North Dakotans dig into family history with genealogy research

Genealogy Research
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 6:05 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2023 at 4:40 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Where do you come from? That’s the question more people than ever hope to answer through genetic testing. More than 26 million people in the US have taken a genetic test searching for information about family, looking for medical history, or hoping to connect with unknown relatives.

For many, looking into the past is intriguing.

“I want to know exactly where my people come from. I went to a family reunion and after looking at the announcement I found out that my grandmother was part Hopi Indian, which I didn’t know, and also Irish, and I need to know what part of Africa my family comes from,” said Bruce Austin, Bismarck.

“I know my grandma is Norwegian, but my dad passed when I was like four, so I don’t know that side of my family at all. It would be interesting to figure that out,” said Derek Daly, Bismarck

Sarah Walker, head of reference services for the State Archives, frequently helps people with genealogy research. Some, she says, come in with lots of leads. Others have no idea where to start.

“One of the things we get requests for a lot are even just trying to figure out somebody’s parents’ names, which can be really difficult especially because a lot of the people in this area came over here from other countries, immigrated to the United States, and maybe didn’t come with their families,” said Sarah Walker, head of reference services.

She says obituaries are a good starting point for research.

In recent years, more old photos and documents have come to life as folks take DNA tests.

Through a relative’s DNA test, Lori Newgard says she learned she might be related to someone in Taiwan, but she still has a lot of questions.

“Yes, how accurate the DNA testing is and if we should rely on it to seek out this cousin that we didn’t know existed,” said Lori Newgard, Mandan.

Others are concerned about skeletons in the closet and relatives coming out of the woodwork to collect on inheritances.

“I’m just concerned about privacy issues,” said Curt Kroh, Bismarck.

Still, many people want to pull at the threads that connect us together, often wishing for a pleasant surprise.

“I would hope that I’d find out that I’m a descendant of Jesus,” laughed Daly.

When Your News Leader asked online for folks who’ve uncovered history through DNA testing many people had stories to tell. Someone said they were a descendant of Anne Boleyn. Another said they are related to King Edward III. More people found surprise living relatives, and some even met up in person.

Lisa Balkowitsch says she found her birth father through an ancestry test.

“I’m adopted,” she said as she scrolled through pictures on her phone.

She says she expected to learn more about her heritage, but the news of her father was a surprise. She was able to finally meet him and more relatives before he passed away.

“That’s the only blood I really had before my own children,” said Balkowitsch.

She says the meeting was worth it.

“I don’t have to wonder and question,” said Balkowitsch.

What have you learned about your family history through research or genetic testing?

Ancestry statistics reveal North Dakota is the state with the highest population of people with German and Norwegian heritage.