Severe von Willebrand disease is characterized by undetectable or trace quantities of von Willebrand factor in plasma and tissue stores. We have studied the genomic DNA of 10 affected individuals from six families with this disorder using probes from the 5' and 3' ends of the vWF cDNA and with a probe extending from the 5' end into the central region. Southern blots of restriction endonuclease digests and gene dosage analysis measurements carried out with quantitative slot blots of undigested genomic DNA separated these patients into three groups. The first group consisted of a family with complete homozygous deletions of the vWF gene in the four probands. Gene dosage analysis was consistent with heterozygous deletions in both of the asymptomatic parents and four asymptomatic siblings of this kindred (P less than 0.01). The second group was comprised of a family in which there was a complete heterozygous deletion of the vWF gene in the proband and one asymptomatic parent, suggesting that a different type of genetic abnormality was inherited from the other parent. Thus, the patient appeared to be doubly heterozygous for interacting genetic abnormalities affecting vWF expression. In the third group, no gene deletions could be detected. Alloantibodies developed only in the kindred with homozygous deletions. These techniques should prove useful in identifying carriers of severe von Willebrand disease and also in defining patients predictably at risk of developing alloantibodies to vWF.