Was Alfred H. D. Cooke’s Father Really James Cooke?

By Cliff McCarthy, 2016
Last Updated in May 2017


This image, believed to be Alfred H. D. Cooke, is dated 1919 on reverse. (courtesy of Bruce Cooke)

An enduring question for Cooke family historians has been whether Alfred Henry Davis Cooke’s father was James Cooke, the man who raised him as his son. To review: Alfred Henry Davis Cooke was the eldest child of Dinah Davis, born in 1843 at Ship Inn, Pett, Sussex, England. He was baptised on 5 April 1843, but his father’s name does not appear on his baptismal record, which listed him only as “Alfred Henry Davis.” James Cooke and Dinah Davis were married in 1845, and the Cooke surname was given to Alfred after their marriage, thus the question of Alfred’s paternity.

DNA testing has produced some evidence that has never before been available. A DNA match between me and one Jeff Mackey, whom I have never met but is certainly a Cooke cousin, shows that Jeff’s great-grandfather, Walter Cooke, came to America from the same part of Sussex, England as our Cookes. We have a solid paper trail connecting Walter Cooke to James and Dinah Cooke, making Walter Cooke the first cousin to Alfred Lionel Cooke, our immigrant ancestor.  The genealogical trail shows that, on paper, Jeff and I should be 4th cousins.

However, based on the DNA results, our genetic relationship is projected at “5th to 8th cousins,” meaning that the amount of overlap in our genome is less than what would be expected if we were fully 4th cousins.

In May 2017, another match from the same family line was reported at AncestryDNA. Eileen Duffy is descended from Joseph Cooke, Walter Cooke’s brother. On paper, she and I should be third cousins, once removed. Once again, however, AncestryDNA projects our relationship, based on the amount of DNA in common, to be “5th to 8th cousins.”

Now, this is hardly the only explanation for these results, and another match or two is needed to confirm, but given the information we have, it looks to me to be strong evidence pointing to Dinah Davis’ daliance with someone other than James Cooke.

Perhaps, more importantly, it also says something about the character of James Cooke, in that he adopted Dinah’s child and raised him as his own.

I won’t say there are no secrets, but in spite of Dinah’s best efforts, the truth comes out after 173 years.


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