REXBURG, Idaho (KIDK/KXPI) - What drives people to want to know where they come from? With the help of DNA testing kits from Ancestry.com, My Heritage, and 23 and Me, the popularity of discovering your genetic genealogy has exploded in recent years. Why the sudden interest? KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz went to a local family history center to find out.
"I think a lot of people don't realize the blessings that come from being involved in your family history," said Emily Curtis, who as sitting at a computer monitor.
"It's kind of addictive. It's like reading a good book and you don't want to put it down," said Cindy Taylor, who was looking at her family tree on a computer.
These are just a couple of the responses you would get when visiting any family history center, but there has to be more. Why do people search the past so much when it comes to their own family?
David Magleby and his wife are the directors of the Rexburg Family History Center. Kunz asked David Magleby that question as Magleby showed him around the center.
"I usually think about the quote by Alex Haley, the author of 'Roots,' when I'm thinking about this notion. He said, 'There's in each of us a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we came from.' And I think that hunger is innate in each of us and draws people here to a place like this," said Magleby.
He said we are seeking connections, a sense of belonging to something. It goes beyond gathering the answers to "Who am I?" and "Where did I come from?"
"We're seeking treasures. We're detectives. We're just trying to uncover stories and, yeah, that's really the work. It's exciting. There's a hint around the next corner. If you can unlock that, then more and new things come along," said Magleby.
But sometimes the paper trail reaches a dead end. That could explain the recent popularity of DNA test kits. More companies are releasing their own versions of the genetic test kits. They may hold the answers to worlds previously unknown or they may just be a fun way to verify family history already matched and discovered.
"It matched up to what my grandparents told me," said Lindsay Kerr. She used Ancestry.com. She already knows a lot of her family history and where her family line originates, but she wanted to see if anything unknown showed up.
"It's simple. It's fun. It's convenient and it might surprise you. For me, it was spot on, but with my sister, she found out that she has more of this family line that we didn't even know (we) came from. She has a lot of Spain in her and we don't know where that came from. So it might surprise you. You might think you know about your family history, but you actually don't," said Kerr.
"From a family history perspective, this DNA opens up wonderful opportunities to make connections that are now biological and scientific as opposed to, 'We can't find the journal or we can't find the birth record.' Well, OK, scientifically, we can start to make matches and connections that just weren't there before," said Magleby.
Sometimes, there are no journals or birth records or other hard evidence to go on. Take the case of Brandon Anderson. He was adopted and just wanted to know more about his biological family.
"There's no way for me to find any information off the birth certificate or the adoption agency that my parents went through. So this is a good way for anyone like me that would like to find out more," said Anderson.
Beyond family genealogy, Anderson said he would like to know some medical history, not just for himself, but also for his children.
"Obviously, there's that slim chance that they could actually tell me who my biological parents are in my lifetime to find out who they were and what kind of lives they led," said Anderson.
With regard to the accuracy of the DNA kits, Magleby is personally convinced the science is solid. His sister wondered about the kits and took multiple tests from multiple vendors and they came up exactly the same. Because of the DNA kits, his own family has been able to make new connections where the paper trail didn't exist. So he thinks the DNA kits are here to stay and will work hand in hand with genealogy searching.
"This is going to become fairly seamless. It's going to be the idea of: Take the paper trail as far as it goes and then we're going to extend that through this scientific DNA research. I think it's just going to take us to places we've never been able to be before," said Magleby.
Genetic testing for family search purposes exploded in 2017. Ancestry.com, based in Utah, announced at the beginning of 2018 that it had tested more than 7 million people, including 2 million just during the last four months of 2017.
Magleby said that with the DNA test kits, computers with increased data storage and the ability we have to communicate globally, genealogy becomes really exciting and takes on a whole new meaning.
The kits range in price from $100 to $120, including shipping.
When Kunz talked with Anderson, he had just sent off his DNA sample. He has not gotten the results back yet.