We examined the branches of her tree and were able to find relatives in each of the family groups of her tree. She had other close DNA matches with other known descendants of O.C. Richardson. We located a family group who matched the granddaughter with large segments of DNA; all of the other known descendants of O.C. Richardson matched each other closely as well. The amounts of autosomal DNA fit these family members as being second to fourth cousins. The common ancestor this family group had in common was a Mack Richardson, an African American man born in Alabama.
  • We examined records about Mack Richardson. Mack married Violet Neal in Pickens County, Alabama, in 1877. He married Sarah Fort in Pickens County, Alabama, in 1891. Mack was listed in the 1880 census and 1900 census records in Pickens County with wives and children. In the 1900 census, there was a son living in the Mack Richardson family named Osy Richardson, born in 1887 in Alabama.
  • We looked for other records about Osy as his name would have been pronounced in the same way as "O.C." the known name of the person we were looking for. We located a death certificate for Osy in 1938. He died in Pickens, Alabama of heart dropsy. The undertaker was listed as Reform Charity which could be a reference to him having been in prison, though he wasn't listed as being a prisoner at the time of his death. His parents were listed as Mack Richardson and Violet Neal. The informant was a Ward Richardson who appeared to be the brother of Osy. Ward Richardson was a nickname that was used by the sons of Osy Richardson though before viewing the death certificate the origin of this nickname was unknown.
  • The photo we had of O.C./Osy Richardson showed that he was quite a bit older than Thelma; the age of Osy of Pickens County, Alabama would have made him 16 years older than Thelma, and this fit the way the photo looked as well.


Ocy/O.C. Richardson died in Pickens County, Alabama, in 1938. DNA indicated that his likely parents were Mack Richardson and Violet Neal of Pickens County, Alabama. The sources we located are listed for Ocy Richardson and his family members in the FamilySearch Family Tree, ID G397-Z6T.

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