LINDSBORG — Marla Patrick decided to take a DNA test to see if family rumors of Native American ancestors were true. What she learned instead was that her father wasn't the man she thought he was.
"I just thought I'd take an Ancestry DNA (test) for fun and see what I popped up as," Patrick said. "...That's all I wanted to know and instead I opened this whole can of worms. Not only did I blow my family up, I blew up somebody else's family."
Patrick, who owns Smoky Valley Dog Center in Lindsborg, grew up knowing she had been adopted by her biological mother's brother and his wife.
The man she thought was her biological father was not around while Patrick was young; in fact, she was only able to meet him as an adult. Three weeks after that meeting, he died of cancer.
Patrick said she felt cheated of having a relationship with her father and it motivated her to research her family's history to give her daughter what information she could.
"I wanted her to be able to pass on to her kids and their kids where we come from — little tidbits about family — because I spent the first half of my adult life just wanting a family," Patrick said.
Though Patrick had heard rumors of her biological mother having affairs, she never considered she might have been the product of one — until she got a message from a woman who the DNA test revealed was a close family member.
Assuming the woman was a relation from her biological dad's side, Patrick started comparing their family trees. That was when the mystery deepened, as the women realized they had more in common than they had originally thought possible — they were half-sisters.
After talking more, Patrick learned her true biological father had been divorced when she was conceived, but had raised several other children. Unfortunately, she was unable to meet him, as he had died several years ago.
Patrick met her two half-sisters for the first time last week.
"I didn't sleep much the night before," Patrick said.
She steeled herself for a tense time, but found she was welcomed by her half-sisters, who brought her a book of their family's history and the poster board filled with pictures that had been displayed at their father's funeral.
"We talk almost every day now," Patrick said.
While it was difficult to break the news to the woman she had considered as a full sister for her whole life, Patrick said she is still glad she took the DNA test.
"If I had the foresight, I would probably still do it again because I'm getting two sisters out of it. I'm getting the truth and I'm grateful for that," Patrick said.
She cautions others who are considering having their DNA tested that the results aren't always what they expect.
"I think the thing that people need to realize is that they need to go in with that possibility in mind," Patrick said. "...If you truly want to know the truth, then do it, but go into in knowing that what you think you know may not actually be."
Do some research before choosing a DNA test, as there are several types and each can give you different kinds of information regarding your heritage.
"DNA can be a roller coaster," said McPherson Public Library Director Steve Read at a recent genealogy session. "It's not always as cut and dried as we hope it would be."
DNA tests can be ordered online through several vendors. The purchaser is sent a kit in the mail with instructions to either spit saliva into a tube or to swab the inside of their cheek.
While DNA tests can aid in identifying relatives and learning about family origins, genealogy still requires researching paper trails.
"If you haven't done a good job with your family tree, it isn't going to be that helpful for genealogy use," Read said.
Concerns about DNA testing include the possibility of leaked personal information through data breaches, implications for those who know they are predisposed to a health problem having trouble getting insurance and those who learn they are adopted undergoing emotional trauma.
For Patrick, knowing she is 57 percent English and 43 percent German — there was no Native American ancestor — was worth it.
"It's been the most wild thing ever. I'm glad to know," Patrick said.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.