Thanks to The Cooley Genealogy, a two volume (1200 page) summary of the descendants of Ensign Benjamin Cooley published in 1941 by Mortimer E. Cooley, much is known about those who descended from him, but little is known about Benjamin’s ancestors. The records (e.g. birth and real estate) are clear about how Benjamin settled down in Springfield, MA, and that he and his wife Sarah produced eight children, all of whom were born in Springfield between 1643 and 1662. It is also possible to trace all of the descendants for each of those eight children, some for at least 12 generations. Here for example is my Cooley lineage:
For those eleven generations, the records are crystal clear. I am absolutely a descendent of Benjamin Cooley. Genetically speaking, my y-chromosome, which is passed on from father to son, is a copy of his. Knowing this, I wondered what might be learned from my y-DNA about the origins of Benjamin. This is important since the records of his history prior to his arrival in Springfield are not at all clear. In The Cooley Genealogy there is much speculation about his possible origins, but no hard data.
A web site established by Greg Parker has compiled DNA records from members of the Cooley family. One of his Cooley family groups, which he labeled CF02, includes seven of us with y-DNA results that are so similar that we must have a common ancestor, and that common ancestor is probably Benjamin Cooley. He definitely is for four of us in that group. Their similar DNA profiles illustrate the stability of the male lineage. So I decided to explore how DNA might help to clarify the origins of the Cooley family. We do not have Benjamin’s DNA, but we have the DNA from some of his direct descendants.
Steve Oppenheimer at Oxford University has done extensive studies of the DNA of those who live in the British Isles, and his book The Origins of the British, is a remarkable summary of his research. He has also established a laboratory which collects current DNA samples from individuals and reports back to them their results. I did that with the following result: “Using the Oppenheimer Clan Test for British and Irish origins, Stephen Oppenheimer has determined that you are male gene type R1b-12. This type is one of the nearly 50 clusters of male gene founding clans.” Clan R1b-12, also known as a haplogroup, is one of the indigenous people that migrated into the British Isles from Iberia between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, who we know as Celts. Haplogroup R1b-12 is “strongly represented in Wales and Ireland, the Fen country, and along the Atlantic coast of Britain” according to Oppenheimer’s studies of current DNA distributions.
As Oppenheimer and others ( e. g. Bryan Sykes in Saxons, Vikings and Celts) make clear, during the Last Glacial Maximum, about 20,000 years ago, the only thing on British soil was a very large glacier, with no English Channel, no Irish sea, and no people. As the ice slowly melted (in an earlier global warming) people began moving in over the land bridges that were not yet flooded over. One series of migrations came up the Atlantic coast from Iberia, including Benjamin Cooley’s ancestors, the R1b haplogroup, beginning about 15,000 years ago. Our more specific haplogroup, R1b-12, emerged during the expansions of those early indigenous lines, about 4,000 years ago.
Another migration into the British Isles came down from Norway, haplogroup R1a1, about 5,000 years ago. This later migration included the ancestors of another Cooley Family Group in Greg Parker’s DNA collection, CF01. Their similar y-DNA indicates that they share a common ancestor (but not Benjamin). According to the Oppenheimer Clan Test that was done for one of the four Cooleys in CF01, this group of Cooleys is from the clan R1a1-2b, which moved to the British Isles from what is now Bergen, Norway. Comparing the DNA results for these two Cooley families (CF01 and CF02) illustrates how DNA profiles can inform the study of genealogical origins.
What we learn from genetic studies of human migration is that the ancestors of Benjamin Cooley were among the very early inhabitants of the British Isles. These Celts spread all over the British Isles, and were the indigenous folks which the Romans found when they invaded England at about the time Christ was born. Just exactly where our “Cooley y-DNA” was located at that time is unknown. Of course there is a big gap between a haplogroup moving up the Atlantic coast into the British Isles over 10,000 years ago and where Benjamin Cooley was living in the early 1600’s. Someday the rapidly expanding DNA databases may allow us to find more exact matches of British y-DNA to our own, and trace their lineage. Our CFAA genealogist, Doug Cooley, has been stimulating this new aspect of genealogy. Go to the DNA tab on the CFAA web site and find out how you can participate.
The Origins of the British A genetic detective story: the surprising roots of the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. By Stephen Oppenheimer Carroll & Graf, 2006 534 pgs
Saxons, Vikings and Celts The genetic roots of Britain and Ireland by Bryan Sykes W. W. Norton, 2006 307 pgs
Mapping Human History Genes, race, and our common origins by Steve Olson Houghton Mifflin, 2002 293 pgs