Michael Cooley's Genetic Genealogy Blog
26 June 2021

Update for Cooley Group CF01 (R1a-YP4491)

Progress on this group has been stalled for quite a long time, despite my personal interest in it (it's my Y chromosomal genetic tribe). However, if mere interest is all that is needed to make headway on an issue, this puzzle would have been solved a very long time ago. But, alas, a lot of fires need to be lit under a lot of butts in order to move forward — and, I have discovered, most butts don't like that. In the meantime, we project administrators take what we're handed and make the most of it.

Boundary extensions are often needed in order to make progress, and our group has had trouble fixing a geographical location in the British Isles for our tiny tribe of space-time nomads. Because looking beyond our immediate horizon is always a good idea, I created the R1a-YP4248 Subclade Project a bit more than a year ago. Still, during that time I've watched the grass get greener on the other side while we phylogenetically-impoverished R1a-YP4491 tended to our dry corner patch.

There was a bright light at the beginning of our Big Y journey. The results from a Hackett (kit #323704) stimulated our interest in that test (it looks at up to 15 million locations on the Y chromosome), and we soon learned that he shares a haplogroup (a unique collection of markers) with the Cooleys. We also found a distant match (YP609, I believe) with a Scandinavian. This confirmed our likely Scots-Norse origins. Furthermore, Hackett had traced his lineage to a 1746 birth in Derbyshire. (I found there a promising match with a family of Cowleys but, without their DNA, that's nothing short of speculation.) Then, not long after Hackett came on the scene, we again entered a long era of the World Wide Wait. ("...the others wait in Casablanca — and wait — and wait — and wait.")

Eventually, however, the once silent Whitfields began to step forward. Although STR testing had already informed us that a relationship existed, the Big Y was a surprise: The descendants of William Whitfield (1751-1835) and John Cooley (c1738-1811) are virtual Y-DNA clones to one another. Nothing, in fact, has been found differentiating the families other than the surname, and that in itself is likely to provide a smidgen of glue in the future.

Descendants of seven of John Cooley's sons have Y-DNA tested. All match perfectly. But another family of Cooleys, first found in Pennsylvania with a birth in 1797 and with no known association to John, also perfectly match, at least SNP-wise. But there is an interesting STR mismatch, DYS464=12-15-15-16. Instead, John's descendants have DYS464b=13, not 15. (I explain this below.) As small a difference as it is, it has turned out the be significant.

Two more testers have recently joined the project, including a long-awaited YP4491 match (again, the Cooley-Whitfield cluster). John Higdon (1657-1723) immigrated to Maryland in the late 17th century, making him the earliest-known YP4491 arrival to America. As far as I can tell, his lineage looks solid going back at least that far. Higdon's reported birth in Yorkshire, however, is speculative. Still, early cursory research does indicate that the name's early home was Yorkshire. But even that comes with a caveat: Judging from the Higdon DNA Project, the major R1a haplogroup is rare for the name, as it is for Cooley, Whitfield and the other names associated with our side of the R1-YP4248 tree.

We might not be confident about Higdon's birth place but he is a perfect match to YP4491 and has only two private variants. The STRs, however, look a bit more like the Hackett tester. He has the same DYS464b=15 marker belonging Hackett, the "other" Cooleys, and most of the rest of the R1a-YP4248 project.

And finally (for now at least), a matching Hawley has joined the project. His Big Y has just been ordered. It'll be a number of weeks before we know anything for sure. But his Y-111 STR results (see the Big Blue Box on the project's page) place him just below the Cooleys and among the Hacketts and Higdons. If he's not positive for YP4491, I seriously expect he'll belong with the upstream YP4253. Like the Hacketts, Higdons, and what I now call "Old CF01" Cooleys, he has DYS464b=15 and is definitely outside the Cooley-Whitfield haplotype, if not outside YP4491 altogether. The possibility exists that the Big Y results will cause either YP4491 or its parent YP4253, to break up into a new subclade.

See the full graphic at R1a-YP4248 Subclade Project

The markers in the beige boxes are SNPs, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. This event occurs when one of the four genetic letters mutates to another. YP4491, for example, is a mutation at position 2846003 of the Y chromosome — a 'G' became a 'T' in a man born perhaps 300-600 years ago. All succeeding fatherline descendants have and will inherit it.

The power of SNPs is found in their simplicity and in their long lives through a great many generations. (Some are 300,000 years old.) Because of their stability and marvelous rate of survival, a relative age to the other markers can be determined. In other words, a SNP mutation born in a grandfather might have, say, twelve children and grandchildren. A SNP born 40,000 years ago could have filled an entire continent (and beyond) with descendants. Conversely, the small YP4491 group might have propagated to, perhaps, several hundred. In other words, the more expansive the population, the older the mutual Y-DNA markers and the older the mutual ancestor. By taking samples across such a population, a Y-SNP can eventually be triangulated to a specific place, era, and community. Good stuff.

