Michael Cooley's Genetic Genealogy Blog GEN • GEN
25 July 2018

Brief Update On Cooley CF07

Two members of group CF07 of the Cooley DNA Project have had Big Y testing — more than ten million sequenced positions on the Y chromosome, which passes only from father to son. Because both men are patrilineally descended from John A Cooley (1756-1794) of Spartanburg, South Carolina, they have his Y chromosome. Therefore, we have an exact record of a DNA print that dates back to John's birth in 1756.

And we have two STR testers for the descendants of Stephen Cooley (c1780-c1829) of Franklin County, North Carolina. Neither men have done advanced SNP mutation testing, but all four testers have matching haplotypes (STRs). Without doubt, the two groups are closley related to one another.

As far as I know, perfect parental data is lacking for both Stephen and John A. Clearly, the presumed fathers, John (1834) and John (1725), could not have been brothers. If the genealogy is correct back to that point, then their Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) had to be at least their grandfather. John C Cooley left a will in Halifax County, North Carolina. It names son John, wife Martha, and "My children." As far as I know, none of these other children have been identified. We need to ask whether the traditional lineage is correct. (After all, very often they're not.)

Like so many early American families, the genealogies for these North Carolina Cooleys are a mess. Some websites have Martha, John C's wife, dead in 1748, despite the fact that her son John was born in 1756 and her husband mentions her in his 1767 will. Even worse, there is no indication in primary documentation that John had a C as a middle initial. I fear that it was a later invention (I've seen many instances of this) resulting from the growing belief that he was John Couch Cooley, said to have been a son of Peter Cooley and Hannah Couch of Connecticut, Peter being a descendant of Samuell Coley (1614-1684). There are at least two problems with that assertion. The first is that the baptismal records for Peter and Hannah's children are listed in the parish records of Fairfield, Connecticut. They are Hannah (4 Aug 1700), Peter (30 Aug 1702), Simon (30 Jan 1704), Elizabeth (24 March 1706), Andrew (25 July 1708), Ebenezer (8 Oct 1710), Ebenezer (4 March 1712), David (13 March 1715), Jonathan (30 Jan 1717), and Mary (18 Jan 1721). Nary a John among them. (All of Peter's sons, by the way, appear to have died in Connecticut.)

And it's even worse than that. The genetics doesn't work out. Here are the 12-marker haplotypes comparing the descendants of Samuell Coley with those of John Cooley of Spartanburg, South Carolina:

That's a genetic distance (GD) of 4! Two men who are related, even if separated by hundreds of years, will not have a GD (among these twelve markers) greater than 1. SNP descent makes it even clearer:

P312 represents a mutation that occurred at position 19995425 on the Y chromosome with the birth of a man about 4,500 years ago — about the time the pyramids of Giza were being built in Egypt. That marker passed down through both lines via the Y chromosome from father to son, to son, to son, for hundreds of generations. Although these lineages share that SNP, they diverge from one another at that point. Without doubt, John A Cooley of Spartanburg, South Carolina was not the grandson of Peter Cooley of Fairfield, Connecticut.

The CF07 Cooleys have a fascinating genetic history. They descend from Clan Colla, those descended from The Three Collas, brothers who played a legendary role during 4th-century Ireland. That's not a heritage to shirk from. Samuell Coley, presently a little-understood lineage in group CF02, was born in Hertfordshire, England — a county near London — in the early 17th century. Already, the family was well-established in the area. Samuell was the son-in-law of James Prudden, brother of Reverend Peter Prudden, a Puritan preacher who accompanied a boatload of religious separatists to New England in 1637. Some view these families as interesting choices. But genealogy isn't about choosing your heritage; it's about determining it — for good or for ill. Indeed, good genealogy cuts across religious, ethnic, and political partisanship.

Several years ago I worked with a group of genealogists who were trying to find a home for a thousand books on genealogy, many of them classic works. I spoke to the director of the local library about it. He pursed his lips, looked at me with blank, dead-pan eyes, and said, "You know that academics don't take genealogy seriously." In a way, he was right. Genealogy has been given a bad name by know-nothing "practitioners," people who have no idea what evidence means and think it's just fine, thank you, to blend fact and fantasy. Determining ancestry, it seems they believe, amounts to rolling dice. That attitude does a disservice to all who work earnestly and with great care and effort.

The librarian's remark was uninformed, callous, and cynical. In fact, he has no business being a librarian. Among my genealogy friends, I count linguists, physicists, geneticists, and historians. They understand the nature of evidence and know that genetics can cut through the gunk of falsehoods and myth. The public merely needs to become informed.