Historians have long speculated about the cause of Ludwig van Beethoven’s untimely death in 1827 at the age of 56.

Now, using strands of the composer’s hair saved by fans over the centuries, researchers have been able to analyze his DNA to gain insight into the illnesses he suffered from that eventually led to his death.

How did researchers collect Beethoven’s DNA samples?

In a paper published in the journal Current Biology on Wednesday, researchers detailed the process of collecting and analyzing eight locks of hair attributed to Beethoven.

Out of the eight locks of hair from public and private collections, five were authentic, according to the study.

One of the locks that was deemed inauthentic was originally believed to have been snipped from Beethoven’s head by a young composer, Ferdinand Hiller, the day after he died.

The lock was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1994 and was bought by members of American Beethoven Society for $7,300, after which it went on display at Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University in California, The New York Times reported.

The Hiller lock, as it was called, was studied over 20 years ago by researchers who suggested that the lead in the hair could mean the composer died from lead poisoning.

However, after studying the DNA from the lock and comparing it to the other hair samples collected, researchers determined that the Hiller lock was actually from a “woman of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry,” ruling out lead poisoning as the cause of Beethoven’s death, according to The Washington Post.

How did Beethoven die?

So if it wasn’t lead poisoning that led to Beethoven’s death, as researchers previously believed, what illnesses afflicted the composer and eventually killed him?

By studying his DNA, the authors of the study found that Beethoven had a predisposition for liver disease and had become infected with hepatitis B sometime during his life.

These genetic risk factors for liver disease, alongside a possible liver infection and heavy drinking, “may have hastened Beethoven’s premature death,” Tristan Begg, the lead author of the study, said, according to Science News.

A family secret revealed by DNA

Another shocking discovery from the study found that the Y chromosome in Beethoven’s DNA did not match those of any living members of his family line, suggesting that one of his ancestors on his father’s side had a child outside of wedlock with an unknown man, and Beethoven was a descendant of that unknown man, The Washington Post reported.