DNA analysis has progressed to the point where even old samples of hair can now be reliably used to obtain genetic and biological information. Over the years, at least eight different locks of hair were said to belong to Beethoven. Researchers collected and analyzed them recently, and published the results in Current Biology.
The most famous lock of his hair – the subject of a book, a documentary, and the one whose lead levels suggested lead poisoning – turned out to belong to a woman. But five of the other samples matched each other, two of which had excellent chain of custody indicating that they were likely from Beethoven.
As LBR’s Assistant (to the) Regional Genealogist, I was all over a fascinating article published yesterday, describing the sleuthing and results. Specifically:
- Beethoven was not a Beethoven. Modern day families in Belgium and Austria trace their Beethoven lineage to an ancestor named Aert van Beethoven. This was Ludwig’s great-grandfather, seven generations back. Ludwig shared no DNA with those other members of the Beethoven family!
Somewhere between Aert and Ludwig, a renegade baby daddy got involved. If this is like a lot of other family trees, someday we’ll find out the true genetic line, as more and more people get testing done.
- The hair showed Hepatitis B DNA, which may have explained Beethoven’s cirrhosis, as Hepatitis B can lead to chronic hepatitis in a significant number of people.
- No obvious cause or predisposition for his deafness or gastrointestinal maladies was uncovered. The DNA testing has its limitations, of course, but at least sheds some light on popular areas of speculation regarding Beethoven’s health.