Dutch DNA: are the Dutch actually Dutch?

If I say the word “Dutch”, you probably have a very clear image in your head of what a Dutch person should look like. Way too tall, mainly, as we short folk have never actually seen the faces of these giants up close.

But on a genetic level, are the Dutch actually Dutch?

Does Dutch DNA show if they are actually Dutch?

So, what started off this whole Dutch DNA discussion?

I visited the Netherlands a few summers ago. We stayed with my half-Dutch wife’s relatives, and we were able to stay in and visit many cities. I looked up Dutch traits and the Netherlands’ distinctions before the trip because I wanted to know how to act properly without playing the fool, know what I would be up against, and behave correctly.

I researched all the traits the Dutch are well known for. What interested me was the distinct look of the Dutch. I can pick a Dutchie out of a crowd easily.

Yes, in every country or area, people have specific physical traits, but Dutch DNA is complicated and intertwined. It is also not as though all Dutch people look like twins. Historically, Nederlanders were often intermixed with many ethnic groups.

According to DNA testing companies, Dutch DNA is considered mainly Germanic French, which seems a broader stroke of DNA than some common and visible Dutch characteristics that I see.

My wife recently had her DNA analysed… and surprise! Besides being a little Neanderthal (maybe she slobbered a little in the test tube), her DNA is less than 25% Germanic French.

My wife was adamant about being “200%” Dutch. How so? “My mother was 100% Dutch, and so was my father, so I am 200% Dutch”. Clearly not a math major, but a passionate Dutchie.

So here is my opinionated research on where the Dutch DNA originated from:

Early days

Before 5000 BC, the ice age was ending (apparently as a result of global warming from the tribes burning too much peat). A few Neanderthals were left running around updating their resumes.

The hunter-gatherers had started growing food, and Neanderthals died off from having to eat salad from a pottery dish. Maglemosian culture was throughout the Northern European area, and the glaciers hadn’t melted off. As a result, the British Isles, Netherlands and Scandinavia were all one landmass.

Seas eventually rose, and with water separation, the British Isles exited North Europe (BREXIT wasn’t the first time this happened) and Scandinavia receded into the North Sea glacial melt. Life spans were short, and generations moved quickly (stepped on by Mastodons is a quick DNA eliminator).

Photo-of-evolution-Dutch-DNA
Are the Dutch actually Dutch? Image: Unsplash

Netherlands speeding toward the year zero

Funnel Beaker Culture and other small farming cultures extended from Denmark into Germany and the Northern Netherlands. Following behind them with their fancy Indo-European language spreading throughout most of North and Central Europe, was the touwbekercultuur, or “Corded Ware Culture” (makers of corded pottery), lasting into the Bronze Age.

Corded Ware Pottery. Image: Einsamer Schütze/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

If you wish to go in-depth on their DNA, for aspiring DNA PhD types, go here. Crossover with the Beaker Culture from West Europe may have wandered into Southern Netherlands looking for sunshine. The Beakers were traders, and probably the first door-to-door salespersons. Plus, they kept alcohol in their beakers, so there was that.

Although archaeologists argue over where the Corded Ware Culture sprung from — the Black Sea or elsewhere in Europe (arguing over people dead thousands of years is their passion) — what we do know is DNA from graves shows they were widespread in North-Central Europe. 

They were the first to have wagons, therefore, wheels. I am guessing they are Dutch ancestors and invented bicycles, peddling across Europe (some things never change).

Pre-Roman Iron Age migration

Germanic groups migrated into the Netherlands around 750 BC settling in coastal floodplains “where no man had settled before” and probably invented boots and snorkels.

This uniform DNA grouping extended into Poland and migrated from Southern Scandinavia due to the deteriorating climate. Apparently, they brought it with them.

Several groupings and languages evolved:

  • North Sea Germanics (Ingvaeones), in Northern Netherlands, south to the great rivers into Jutland. This would be early Frisians and Saxons.
  • Weser-Rhine Germanics (Istvaeones) inhabited the Netherlands south of the great rivers from which the Salian Franks would spring.

