DNA testing is fun but sometimes not for the faint of heart

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, October 22, 2017

JANESVILLE—Ann Wilmot was born in Scotland. The Janesville resident had always thought she was Scottish through and through.

But she got to thinking about her origins while watching the PBS show “Finding Your Roots.”

The “Roots” show uses DNA testing and genealogical research to trace famous people's origins. It's something anyone can do.

A number of companies provide the DNA testing, some at costs of less than $100. Wilmot chose the AncestryDNA service from Ancestry.com. She submitted her spittle in the collection tube provided.

And got the surprise of her life.

The DNA analysis showed she is 48 percent eastern European and 43 percent from the United Kingdom.

“I was totally blown away. How could that possibly be? I've been bragging for years, 'I'm 100 percent Scot.' But I'm not.”

The retired schoolteacher did suspect that the man listed on her birth certificate was not her real father.

Her mother had divorced George McFarlane when she was 3. Her mother remarried, and her stepfather, Alex Warawko, was Polish.

And about a year ago, she found out that when McFarlane left and took her sister Carol with him, he said Carol was the only child who was his, Wilmot said.

Carol was only 5 at the time, but she and Ann managed to stay close friends.

The bigger shock was, she's not related to her stepfather, either.

AncestryDNA allows the user to see genetic relationships with others who use the same service, and none of her matches connect to the Warawko family.

But two Polish military units were stationed near her hometown of Montrose during World War II, when her father was serving overseas.

“I was really angry at first,” Wilmot said.

After the anger and tears came acceptance. She can smile about it now and seems energized by the search for her biological father.

Her brother continues to disbelieve, saying his mother would never be promiscuous.

“But it was wartime, and everyone was gone,” Wilmot said.

People who might know the truth have died, Wilmot said, but she is still searching.

A huge help was a man in Buffalo, New York, who turned out to be her second cousin on her Polish side.

She found him because AncestryDNA sends her DNA results that match her to distant cousins.

AncestryDNA, like other DNA-ancestry services, promises to keep personal information private, but Ancestry allows users to share information and contact each other online, if they choose.

William Jusko, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences, is Wilmot's closest Polish relation so far, and he has done extensive genealogical research into his family, she said.

Jusko's father and Wilmot's biological father were first cousins, Jusko believes.

Jusko even supplied Wilmot with a copy of a photo showing his grandmother, Rose Duma Jusko, surrounded by children, all apparently her relatives.

With Jusko's help, Wilmot has narrowed her search to people with the surnames Duma, Jusko, Kolwalik and Ksiazek.

They have connected with another likely cousin, Piotr Duma, in Poland.

Wilmot sometimes thinks she'll never find out, but she has more investigating to do. The hardest part would be to go to Poland, but she would need an interpreter, she said.

One tantalizing clue might be in a museum near her hometown that keeps records of the Polish units from the war.

Wilmot said she felt confidence in the DNA results she received when they correctly tied her to her grandmother's siblings, whom she knew had immigrated to Canada.

Wilmot says her biological father would be in his 90s if he is still alive, but she still wants to know who he was.

“I might never know who my father is, but I would like to, even if I just get a picture of him,” Wilmot said.

Others who want to probe their backgrounds risk finding out things they didn't imagine, but for many others, it's important, interesting or just entertaining.

And some of the DNA services will provide limited screening for genetic health problems.

Some services use a cheek swab. Others require spittle be placed in a tube. The user sends the results to the company, which processes it. Return times vary greatly, from a few weeks to several months.

AncestryDNA sends an email notification with a link to the results.

The different services vary in how soon results are available, how much of a person's DNA they inspect, and the kinds of results they deliver.

MyLivingDNA, for example, claims high level of data for different regions within England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, but one reviewer said its database for Ireland was weak.

AncestryDNA does not allow uploads of raw DNA data from other services, a problem Wilmot ran into. Her sister in Scotland used a different service, and now she is re-doing her test through AncestryDNA so they can compare their results.

MyHeritage appears similar to AncestryDNA. It has a family-tree builder and claims the largest international network of family trees. It also claims the "largest pool of possible ethnicities in the industry.”

Some services offer different levels of service. 23andMe offers a straight ancestry analysis, but you can pay about double the price for a combination of ancestry and health results.

23andMe's health information includes tests for lactose intolerance, whether you carry genes for male baldness, susceptibility to diseases such as Parkinson's and whether you are a carrier of genetic diseases that could be passed to your offspring, such as Tay-Sachs or sickle-cell anemia.

A service called Vitagene claims “the most complete test for nutrition and ancestry" and says it can tell you what exercises and vitamins are best for you.

The range of services and costs and claims varies so much that it might be easier to set up a spreadsheet or a big chart to sort through it all.

Some have raised privacy concerns and suggest prospective users read the small print.

AncestryDNA, for example, says in its terms and conditions: “We use your genetic information to provide products and services to you and improve our products and services for all our users. In addition, you understand that by providing any DNA to us, you acquire no rights in any research or commercial products that may be developed by AncestryDNA using your genetic information."

The fine print continues: “Ancestry does not share genetic information with employers, insurance providers or third-party marketers without your consent and will not share your genetic information with law enforcement unless compelled by valid legal process ...”

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