Those who have read my articles know that I'm not a big fan of STRs, short strings of genetic letters that repeat in the same region of the chromosome N number of times. They certainly have their place, particularly in allowing for an inexpensive, quick, and dirty way to group testers. But they live in unstable regions of the Y and are vulnerable to regular mutation. Worse, the count can go either up or down making its history very difficult to pin down. And enough markers can change in an STR panel that their usefulness often doesn't exceed fifteen generations. Generally, DNA trees based on STRs are simply not reliable. But let's look at one that happens to have some benefit to the YP4248 project, particularly to YP4491 descendants, and especially to Cooley-Whitfield.

DYS464, considered to be one of the fastest mutating markers, consists of repeatable strings of CCTT. It's unusual to the others in that it has at least four copies, each set of repeats represented in the manner of X-X-X-X, as shown at the top of the graphic. Each copy can be separately notated as DYS464a, b, c, and d. Additional copies continue as DYS464e, f, g, etc. Because it's easy to spot while grouping STR results, I'll often use it as a starting point. It's useless, however, for Group 1 of the Strother DNA Project and holds no predictive properties. But it works very well for our R1a-YP4248 Project. Of the 71 testers, only 23 break the pattern, 17 of them being Cooleys or Whitfields. Of the remaining 5, all are of the larger YP5007 subclade. No pattern has been detected among them. There's only the overwhelming presence of 12-15-15-17.

However, the Cooley-Whitfield DYS464b marker (=13) has shown to be a consistent friend to our group and one that might one day help nail our lineage. But caution is needed. Friends sometimes turn out to be fickle and I expect the pattern to be broken with enough testers. Still, a consistent test group of 17 individuals for a marker that hasn't been around for long, is rather convincing. We now know that John Cooley and William Whitfield were both born with this mutation, and there's a high probability their mutual ancestor had it. But because of the naughty nature of this marker, the chances are great that it emerged only a few generations prior to their births. After all, virtually all the Cooley-Whitfield cousins have DYS464b=15 and that marker has persisted in the lineage for a number of generations, well beyond the emergence of the four YP4491 SNPs, as demonstrated by its presence throughout the YP4248 tree. My present prediction, then, is that this Cooley-Whitfield marker, DYS464b=13 (in context within the SNP tree), revealed itself on either side of 1700, perhaps with John Cooley's father or grandfather.1 But, as I often say, we won't know until we know.

Approximate locations early 1700s.
Blue is confirmed. Red is speculative.

To date, the YP4253 subclade (YP4491's "parent") has uncovered at least four and perhaps five surnames, all of which are very English-sounding: the aforesaid Hackett, Higdon, Cooley, Whitfield, and perhaps Hawley. (I contend that our flavor of Cooley is derived from cow field. A common alternate spelling, Colley, is often said to have been coal field). Surnames are, of course, a study of their own. Suffice it to say that names such as these emerged in the late Medieval period. But surnames are a social convention only, and the "rules" surrounding them are often broken. Indeed, it's a rare thing to trace a name back 800 years. And it must be remembered that like-sounding modern surnames often lack common Y genetic origins, as can be readily gleaned by a quick glance at the Cooley DNA Project. In fact, genetics has effectively demonstrated that any two people having the same surname may have to go back as many as 20,000 years or further before they encounter a common lineage. Such is the Y genetic difference between the CF01 and CF02 Cooleys (and viva la difference!).

Because the last emerged of the several R1a-YP4248 SNPs could be a mere thousand-plus years old, I came into this project with the idea that at least some of those SNPs originated in the British Isles. But it has been recently suggested by a Scandinavian researcher that its two known subclades, YP4248 and YP5007, could have migrated separately from different regions and arrived at different times. Indeed, I've been puzzled by the reasonably large genetic gap between the two sibling groups (YP4253 and YP5007) and have wondered when new testers would come along to fill it. It's entirely possible that the missing pieces are now couch-surfing in Sweden or Denmark. But one thing is clear: they're not testing! (This brings us back to the opening butt complaint.)

Surnames are cultural and historical artifacts. SNPs and STRs are biological markers and, because of their unassailable inheritance pattern, they serve as the perfect complement to surname studies. These five English names (there are likely more out there) came to us via a common ancestor, probably someone who lived well-within the genealogical timeframe. The modest graphics illustrated above are both maps having significant signposts. In the end, all roads lead to a resolution.

1. Unlike most SNPs, there's nothing terribly unique in any one STR marker: DYS464b=13 can exist anywhere among the human population. Yes, a large array of STRs (the Y-111 product, for example) might be specific to a haplogroup, but individually, they need to be viewed within the context of SNPs and the haplogroups they form.