McCool Name Study - Y-DNA Upsets

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Hillmount Farm, Toberhead Townland

This is one of several research areas of the McCool Name Study.


Introduction to the Toberhead McCool Line

Hillmount Farm, aerial view

The "Toberhead Line" is a nickname given to the family and descendants of John McCoole Sr (abt. 1645 - abt. 1719). John built a farmhouse in about 1670 or so in Toberhead Townland in the civil parish of Maghera, in the barony of Loughinsholin, in the county of Londonderry, in the province of Ulster, in (now Northern) Ireland. Referred to as Hillmount, it's surrounded on almost three sides by the Moyola River. It's located about two miles northwest of Castledawson, and about midway between the major cities of Londonderry and Belfast. A second, smaller house was built on the property about 1735. The farm was handed down from McCool father to first-born son for almost 200 years.

John's eldest son, Archibald McCoole (abt.1685-abt.1740), inherited the farm, while his six younger sons emigrated to America. They settled first in the New Castle County, Delaware area and then eventually split up into the Philadelphia area, Maryland, and Virginia. Their sons would primarily push further south into the Carolinas - and their descendants would move further west into GA, AL, and MS - and west/northwest into TN, KY, OH, IN, and IL.

We've long known that there are multiple unrelated McCool lines in the world (unrelated on the direct paternal line). But many of the conclusions that researchers have drawn over the past twenty years ago assumed that these McCool men who lived near each other in the 1700s and 1800s were all descendants of this Toberhead McCool line. New Y-DNA tests have proven that there are at least two separate McCool lines in the area (from as far back as the 1700s). Although both lines definitely had early McCool ancestors, we no longer know which (if either) line is the Toberhead McCool line.

The Problems

Many McCool researchers, faced with ambiguous records (when they existed at all), have drawn the best conclusions that they could at the time. We've estimated birth dates from adult life events (such as buying property). We've drawn conclusions about family lineage based on naming conventions. We've assumed that neighboring McCools were closely related. At least a few of those widely-accepted conclusions, however, are proving to be wrong.

Y-DNA tests without a supporting paper trail aren't particularly helpful. But it turns out that ambiguous paper trails without supporting Y-DNA tests aren't very useful either.

Almost all of our current (as of Aug 2022) Y-DNA tests from descendants of possible Toberhead ancestors appear to descend from John McCoole Sr's second son, John McCool Jr (abt.1690-1761), (with possibly some descendants from his first son, Archibald McCool (abt.1685-abt.1740)). However, there are two different groups of matching men - which isn't possible if they share a common McCool ancestor

Until we get some matching Y-DNA tests from descendants of John Sr's younger sons (especially James McCool Sr (1709-1751) and Walter McCool (abt.1712-abt.1796)), we won't know which of these McCool lines is the Toberhead McCool line.

The Toberhead Paper Trails

We're lucky to have a fairly extensive set of Quaker records from the 1700s (and even a few from the 1600s) about the Toberhead McCools. Only a small subset, though, connect a McCool to other family members. Most Quaker records identify people by name only. Records of a "John McCool" could be a single person - or could be father, son, nephew, or grandson without context. In some cases, they were probably not related at all.

We're similarly fortunate to have a number of early McCool wills. But the Toberhead McCool practice was to disperse legacies to children prior to death, so children were rarely named in wills. Another widespread practice was to name the eldest McCool son for his grandfather, then perhaps name a later son for his father. We end up with a LOT of McCools born at about the same time or living in the same community with identical names. Many of these names are fairly common, such as James, George, William, Adam, and Thomas - which are likely used in unrelated McCool families as well.

Scot-Irish Migration Paths

Scot-Irish families, such as the Toberhead McCools, tended to follow similar migration patterns in the 1700s. Younger sons would migrate from Ulster to eastern Pennsylvania (including Maryland and Delaware), then their descendants would move on to Virginia and the Carolinas. In the early 1800s, descendants would migrate further west into Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, and so on. Other Scot-Irish McCool families, who weren't related to the Toberhead McCools on their paternal line (but perhaps related otherwise), followed the same pattern. Inevitably, some of the different McCool lines ended up in the same area (such as Scot-Irish hubs like Hillsborough NC).

Possible Toberhead Y-DNA Tests

Y-DNA tests prove absolutely that two matching men share a common paternal-line ancestor (son to father to grandfather...). The tests don't identify who that common ancestor was. For that we need a supporting paper trail. While we have strong supporting evidence of John Sr's children, the identities of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are highly disputed.

All six of the initial "Toberhead" McCool Y-DNA tests matched, giving researchers great confidence that we were on the right track.

The earliest Toberhead Y-DNA tests supported the early ambiguous Toberhead McCool paper trails. Four matching men may be descendants of Benjamin McCool (abt.1735-abt.1805), while a fifth is believed to be a descendant of John McCool Jr (abt.1690-1761). The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of these five men is believed to be either John McCool (abt.1645-abt.1719) or John McCoole Jr (depending on who the father of Benjamin was).

The next Y-DNA test to come in was from a descendant of Archibald McCool (abt.1740-1780). Archibald had been believed to be either the brother or first cousin of Benjamin McCool. The relationship was "determined" largely because they were born about the same time and because both lived near Hillsborough NC in the 1760s. Due to McCool naming conventions, Archibald McCool was assumed to be the grandson of Archibald McCoole (abt.1685-abt.1740) - so Benjamin McCool was assumed to be his grandson as well. However, the test from Archibald's descendant didn't match to the Y-DNA tests from Benjamin's four descendants, so this proved they were on different McCool lines.

What did this mean? Was Archibald1740 from an earlier McCool line? Was he born out of wedlock or adopted into a McCool family? We just didn't know.

The next test to come in was a Big Y-700 test from a descendant of John Jr. He matched to all five of the early testers, lending support to their paper trail. Even more importantly, one of the original testers also upgraded to a Big Y-700. Both men matched, but with a likely common ancestor born about 1680. This supports the theory that they both descend from either John Sr or John Jr.

In August 2021, we received a new Y-111 test that we expected to match to the (now six) Toberhead McCool tests. It did not; instead he matched to the Archibald1740 line.

We always knew that the Archibald connection to the Toberhead line was circumstantial, but we thought the connection for this second line was solid. Instead, it appears we have assigned one of the men in the line to the wrong McCool father.

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