Even though this happened a couple of thousand years ago, it seems logical it was the beginning of the Dutch people.

ancient germanic group migration
Early Germanic Culture group migration.  Image: Berig/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

The ever-spreading Celts and Dutch DNA

Celtic (Gaul) culture about this time was in a triathlon across central Europe, spreading their DNA everywhere. They were more tribal than most cultures and had Chiefs and classes of people within the tribes (perhaps political conservatives’ ancestors).

They spread from the East European area to Britain and Iberia. Generally staying south of the Netherlands, Celts drifted as far north as Maastricht early on. Apparently, they were busy irritating Romans and causing wars, and had no desire to be chased by a giant walrus in the lowlands’ mud.

The Celts integrated with Germanic tribes South of the Rhine eventually. Caesar defeated them, took their gold and assimilated them into Roman culture, where they probably invented fashion and anger management from their descriptions by Romans.

The Gauls in the fourth century were “tall and muscular, light-skinned, reddish or light-haired and eyed people who are quick to quarrel and fight”. There are not an excessive amount of redheads in the Netherlands, though Limburg has one of the higher percentages.

Many Dutchies do fit other physical Gaul characteristics. A recent study in the UK states the Celts are not a unique genetic group, which would indicate their original Germanic cultural background. It also showed populations next to each other can have different ancestry.

The Romans are coming

In the year 57 BC, the Romans came to town in fashionable tunics. After years of battles with Germanic tribes south of the Oude Rijn, the river became the north boundary of the Roman Empire. Roman control existed farther north too.

Roman Empire in Europe. Image: Andrei nacu/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

For four centuries the Romans ruled, integrating towns and building forts, exerting genetic intermingling in the Netherlands.

With the Celtic, Germanic and Roman cultures intermingling, even Augustus Las Vegas wouldn’t lay odds on DNA results. Romans used both Celt and Germanic tribes as soldiers and ruled settlements where these “barbarians” would be raised for Roman armies.

Two Centuries later, the early Germanic Frisii living on the North Sea coast and occupying most areas north of the Oude Rijn were coerced by the Romans and rising seas to relocate to Roman territory and were assimilated into that society. So much for early Frisii DNA being dominant in the future.

Salian Franks

Around 200 AD, proclaiming their own DNA, some Germanic small groups inhabiting the Netherlands emerged as the Salian Franks, many of whom settled in the south of the Netherlands.

Concentrated in the North Sea lowlands, the early Frisians, Chauci, Saxons and Angles were closely related Germanic groups. As with many close families, however, the Chauci later joined with and became Saxons.

These groups expanded after the Romans fell. Some remained in now Southern Netherlands.

Migration in the early Middle Ages

As the seas receded, (400 AD to 1000 AD), Germanic groups such as Jutes, Angles and mainly Saxons waded into Northern Netherlands (and eventually all the way to British Isles). The ones who stayed in North Netherlands became ancestors of modern Frisians.

Generally, Frisians and Saxons settled in future Northern Netherlands, and Salian Francs in Southern Netherlands.

Viking blood

In the ninth century, Danish Vikings wreaked havoc in the Netherlands with raids and attacks. Although they maintained a presence and ruled over parts, there were few permanent settlements.

Photo-of-viking-settlement
A reconstruction of a biking settlement. Image: Depositphotos

The DNA that was brought in for this short time seems of lesser influence. During the Iron Age migration, Germanic hunter-gatherer tribes of same or similar descent fled the climate and populated the Netherlands area. The Viking DNA was probably related (but with a nasty mutated mean gene).

1000 AD TO 1600 AD:

The next seven centuries were a culture slug-fest, with the Netherlands often occupied or at war. Areas now Germany, Spain, British Isles, Italy, the Holy Roman Church, and pretty much anyone with a stick, rock, or religious robe battled. Surprisingly, some lucky males survived to spread a “Y” chromosome.

There weren’t mass migrations, but significant intermingling. I imagine with all the battles going on, the general population was able to continue their own DNA propagation within their groups and settlements.

Modern centuries

From the 17th century forward, the Dutch were traders and colonised around the world. Amsterdam was a top world trade city and people came to stay. In 1650, according to Cairn.info, 8% of the Netherlands was of foreign descent.

In the early 1800’s, 85% of immigrants were from Germany, Belgium or France, all with similar ancient roots. Currently, 13.4% of the Netherlands’ population is foreign-born.

