German DNA Project from LivingDNA

By James M. Beidler Premium

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If you have German ancestry and feel like you’re missing out on a lot of the DNA-for-genealogy craze, you’ve generally had good reason to be. Simply stated: Very few Germans have taken a DNA test for genealogy purposes, somewhat limiting its usefulness to German researchers. Many Germans have been reluctant to join genetic genealogy studies because of privacy concerns—as well as the general distaste left from the misuse of genetic information by Nazi Germany to support its racist theories, according to Timo Kracke of German megasite Compgen. But this “late to the party” problem might just be ready to turn a corner.

British-based company LivingDNA, fresh from some exciting projects regarding the British Isles, is spearheading the German DNA Research Project along with Germany’s largest genealogy society Verein für Computergenealogie e.V.

The early stages of the project have broken down Germany into 24 distinct areas, with the goal of identifying particular genetic traits for each region. Most of these areas reflect the borders of modern Germany (and, for the most part, the current German state boundaries, though some states are further subdivided or follow older tribal boundaries; see the map at right), but the project also includes former German territories that are now in Poland: Pozen, Silesia, and West and East Prussia.

To continue building the database, LivingDNA is seeking those who have four German grandparents who were born within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of each other. The hope is that the DNA data from these clusters of individuals will allow the service to identify autosomal DNA strands particular to the distinct areas preliminarily identified.

In some ways, this project is like AncestryDNA’s recently unveiled Genetic Communities feature, which identified groups of AncestryDNA members who are connected through DNA, most likely because they descend from a population of common ancestors. The LivingDNA German project, of course, will attempt to map all of Germany with “greater details,” according to Kracke.

So, how might this benefit Americans with German ancestry? Eventually, this project will allow Germans to determine which part of the homeland their families came from, hopefully correcting widely held rumors. For example, the colonial wave of German-speaking immigrants to America were dubbed “Palatines,” even though many did not come from the Palatinate region of Germany. The LivingDNA project might show an American tester strands of DNA from another German state, giving a vital clue to redirect research to the new area.