|20 August 2019 • Michael Cooley, BA, MA
The Cult of the Bogus Dutch Cooleys
Lura Coolley Hamil died of a heart attack in Lincoln, Illinois at the beginning of January 1933. She'd spent the previous several months looking for a publisher for her book, A Story of Pioneering, for which she spent fewer than six months of research. In her own words, "Research begun June 25, writing of the narrative begun August 25, and copying of the whole completed December 21, 1931."1 The work professes to be not only a history of her Coolley family, but a history and comprehensive genealogy of a larger and ancient Dutch family (Cool or Cole) that had immigrated generations earlier to New Amsterdam. In a 2001 book, Richard H Benson demonstrates that the patriarch of the Dutch family was Barent Cool (1610-1684+).2
In the 1950s, Hamil's cousin, Louise McIntyre, found her manuscript in the closet of a home that was about to be demolished. She and others raised the needed funds and published the book in 1955. On the face of it, the events make this a rather heart-warming lost-then-found story. It was an accomplishment that must have given Hamil's relatives a great deal of satisfaction. The problem is that virtually none of the family's early history, as related by Hamil, is true.
If true, they'd have all had the same Y chromosome.
A treasurer for the Cooley Family Association of America (CFAA) and one of the its founders in 1936, Frank E Cooley Jr., indexed the work during the 1960s, studied and wrote about many of the details described in the book, and, by 1968, came to the conclusion that "this book of Mrs. Hamil's should never be used as an authority for the information in it." His wife, Elizabeth Cooley, once the editor of the association's newsletter, Cooley Communique, had stronger words in a letter to Dennis A Young in 1977, "Dear Denny, I am so glad you are of an enquiring mind ... Mrs. Hamil went about grabbing up anything she felt might go together, has mixed up many different Cooley families, etc. ... Genealogically speaking it should be labeled with a huge 'Skull and cross bones.'"
By the time I inquired with the CFAA in the 1990s, the organization had returned to the Dutch Cooley hypothesis and was promoting Hamil's work. Although no Dutch connections could be found in my research, it wasn't until I received my first Y-DNA test in 2006 that I can began to push back. I've written several articles on the subject and during my two-year involvement with the CFAA did what I could to promote something closer the reality of Hamil's work.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty about the many errors in Hamil's work — and there's a great many of them — DNA quickly gets to the heart of the matter.3 To the right is a partial representation of Hamil's genealogy taken from an animated GIF I created for a rather brief 2016 article for my genetic genealogy blog. It represents a very small slice of Hamil's tree.
The Y chromosome carries the male sex gene. Unlike the other chromosomes, we don't receive recombined halves of it from each parent. The mother simply doesn't have one. It's a matter of fact, any man's Y looks like his biological dad's Y. My Y-DNA type (or haplogroup) is YP4491. My dad had the same markers, as did his dad. All my paternal male cousins — and more than a dozen have tested (even beyond fifth cousins) — are of the YP4491 haplogroup. From this we know that my 6th great grandfather, John Cooley (c1737-1811), was YP4491. I Hamil was correct, all the patrilineal descendants of Barent Cool (1610-1684+), an immigrant from the Netherlands, would be YP4491.
Already we have a problem, one quickly recognized in 2006. YP4491 is of the broader and much older L448 haplogroup, nicknamed "Young Scandinavian." Y-DNA testing has demonstrated that the Scottish chieftain, Somerled (died 1164), the founder of several ancient Scottish clans (including MacDougall and MacDonald) and historically believed to have been of Viking decent, was of the L448 haplogroup. My Cooleys have also been shown to be genetically related to the ancient barons Cochran who lived in or near Renfrewshire. (This, incidentally, is where Somerled died in battle in 1164.)
Of course, the Vikings raided and settled all over Europe and beyond, from present-day Kiev to North America. The Kingdom of Sicily was founded by a Viking-Norman descendant. Ancient Viking runes are found in Jerusalem. Who is to say that Viking DNA didn't end up in the Netherlands, migrated to Britain, and crossed the Atlantic to Virginia. No one, of course. But this is neither a story about the Vikings nor about my brand of Cooleys. It's merely one of several components.
The Cooley DNA Project has several families grouped according to their Y-STR DNA, repeating sequences of DNA letters (A, C, T, and G). The proof needed to dispel Hamil's theory is found in the first twelve markers of several male Cooley testers whose lineages are implicated in her genealogy. Because the mutation rates for these twelve are especially slow, testers with more than one difference among (a genetic distance of one out of twelve) are likely not related within at least the last 25 generations. Here we have genetic distance of six and more. Some of these men were possibly related to one another through their mother's mother's father, etc, but they were not even close to being patrilineally related. There is likely a separation of thousands of years.
Forensic genetics goes far beyond simple genealogy. Prior to the mapping of the Human Genome, population geneticists used blood types to study the movements of populations around the world. But there are only a handful of such markers. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of markers have and are being discovered. Our DNA may vary among us by no more than one or two percent, but the diversity within our species is remarkable.
The number of genetic-born successes in several fields is astounding. Here are some examples. Variation among the maternal mitochondrial DNA population in Britain is far smaller than among the male Y chromosomal population. This suggests that the women had pretty much stayed in place while men came in from elsewhere and displaced much of the indigenous male population, the Norse invasions being a case in point. DNA has allowed anthropologists to identify the once-lost remains of Richard III, and to prove that Thomas Jefferson had children with his slave, Sally Hemings. We now know that the 9,000 year-old Cheddar Man of Somerset, England, discovered in 1903, has relatives still living in the vicinity, and that the 5,000 year-old Ötzi the Iceman, discovered in 1991, was lactose intolerant and had eaten some ibex a couple of hours before his death. Further afield, the genetic revolution is quickly becoming a medical revolution.
The Y chromosome is the perfect tool for genealogical myth busting. Although similar accountings can be made with autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, its detail and comparatively rapid mutation rates makes the Y especially powerful. It leaves no doubt that the exhortations among the members of the Cult of the Bogus Dutch Cooleys, while they conduct readings from the Book of Hamil, are worthless. John Cooley (c1737-1811) of Stokes County, North Carolina was not born Johann Cornelius Cole in New York. That distinction belonged to another man. Not a single piece of evidence, found in Hamil or elsewhere, suggests otherwise.
1. As quoted in her original manuscript, now in the holdings of the Illinois State Library, and for which a photocopy is in my possession and online at ancestraldata.com/ahnentafel/256/Hamil_Manuscript.html . She added in pen: "Revision and preparation for publication completed July 1, 1932."
2. Richard H. Benson, The Barent Jacobsen Cool Family (Boston: Newbury Street Press, 2001).
3. I delve into considerable detail in a PDF paper at http://ancestraldata.com/staging/hamil.pdf.