Transportation improves. Immigration and culture crossover grows. These blending trends will eventually change the Dutch DNA and that of every culture.

Having trouble seeing how any genetic group could retain its characteristics over the centuries? Is it just the luck of the DNA draw from parents, grandparents and great-grandparents (only one-eighth from the greats)? Maybe, but enter Epigenetics. Is there another factor?

Epigenetics

Epigenetics studies a chemical reaction that influences who we are without altering DNA. Events that happened to our Grandparents can be physically passed down. Studies show events like the “Hunger Winter” in 1944-45 which caused severe malnutrition may have caused children and grandchildren born after to be smaller.

Could Dutch physical characteristics be maintained by more than Dutch DNA? Does happiness, physical activity, social society or diet of cheese and herring unknowingly in part “will” them or any culture to retain the classic Dutch look through generations?

Science continues to chime in. I just hope you enjoy knowing a little more about where the Dutch DNA came from.

My own Dutch DNA conclusions

  • Germanic cultures are ancestors to most of what is North, Central and West Europe.
  • Isolated early groups kept cultural DNA purer, but still developed uniqueness.
  • Early European migratory cultures had closely related DNA.
  • Migrating cultures joined, creating larger unique blended cultures.
  • Culture group wars and spreading populations slowly intermingled DNA for a time.
  • Ancient genetic cultures co-existed adjacent to each other with little intermingling.
  • Genetics is advancing rapidly and will have more answers.
  • DNA data cannot yet determine if the Dutch should have their own DNA classification. If you ask me, I think they might.

Finally, what’s up with Neanderthal bashing? They were around a million years before salads ran them off! Please, don’t forget to comment with your own conclusions!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2018, and was fully updated for your reading pleasure in November 2022.

Feature Image:Pexels
Kenneth Hull
Kenneth Hull
Ken is an ex IT guy working frantically on his creative brain to recover. He lives in Nevada, USA and loved his visit to the Netherlands. Ken can be found with coffee or wine writing content, comedy skits and screenplays.

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62 COMMENTS

    • My Greatgrandmother was a Böhm ,direct from Bohmen or Bohemen . Her father was Frans Böhm ,and his father was Jacob Böhm . Jidish decendant . But were made Catholic’s. I know they knew the Jewih faith . My dad had dark hair and blue eye’s . Short fingerd and broad hands .. i thaught it might interrest you. The Bierman name was also jewish . Yet that surname we found in Holland in 1696. I never did a DNA test . My mother was also from a Vos line . From the border off Germany.

      • Hi
        Just wondering about the details of ‘being made catholic’. I am trying to uncover family history and getting nowhere fast. I strongly suspect that being made catholic happened to my grandparents in south Holland, (born around 1920). Since they’ve passed and there’s a lot of family secrets, all I have is intuition to ‘rely’ on. Thanking you for your comment as it has already helped, and any future info would be very appreciated also.

      • Great article written with great humor, and very informative to boot, not to be mistaken with getting a Dutch boot under your arse.

        • PS: with respect to the comments about incredulity of having British genes:. Maybe it should be seen the other way around. The Brits, descended from Angles and Saxons from main land Europe, have DNA that matches with their compatriots left behind on the mainland; hence Dutch people having dna identified as British, but.which in actual fact is Anglo-Saxon DNA left behind on the continent, or from times before they moved to Britain. As for Viking dna in Dutch people: the Vikings were know to rape and pillage their way through Europe.

  1. I just learned yesterday that I am H4a….my mother’s mother always told us her mother’s mother’s mother was Dutch (or maybe her mother was lol), and that’s where she got her olive skin; so where did THAT come from? She said the Spanish soldiers way back….(my mother and my sister and I are olive). I also learned that H4a is most prevalent in Poland and Ireland….so glad I stumbled upon this! Europe is just a melting pot too! But still, amazing to be able to trace a maternal line and see the history behind it!!!!!!

    • Lori, there were everything from Eastern European Celts migrating through early, to Spanish wars lasting about a century, to Romans from the south, so as you said, Europe is a melting pot. In addition, Amsterdam was a huge international trade city starting about 600 years ago or so. As DNA databases get larger and better, it will tell us more. DNA is complicated, and although similarities are in higher percentage, siblings can have some completely different strands from one another. Thanks for the response.

