If you had a genealogical DNA test done through AncestryDNA, you may have discovered that you have Germanic Europe DNA in your ethnicity report. But what is Germanic Europe and what does your report actually mean? Germany’s present borders only date back to 1945, and your ancestors may have lived there long before.
Who were those Germanic ancestors, where did they come from, and how were they related to the people around them?
The earliest tribes that are typically called Germanic date to about 750 BC, and inhabited the northern coast of present-day Germany, along with southern Scandinavia.
Over the next 750 years, these tribes gradually expanded their territory, pushing their way west into modern Belgium and the Netherlands, east into Poland and the Ukraine, and as far south as the Danube River.
Enter the Romans
In the first century BC, Julius Caesar led his armies into Gaul (France). He built the first known bridge across the Rhine and led a brief campaign against the Germanic tribes in that area. The Romans didn’t meet any resistance, however, as the Germans retreated rather than put up a fight.
With no one to conquer, Caesar led his troops back across the Rhine. There were several skirmishes over the following years, but no major invasions in either direction. By about 100 AD the “Limes Germanicus” was established, marking the border between the Romans and the Germans along the Rhine and Danube rivers.
Growth of larger tribes
With their ability to expand limited, the Germanic tribes gradually began to consolidate their territories and identities. The second and third centuries saw the growth of several tribes, including the Alamanni, Bavarii, Burgundians, Chatti, Franks, Frisii, Lombards, Ostrogoths, Saxons, Sicambri, Thuringii, Vandals, and Visigoths.
By the end of the third century, some of these larger tribes were able to expand beyond the Limes Germanicus and push their way in to Roman territory.
The Migration Period in Europe began by 375 AD, and perhaps as early as 300. This period saw considerable movement of various groups, especially in southern and western Europe. The Germans took advantage of this time to expand their own influence, as well.
The Franks struck a treaty with Rome and worked their way across northern France, gradually replacing the Roman garrisons who controlled the region. As the Roman Empire fell, the Franks claimed the territory as their own, calling it Francia.
The Hun invasion swept its way out of the Caucasus and Central Asia, across Eastern Europe, and pushed its way as far as France by 450 AD. Their greatest impact was to the south and east of Germany, but they came into conflict with the Germanic tribes as well, particularly in the south. More importantly, they began an age of rapid migration that lasted more than 200 years as people fled before them, or took advantage of the chaos they left behind.
The Visigoths and Ostrogoths, two of the eastern-most Germanic tribes, drove their way into the Roman Empire in the wake of the Hun attack and sacked Rome in 410 AD. They continued westward into southern Gaul (France) and Hispania (Spain), where they settled down and formed the Visigothic Kingdom, which stretched from the Loire River to the Straits of Gibraltar and survived about 300 years.
Also during the fifth century, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes took advantage of the crumbling Roman Empire to invade and settle in Britain. This influx of Germans into Britain continued gradually for the next two centuries.
Consolidation into duchies and the Holy Roman Empire
As the Migration Period ended and things began to settle down, borders between the Germanic tribes became better established. Stammesherzogtümer, or stem duchies, divided the region up into several major areas, and stretched from the North Sea to the Mediterranean and more than halfway into Italy.
These stem duchies were maintained under the Holy Roman Empire, though they gradually become more symbolic and were eventually abolished in 1180 AD, to be replaced with smaller but more numerous territorial duchies.
Over the centuries, conflicts eroded the edges of the Holy Roman Empire, especially in the south and southeast, until what remained came more and more to resemble the borders of modern Germany. However, it still retained a large portion of modern-day Poland, along with Kaliningrad and the western edge of Lithuania.
The Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s, followed by the 1848 March Revolution in several German states, led to a period of upheaval and political uncertainty. This came to an end shortly after Prussian King William I appointed Otto von Bismarck as Prussian minster president in 1862. Under Bismarck’s leadership, the Prussian-led North German Confederation was created in 1866. Five years later, this formed the core of the German Empire, with Bismarck serving as Chancellor.
The German Empire lasted until 1918, when the Germans were defeated to end World War I. Following the war, Germany was forced to give up some of its territory. West Prussia and Posen were ceded to Poland in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles, along with Alsace-Lorraine to France, Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium, and North Schleswig to Denmark. The treaty also gave the Hlucin Region to Czechoslovakia in 1920, Upper Silesia to Poland in 1922, and Memel to Lithuania in 1923.
The final loss of territory took place in 1945, following World War II, when Pomerania and Silesia were ceded to Poland, and East Prussia was split between Poland the and Soviet Union.
Germanic Europe DNA
Because the Germanic borders were well-established for several centuries, it is possible to map out a DNA profile for people who lived in this region that is distinct from other parts of Europe. However, keep in mind that those borders are not the same ones that exist today.
Germanic Europe DNA can be found in several countries, including:
- Denmark (especially in the south)
- France (especially in the east)
- Poland (especially in the north and west)
- Lithuania (especially in the southwest)
- Austria (especially in the west)
- The Netherlands
- Czech Republic
So, it’s important to keep in mind that having Germanic DNA doesn’t mean you have ancestors from Germany itself.
Some other regions which were settled by Germanic tribes long ago may show small traces of Germanic Europe DNA as well. These include:
- The British Isles (especially England)
- Northern Italy
- The Balkans
Like many European countries, Germany had colonies around the world. That means it is not at all unusual to find Germanic DNA in:
- West Africa (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Togo)
- Southwest Africa (Namibia)
- East Africa (Burundi, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania)
- Oceania (Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands)
Tough to pin down
People have moved around throughout history. That can make it tough to use DNA to pin down specific spots your ancestors lived. Having Germanic Europe show up on your DNA test results is a strong indicator that some of your ancestors came from that region, but maybe not modern-day Germany itself.
Use your DNA test results as a starting place for your research and a guide on where to look next. Haven’t taken a DNA test yet? Don’t wait, it’s easier than ever. You never know what you might turn up.