Kenai Totem Tracers get crash course in DNA testing

Several community genealogy enthusiasts learned about another tool they can use to dig deeper into their pasts during a presentation from one of their own Saturday at the Kenai Community Library.

The Kenai Totem Tracers Genealogical Society is interested in most things historical, from tracing ancestry to new types of museum glass, but oral and written histories can take a person only so far. When one of the society’s members volunteered to talk about her knowledge and experience with DNA testing for genealogical purposes, the group seized on the idea, said Kari Mohn, the society’s vice president and program organizer.

“We’re always interested in anything that will further our own family research,” Mohn said. “We try to have programs that fit. First we ask for suggestions from our members and we ask members if they have something to share.”

Kasilof resident Kim Rudge-Karic is a fisheries technician for the Department of Fish and Game and got her start in DNA in the early 1990s while transporting tissue samples around the state. Seeing the samples sent off to a lab made Rudge-Karic begin to question and wonder what exactly DNA testing could reveal, she said. From there was born a great interest in genetics and Rudge-Karic has since used DNA testing companies to try to unearth information about her heritage and ancestors.

Rudge-Karic began her presentation to the Totem Tracers at the Kenai Community Library with a crash course in DNA itself; what it is, where it comes from and how it makes humans the unique people they are. She then went on to explain how testing one’s DNA can give insight into where one’s geographical origins might be traced to.

By using different kinds of DNA tests — those that use the Y chromosome only found in men, those for only women and autosomal tests that use DNA inherited from both parents — people can find potential relatives or which areas of the world their ancestors might have originated from.

Rudge-Karic stressed that the results from these tests are not exact and are actually in the form of probabilities, not hard numbers. It’s best to double check with a test company if there is any confusion and follow up with research, Rudge-Karic said, rather than interpreting test results at face value.

“A lot of times people want something hard, cut and dry,” Rudge-Karic said. “And it’s like, it’s not cut and dry, you just have to accept it.”

Not all companies that advertise such testing are working with the same databases of DNA, either. What a person’s DNA gets compared to depends on what’s already been collected by that company.

“For me personally, I was hoping she would say, ‘Oh, this is the company to use, and it’ll answer all your questions,’ and that did not happen,” Mohn said with a laugh. “I appreciated her candor, her honesty, her professional expertise.”

Still, DNA testing through various companies can be useful for potentially confirming certain relations or trends already unearthed through written history, or for bringing up potential leads to follow, Rudge-Karic and members of the society concluded.

If nothing else, the tests can provide interesting information to bring back and discuss with family members and friends, Rudge-Karic said.

“You just never know,” she said. “With the mix of people, you just never know.”


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