    • Many Dutch people had migrated and lived for several centuries in Poland”Olędrzy (Polish: [ɔˈlɛndʐɨ], Singluar form: Olęder; German: Holländer, Hauländer) were people, often of Dutch or German ancestry, who lived in settlements in Poland” I have always thought my ancestors were German, but I see the last name can be also Dutch,,

    • You´re statement does not sound crazy. My great grandmother had olive skin and both my grandparents (mother side) have/had thick black hair and were small of stature. Quite the opposite from the ´normal´ Dutch people. We are from the south of the Netherlands which was indeed occupied by Spaniards (amongst others) for a vast period of time. One of my tall, Dutch, blond friends has a Spanish last name, tracing his origins back to that time which shows that genetics can work in mysterious ways.
      I have heard that people in the south (Brabant) have a higher percentage of dark haired and smaller people but I have no source for that unfortunately.

      • Yes it’s like that for me too, both of my parents were dutch, my mother from Friesland. She has olive skin and brown eyes. Two of my brothers like me, have olive skin, brown eyes and we are all average in height. One of my brothers is really tall with blond hair and blue eyes. My father was really tall with black hair and blue eyes 🤨

    • The Celtic tribe called Boii used the na.e BOII . or BÖHM . Bohemia or BOHM FAM was named after them them. The tribe enter at now Rotterdam, AD1 . I am still off the BÖHM fam tru my greatgrand mother. I still live in Holland .

  2. I immigrated to Canada ( as a Dutch person) about 5 years ago, and my husband got me a DNA test for my birthday. To my shock it said I had 32% British DNA ( broadly) And the rest was western Europe( Netherlands/Germany) And about 4% Scandinavian. I thought it was a shocking amount, since my mothers family tree goes way back and they are all Dutch. My fathers side are mostly Germans. My husband said that something about low country reference populations etc, but it all became so technical that I hardly understood it all. I think they just do not have enough reference material from Europe. Most of these companies have customers from Canada/USA. I wish a European company would start doing the same. I Might be completely wrong here.

  3. Robina, DNA is an inexact science as far as what we currently know, but advancing. DNA passed from generation to generation is very much, however, a random result of an exact science. Much of DNA sampling is based on the number of DNA samples and associating them all with volunteered data. It is constantly changing as more samples are done. My great grandmother was Portuguese, but I show as 3.6% Portuguese. My wifes Mother was 100% Dutch, yer her dna results show significantly less French/German. (Northern European). DNA currently lives, in my opinion, in generalities. Siblings can recieve completely different DNA strands, though much of their DNA may be common. It makes us all unique. I am fascinated by it, yet not held hostage. Enjoy your journey!

    • Hi Kenneth, nice article. Is it true that in order to get more from your family line especially the male side you may want to get a male family member? This because of the Y chromosome being passed from father to son? Thanks.

  4. I am adopted and recently did the dna testing through Ancestry and also recently learned much about my biological parents. According to relatives, my mother always claimed to be Dutch so I enjoy learning more about it. I am greatly interested in Epigenetics and hope you write more about this fascinating topic. Thank you for your insight and clever humor.

  5. My family immigrated from Holland 50 years ago. Do you recommend a genetic testing site that serves internationally. I find that most available are only accurate if you family is from the US.

    • Then don’t call it Holland, that’s a province. It took a 80 year long war to become united as The Netherlands. Please use the right word.

  6. I had my DNA research examined by “23andme”, you are correct, I am Dutch (German, French, but now classified as Netherlands) English, Irish (a big surprise) and Scandinavian. I was born in the Netherlands, have brown eyes and an olive complexion, but my brother is very blond, blue eyed and fair. If the DNA results are correct I would have to believe that some small amounts of our ancestry are not detectable, or that our results just come from mass grouping results.

    • You may be surprised to see a reply to a comment that you made online almost two years ago. I ran across an article about Dutch DNA components and I was interested. I then saw your comment. I was born in the U.S. (Michigan), but both my paternal grandparents emigrated from the Netherlands. Grandpa was from Friesland, Grandma grew up in Groningen, they met and married before emigrating.

