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The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  719 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Bill Griffeth, longtime genealogy buff, takes a DNA test that has an unexpected outcome: "If the results were correct, it meant that the family tree I had spent years documenting was not my own." Bill undertakes a quest to solve the mystery of his origins, which shakes his sense of identity. As he takes us on his journey, we learn about choices made by his ancestors, paren ...more
Hardcover, 202 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by New England Historic Genealogical Society(NEHGS)
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3.97  · 
Rating details
 ·  719 ratings  ·  126 reviews

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Margaret Sankey
Jun 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
Griffeth, a financial reporter who developed his genealogy interests into a previous book tracing the Griffeth family through 400 years of American Protestantism, including the Salem Witch Trials, Mormonism and Midwest Methodists (and how this strong family line had shaped him), found out via a cousin's press for DNA testing to find more matches that he was not, in fact, a Griffeth. He is briefly outraged that his mother must have been raped, but when the only response he can get from his mother ...more
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
He may not need resolution, but the reader does.
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book, brief but repetitive, is all about how emotionally devastating it was to the author to learn that he was not the genetic son of the man who was married to his mother, who had raised him, and who he thought was his father in all respects. That he hadn't known this crushes him. But when he brings himself to ask his mother what had happened and what led to his birth, he walks away after his mother makes a one-sentence apology for her "mistake." Now that characterization of the situation ...more
Mary Smith
Aug 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
Bill Griffeth chooses to romanticize the man who, by all reasonable inferences, raped his mother. After discovering through a DNA test that he has a different father than his brother, all family members agree that his mother would never have had an affair. And, when he confronts her with the DNA results, she reports "I made a mistake when I was younger" and that "it" happened at a deserted construction site with a former boss. When she refuses to discuss it further and looks at his with "dead ey ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a genealogist, I've done DNA testing for myself and I administer kits for multiple family members. I'm fully aware of the potential for unexpected findings, and I haven't taken the warnings lightly. I readily admit that I did breathe a sigh of relief when DNA matches confirmed that I was a part of my genealogical family and that we brought the right child home from the hospital, but I never truly understood how much my identity would change if the results had been different. Bill's story push ...more
Dec 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Could have been a long magazine article. Slow to get started and a lot of melodramatic moments about how shocking it is to find out your father isn't your father. Cliches abound.
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
It satisfied my genealogy nerdiness.
Karla Huebner
This book is in the process of being passed around my DNA Interest Group, and eventually my turn came. As someone fairly involved in family history, and sufficiently experienced with DNA testing that I've given some talks on the subject, I was looking forward to reading the book. Initially, it held some promise: it's by a devoted genealogist whose tests revealed that his dad was not his biological father.

Well, that had to produce strong emotions--and it did. The author assumed the test had to be
Russell Atkinson
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author was talked into getting a DNA test by his cousin as they were both genealogy buffs looking to explore family history. The results came back showing his father, the man who raised him, was not his biological father, or so it seemed. His first reaction was denial. Then as he studied more about inheritance and DNA he understood that it might be true and there could be several explanations for it. I know of at least three.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. The least important one is
Rosanne Macek
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
At the urging of his cousin, the author takes a DNA test and uncovers a family secret that shocks him and turns his life upside down. He doesn't believe the results and takes the test two more times only to have to face the truth. The father he has known and loved all his life, who is now deceased, was not his biological father. He embarks on a painful journey of self discovery to make sense of his life and family history. One of the reading selections for Silicon Valley Reads 2019.
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
The book gets to keep 2 stars because a little of the family history is actually pretty interesting, there are a number of photos, and the author keeps it simple with a non-technical explanation of DNA that is adequate for the purpose it serves in this book. That accounts for about 2 chapters of the whole book. If this had been properly edited, it would have made a fine blog post.

As I started reading this book, I thought that it was most likely going to be a 4-star book. But as I continued read
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
As a genealogist, I found this book particularly fascinating. However, I think this story has broad appeal and isn't just for family history enthusiasts.

Bill Griffeth is a CNBC reporter and a genealogist. He's the author of an earlier book about his family's Protestant roots. Being a Griffeth is very important to him. And then he finds out he's not. A Y-DNA test reveals that Bill is genetically distant from his siblings in a way that means their father is not his father. He's devastated, but al
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have been delving into my own genealogy off and on for nearly 50 years, and I am finally writing a family history book. I have also done some DNA testing. So, I eagerly anticipated that this memoir would be a very interesting read. Fortunately I have not had to deal with the sort of discovery that the author found. I can understand his anguish, after spending years researching a family tree that turned out to not be his own. But the story just seemed like it would have made a very interesting ...more
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
After a lifetime of researching his own genealogy, Bill Griffeth is startled to discover—through DNA testing--that the man he called “father” all his life was not actually his biological father. “The Stranger in My Genes” follows his path of discovery and the mental turmoil he faced. Each chapter retells the decisions he faced regarding sharing this knowledge with his family, learning about his biological relatives, tracing his biological lineage and coming to terms with who he actually is. The ...more
Short easy read on a topic that interests me in general as a genealogy and DNA researcher with my own (now solved) family mystery and because I share DNA with the author's Griffeth cousin. One small quibble is that the book confuses mtDNA with X-chromosomes (brothers with the same mother are expected to share identical mtDNA, not necessarily X-chromosomes, and mtDNA results for the author and his brother were almost certainly what he was comparing not X-chromosome data as stated). I therefore do ...more
Charlene Dean
Sep 04, 2017 rated it liked it
This one got three stars because the author spent too much time whining about the loss of his identity. Anyone who undergoes genetic testing for ancestry purposes must be willing to risk finding out uncomfortable truths about themselves and their ancestors. Was it a shock? Sure, but why spend more than a few pages going on about it. Otherwise, I enjoyed reading this.
Producervan in Cornville, AZ from New Orleans & L.A.
Fantastic. Highly recommend!
Jan Cole
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Despite the corny title, this book was surprisingly interesting and very well written. For those of you who don't know (and I didn't know either) Bill Griffeth is a financial analyst on CNN. His hobby is genealogy. The youngest of 5 children by a large margin, he spent lots of time looking over historical records, census, hiking through overgrown cemeteries and contacting distant relatives to research his ancestors. For example, his last name is an unusual variation on the more common Griffith. ...more
Christy Baker
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
A Silicon Valley Reads 2019 Library selection, I picked this up and read it in a single evening, surprised by how easily drawn into the narrative I became. The story of this professional journalist and long-time hobbyist genealogist was more compelling than I would have imagined as I felt drawn in to the drama and intrigue of Griffeth's family and personal story of belonging, identity and understanding of what it means to believe a narrative of oneself and the world and have it upended. The obvi ...more
I found The Stranger in My Genes to be a compelling story. It fed my interest in genealogy and I and several relatives have done the DNA testing. The book is a quick read and I finished it after waking up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep. I enjoyed the book very much.

