Trisha Noack recently called the Peoria County Genealogical Society seeking someone to speak at a library program and instead ended up being a featured speaker herself.
Describing herself as a “very amateur genealogist,” the Peoria Public Library’s public relations manager gave a talk titled “Rock Bottom Bare Bones Genetic Genealogy” at the society’s June meeting.
Attendees in the packed room at the library’s North Branch listened intently as Noack walked them through her experiences in DNA testing for family history.
“I’ve been playing around with genealogy since I was in my teens. My dad was always talking about genealogy and telling family stories and going around interviewing my mother’s family,” said Noack.
“I love science, and I’ve always been fascinated by DNA. I’m far from an expert, but I’ve stumbled on some things and have become self-educated,” she said.
By a show of hands, several in the crowd indicated they’d had done DNA testing as part of their genealogy research.
“How many of you knew what to do with it once you got it done?” Noack asked, drawing laughter. “That was me.”
Noack talked about the different types of DNA testing available, the companies that offer it and various free sites where raw DNA data can be uploaded to create connections with possible relatives who’ve also been tested.
“I think it’s been around long enough that people realize you’re not going to do your DNA and boom, there’s your whole family tree,” Noack said. “It does take work. Just like when you’re doing paper genealogy, it’s not going to be handed to you on a platter. But it’s going to give you some really good clues and important information that can help you break through your brick walls and find cool stuff and find people.”
She stressed that the most important question to ask yourself before delving into DNA testing is: Do you really want to know?
“People have done a DNA test and then wished they hadn’t, and you can’t take it back. Once you know it, you know it,” Noack said. “There are a lot of stories out there about people who got it done and found out their dad wasn’t their dad. Or, nightmare of all nightmares, your whole paper trail is wrong because the DNA doesn’t lie and you start finding out you’re on the wrong family and have to throw away 40 years of research.”
Ancestry.com offers DNA testing for $99 with $10 shipping at full price, though coupons are sometimes available, Noack said. Other sites are 23andme.com, which includes a medical report for $199, and Familytreedna.com, which offers testing for $99 and up, depending on how many genetic markers they test for.
“Do some research and figure out what you want to know, then pick the company and the test that works for you,” she said. “To me, Ancestry.com is bigger, safer and more reliable.”
Most of the DNA testing involves spitting into a test tube. A DNA results screen will show genetic ethnicity estimates and will identify potential DNA matches to others who’ve taken the DNA test through that company.
“It’s a lot of information, and you might really be able to clear up some mysteries for yourself,” Noack said.
Many times people are somewhat shocked by their ethnicity results. “I cannot tell you how many people have walked up to me and said, ‘I got my test result, but where’s all my German?’ or “Where’s my Native American,’ ” Noack said.
“But remember how quickly genes can disappear from your tree. You only get 50 percent from your dad and 50 percent from your mom. And that goes on for generations. So even a few generations back, you’ve already lost a lot of DNA.”
Noack also pointed out that only identical twins will share the same DNA. “Siblings, cousins and parents do not have the same DNA. The more people you test, the more information you’re going to get and the more matches you’ll have.”
Noting that her only brother is a foot taller than she is, Noack said her ethnicity percentages came back different than his and contained a few surprises.
“Being as tall as he is, I thought he’d come back as being very Scandinavian, but he’s only got 3 percent Scandinavian, and I’ve got 14 percent,” she said.
Peoria County Genealogical Society president Randy Couri said in an email interview after the meeting that he had encountered a surprise when he had his DNA tested for genealogy a few years ago.
Couri knew his family heritage was Lebanese, but his paternal grandmother had light brown hair and blue eyes and a family name of Sous, so the theory had always been that a knight from Sous, France, had settled in Lebanon after the Crusades and started a family.
“It was assumed that the Couris had some French blood,” Couri said. However, the DNA testing showed a 24 percent link to Italy and none to France.
“As it turns out, my Crusader was Italian,” he said.
After receiving DNA test results, Noack recommended linking the data to your family tree on whichever genealogical research site you use and uploading it to other free sites such as GEDmatch.com and DNAland.com.
“You can see where you match and that gives you a really strong clue that this is family,” she said. “But before you do any of this, make sure you know who owns the site and read all the fine print and be informed.”
Another thing you can do with the raw DNA data is upload it to Promethease.com and receive a health report for $5.
For more information about DNA testing for family history, Noack recommended visiting the International Society of Genetic Genealogists website at www.isogg.org. For more information about the Peoria County Genealogical Society, visit www.peoriacountygenealogy.org.
— Woman shares how DNA testing offers important clues to ancestry —