      Like you, I have brown eyes and, when I was younger, had olive skin (I am old and fading now, lol!). My sister is blond and blue-eyed, but neither of us has a classic Dutch look. In fact, one of my paternal great-aunts, sister of my grandmother, once looked at us at a family reunion and sniffed, “My! They don’t LOOK Dutchy, do they?” In fact, we both look a lot like my father, and he looks like almost all of his brothers: Long, narrow faces, largish noses, very French-looking. Grandma’s family had a completely different look. The family lore used to be that Grandpa’s ancestors were Huguenots who fled persecution, but that turned out not to be true. Family members have been asked whether they were Jewish or Basque. For that reason, the information about the Portuguese-Dutch link, 1,000-2,000 years ago, is interesting.

      I was surprised to see to see a lot of Norwegian ancestry in my DNA analysis, just as you were surprised to see Scandinavian and English DNA. A possible explanation is that the Viking settlements in the northeast coast of the Netherlands, as well as the Southeastern coast of England, contributed a lot of DNA to the people of those area. Possibly both you and I are descendants of Vikings who settled in the Netherlands and England (my maternal grandmother also has English ancestors).

  7. Anglo-Saxon from Denmark settelled the coast and along the rivers in the Netherlands (Friesland, Groningen, Noord Holland mainly but also Zuid Holland, Zeeland, West Brabant en Utrecht&Betuwe)*. So there is an overlapp with English (30% anglo-saxon DNA in england not wales, scotland etc) and Scandinavians. The South of the Netherlands is considered less Germanic (also not as fair haired) (Limburg, Noord Brabant Oost). The East is more like Germany. So the Dutch are all really different for such a small country and some are a mixed off all those influences.

    * Zie onderzoek Zonen van Adam.

  8. I think what Kenneth Hull is saying is the right answer.
    DNA result is gathering data and the more data is compared and analyzed the better insights we get.
    If you look at the different assessments the test labs provide you also see that some of them provide less and more expensive tests. If that’s the case you should be able to get a more specific insight about you heritage.
    For me the only way to do this right is to check theses facts wenn you make your passport. So you’ll exactly know who’s who.
    But that is probably not an issue at the moment

  9. I am Dutch, but my DNA has no German French at all.
    60% British Irish, Italian, Finish, Viking, Scandanavian makes up the rest with Italian and Finish the biggest part. My husband had the same British Irish 65% with the rest Iberian, Scandanavian and Viking. I always told him looking at his skincolour , your forefathers would have been Spanish. I was not surprise to learn that he had Iberian DNA.
    It is a very interesting subject . I could tracé my father family tree up till 1700 family came from Zeeland. Mums family (she had dark hair en a bit of olive skin and brown eyes) has been influenced from, France or Italy. I am blond and very fair skinned. The Finnish and Viking bit I reckon.

  10. A bit darker skin and dark hair and eyes is actually much longer in the regions of the Netherlands then fair skinned and light hair and eyes. 2 thousands years ago the people looked very much like the iberian Portuguese. But because 1000-2000 years ago the land in north western Europe was still very cold and difficult to work with not so much people lived in north western Europe.When later fair and lighter vikings/danes immigrated because of the low population density the eye colour went quick from 100 to 40% brown which is now the frequency of the white ethnically dutch people.

    The portuguese are quit dfferent from the dutch now but still over 3 times more genetically related to the dutch then greek people for example( according to sforza genetic distance)

  11. You: “Germanic cultures are ancestors to most of what is North, Central and West Europe.”

    Reality: Culture is abstraction. Only people can be ancestors of other people.

    Your sloppy misuse of words reveals an unscientific mind.

    • Germanic culture has influenced Central Europe, but to imply that Central Europe is part of the Germanic realm is simplistic. Central Europe cannot be lumped with Northern and Western Europe. Western Europe has also been subjected to influences other Germanic.

  12. Neanderthaler , Roman , Batavian , Saxon ,Celtic , Viking mix, who cares, I am Dutch and proud of it, I gues I am all of the above with a modern mind. Let’s face it, the Dutch wrote history, not for one year,but centuries, such a small nation and roamed and conquered the world, still best boat builders , still always looking to explore unknown things, stubborn as hell and proud of it all, well you are Dutch or you ain’t