Genealogy and the World Cup: How to Root for Your Home Countries

By Andrew Koch

Your DNA results can help you root for your home countries this World Cup.

Bright lights. High stakes. The best athletes from the “Beautiful Game” competing on the world’s biggest stage. Even though the United States didn’t make the cut, US genealogists have plenty of reasons to tune in to the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer. Instead of rooting for Team USA, cheer on your “other” home countries—the places your ancestors called home. Here’s how you can root for your home countries.

Ethnicity and DNA

Ethnicity estimates are among the more popular features of DNA testing. As part of their DNA results, test-takers receive a breakdown of what percentage of their genes aligns with designated reference groups around the world (e.g., “30 percent Western European, 15 percent Irish, etc.). With that knowledge (along with traditional genealogy research), you can pinpoint what countries your ancestors came from.

Taken a step further, this research can help you determine which of the 32 competing countries to support in this year’s World Cup. 23andMe has partnered with Fox Sports in the “Roots for Your Roots” campaign to help soccer fans uncover their ethnic origins—and pick a team to cheer on. In fact, some of the most common European ethnicities in the United States will square off in Russia: England, Germany, France, Mexico, Sweden, and more. By studying your ethnicity estimate results (and interpreting them correctly), you can select a team to root for.

MyHeritage DNA has gotten in on the soccer action as well. The genealogy website and DNA testing service has teamed up with Borussia Dortmund, a top-tier soccer club from Germany, to help three of its players discover their ethnic roots. Throughout the summer, MyHeritage DNA will share the players’ DNA findings. The service also tested the DNA of eight soccer legends from Europe and South America, including Lothar Matthäus (Germany) and Gilberto Silva (Brazil). Their results helped them better understand their connections to the world and each other.

Rooting for my roots

According to my ethnicity estimates, I have large percentages of DNA from the British Isles and Western Europe. And from passenger lists and census records, I’ve been able to narrow those regions down to England and Germany. Fortunately, the national teams from both of those countries will compete in the World Cup this summer, giving me two teams to root for. (From my research, I know I also have ancestors from Romania and Ireland. But neither team qualified for the World Cup, so I’ll have to wait for another competition to root for them.)

I’m still fairly new to soccer fandom, so I was excited to learn about Germany’s success in the World Cup. The team won the tournament in 2014, and is a favorite to win again this year. On the other side of the spectrum, England has a reputation for underperforming despite boasting talented players. Will either team lift the coveted FIFA World Cup trophy on July 15? I’ll have to watch to find out!

We’ve created our own World Cup cheat sheet for genealogists to help you learn about your ancestral home country’s team, too. For each country, we’ve included some helpful resources to help you study your ancestors.