MOORHEAD — It’s clear that Karen Reierson’s mom was a shutterbug while she was growing up. Karen could spend hours going through the hundreds of photos her mother took, now stuffed into an old shoebox on her lap.

"Oh my gosh, look at my hair," Karen says while holding a snapshot of her tween self with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo.

The pictures tell a story of what Karen calls a "very happy childhood" growing up in Moorhead with her mom and dad, who adopted both Karen and her younger sister at birth.

"It was something we always knew. I grew up knowing I was adopted," she says. "And what's kind of neat is that it continued with my family. Both my daughters are adopted."

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Karen says she never questioned why her birth mother gave her up. She figured it must have been for a good reason. Even so, it didn’t stop the questions.

"I always wondered if I looked like anybody. I guess you do think about those things," Karen says. "Sometimes when you’re walking down the street you think, ‘Could I be related to anybody?'"

At the age of 40, Karen was able to connect with her birth mom, who gave her some idea of her maternal ancestry.

"I believe it is Swedish, English and Danish. I’ve always been told that growing up. I’m one big -ish.” she says with a laugh.

Karen Reierson, right, looks at family photos with daughters Sydney, left, and Taylor, right. Brent Kiehl / The Forum
Karen Reierson, right, looks at family photos with daughters Sydney, left, and Taylor, right. Brent Kiehl / The ForumBrent Kiehl / The Forum

But without information from her paternal side, Karen says she still felt like there was a piece missing. So, "The Scoop with Tracy Briggs" decided to help Karen figure out her ancestry using two popular DNA testing kits, one from Ancestry, the other from 23andMe. What would the tests tell her about her ethnicity, and would the two brands differ in their results?

Taking the tests

The kits were purchased off each company's website. Normally the kits cost about $100, but The Forum (being the bargain hunters we are) got both kits on sale shortly before Christmas for around $50 a piece. Both kits required Karen to fill up a small test tube with saliva and mail it in for analysis. After about three weeks, Karen received an email that her tests were completed. It was time to go online to see what she could find out.

The results

Karen logged into 23andMe to learn she's a whopping 99.9 percent European, including 47 percent Scandinavian heritage and 16 percent British and Irish ancestry. Not too surprising. But way at the bottom of her results, a very small percentage of Chinese or Southeast Asian DNA.

"Well, I didn't expect that," Karen says, laughing. "I wonder where that comes from?"

A view of Karen Reierson's 23andMe DNA test results. Brent Kiehl / The Forum
A view of Karen Reierson's 23andMe DNA test results. Brent Kiehl / The ForumBrent Kiehl / The Forum

23andMe allowed Karen to see her actual ancestry composition along her chromosomes, including that little speck of red representing the Southeast Asian DNA. But it didn’t provide her with any DNA matches for distant cousins.

Ancestry reported very similar results: 100 percent European heritage, including 59 percent Scandinavian ancestry and approximately 20 percent British Isles ancestry. The minuscule Chinese East Asian result found on 23andMe does not show up on Ancestry, but it did tell Karen that she had ancestors who were French settlers along the Saint Lawrence River in North America — something 23andMe didn’t have. Ancestry also gave her a large list of people who are DNA matches, including some fairly close cousin matches.

Karen says except the for the trace Chinese ancestry, she wasn’t surprised by her results but she’s looking forward to learning more.

"I think it’s going to take a lot of time to read and investigate what is all means and so I think you would get hooked into learning more and learning more, " Karen says. "I think that as I investigate, I will be surprised by things. And I look forward to that."

Which should you choose?

People choose to take DNA tests for different reasons, so no one kit is best for everyone. Smarter Hobby did an analysis and comparison of several brands of DNA kits and made these recommendations:

  • AncestryDNA: best for cousin matching and contains the most geographic regions for ethnicity
  • 23andMe: best for genetic health screening
  • FamilyTreeDNA: best for serious genealogy
  • MyHeritage: best autosomal test on a budget
  • Living DNA: best for British Isles ancestry