The Y-DNA STR profile of remains in a Croatian mass grave are known and available for comparison to individuals who are curious whether they may have descended from the same lineage. The story below outlines how the Y-DNA profile of the remains were discovered.

Croatian DNA

During World War II a group of 19 men (including at least eight friars) were allegedly tortured and killed in the village of Zagvozd in the Dalmatian mountains in Croatia. Initially they were buried near the execution site, before being moved to a field just outside the village. Fifty years later, investigations began to find the burial site and allow the victims to be reburied with dignity.

Discovery of remains in a mass grave

In 2005, the skeletal remains of 18 male victims were discovered in a mass grave near Zagvozd. Morphological analyses identified gunshot wounds in eleven of the skeletons and the arms of six skeletons were tied with wire. These skeletons were assumed to be the remains of the 19 men that were tortured and killed in the area during World War II. In an attempt to confirm the identities of the remains, DNA was extracted from teeth and bone samples from each skeleton.

Genetic analysis of the remains

In order to identify the remains, the Y-DNA STR profiles were determined for each skeleton and compared to available reference samples (paternal relatives for the individuals that were presumed to be in this mass grave). Y-DNA is passed down from father to son along the direct paternal lineage; hence all males who have descended from the same paternal lineage are expected to have exactly the same or very similar Y-DNA profiles.

Partial Y-DNA STR profiles (up to 17 STR markers) were obtained from each skeleton. Researchers were able to positively identify three skeletons by matching to the available reference samples. These three skeletons were of three friars from the group of 19 men, whom were captured, tortured and killed in 1945. Unfortunately the remaining victims were unable to be identified, as there were no other matches to the available reference samples.


This study illustrates the value of DNA analyses for the identification of skeletal remains, even from mass graves that are over 50 years of age. However, the identification of skeletons in mass graves from war periods is often hindered by the lack of available reference samples to positively identify the remains. This occurred in this study, as although the investigators were able to obtain partial Y-DNA STR profile from all the skeletons, only three profiles matched to the available reference samples.

DNA Database Comparisons

This study determined the partial Y-DNA STR profiles of three friars tortured and killed near the end of World War II. If you have taken the Y-DNA STR marker (Paternal Ancestry) test you can determine if you have descended from the same paternal lineage as one of these friars.