"If genealogy has taught me anything, it was that when our lives are stripped to the bare walls-no job, no money, no possessions- we are left with a fundamental truth that defines us, and it's family. Careers a
Joanne Thorn
Spoilers in review. Because the information is interesting, and the accounts of his wife, brother and cousin are refreshing, I gained some insight into story. However, several chapters could have been condensed into one- more than once. If the intent was to build to a climactic moment of truth; as to who was the likeliest of females to of strayed.. It was completely lost. I didn't care. The confusing scenarios with would be possibilities of lovers for Mom or Grandma were thoughtless and painful ...more
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating read. When DNA testing reveals to Bill Griffeth that the man he has called dad for over 50 years, is not the man who actually fathered him, he sets out on a quest to discover the truth of his parentage. Though understandably shocked by this discovery, Mr. Griffeth painfully reconstructs the paternal side of his family tree, all the while seeking to be loyal to the memory of the father who raised him and gentle with his 95-year old mother---who is ashamed that her decades-old secret ...more
Aug 04, 2017 rated it liked it
With the advent of DNA into the study of family history, I was intrigued by Bill Griffeth's experience of learning that his beloved father was not his "father" after all. This short memoir is a poignant reminder that not only do we all have skeletons in the closet, but also that the old adage "be careful what you wish for" is so true. To be fair to Bill, it was his first cousin who was keen to have him take a dedicated Y-chromosome DNA test. The fascinating aspect of the Y-chromosome is that it ...more
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As I read Bill Griffeth's story it brought back all the memories like a tsunami that we experienced in 2005. My family's secret mirrored that of Bill Griffeth, only we had someone tell us about the affair and I was designated to break it to my sibling. I liked the fact that he went over some of the interesting finds in his genealogy along the way. After all, they were just a human as we are today. Unless you have experienced this kind of thing yourself there is no way that you would know how you ...more
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
It is time once again for Silicon Valley Reads. Finding Identity is this year’s theme. For my first book, I chose The Stranger in my Genes, a memoir by Bill Griffith of The Nightly Business Report. I have watched this PBS program for years and was interested to know about the man I see every weeknight. It turns out that Bill is an avid genealogist, just as is my husband. However, Bill got more than he bargained for when he took a DNA test. The narrative moves along at a quick pace as Bill must c ...more
Therese Wiese
Interesting story from someone who took a DNA test and learned the dad who raised him was not his bio-dad. More memoir than informative in terms of DNA testing and genealogy. I enjoyed the book - I do think his Mom was a victim of sexual harassment and was most likely raped. The author kind of gave his Mom a pass when it came to the tough questions, and personally I think he did the right thing by doing so. (Some of the other reviews I read thought he should have pushed her for more information) ...more
Marty Acks
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book starts off with the author being contacted by a cousin (that he knows) to do a DNA for genealogy purposes. When the results come back - surprise! One of them does not have the parentage they think they do. Of course, there would be no book, if it was not Bill who had the non-paternal event (NPE) as the genealogical community likes to use describe this situation.

There so many layers to this book that it is hard to describe without bringing in spoilers. Griffeth is a good storyteller. T
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was quite a story! Bill Griffeth is an amateur family historian and has enjoyed learning the details of his family and ancestry. At the invitation of his cousin he takes a DNA test. The cousins don't match, which they should have. After a retest that comes out the same as the first test, Bill invites his brother to take the test. The brother matches with the cousin but not with Bill. Bill's father is not his biological father! This is shocking news and really hard to figure out. In this boo ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Modern technology presents us with marvelous options in many areas of life. It also presents us with some unsettling questions and situations in life. This is an excellently written discovery experience of one man.

Read this and understand we all handle these events differently.
In nursing school, I was taught that people respond to learning of someone’s death in very different ways. I tried to take that to heart when working with families but I didn’t fully appreciate until I was told of my brot
Dec 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Bill Griffith, journalist, reporter, and avid genealogist writes about one of the pitfalls of genealogy: not knowing if the information you are given or find in the records is correct.

Families have secrets and a DNA report Griffith had done to advance his genealogy showed him his history wasn't quite what he thought it was.

The author used his log of the episode to write the book which may explain the repetition as he tried to adjust to the new information. The book seems disjointed and choppy.

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