A DNA test to satisfy a cousin’s curiosity about their shared family history forced journalist Bill Griffeth to figure out who he really was.
For many family historians, a DNA test is an enticing means to further their research, spanning generations and tracing genetic fingerprints that ancestors have left in their makeup across the continents.
For Griffeth, a CNBC anchor, it prompted a hunt for his real father across the United States. “The Stranger in My Genes” is Griffeth’s journey of self-discovery.
Griffeth grew up with the affection of his parents and much older siblings, his mother’s late-life son. Until 2012, he had no idea how much of an “oops baby” he really was.
The lines with his cousin should have intersected. Instead, they revealed that Bill had a different father than the man he had known and loved.
Fortunately for Griffeth, his nonagenarian mother was yet living and lucid. She didn’t want to discuss this secret, but reluctantly, she shared how Bill was the surprise outcome of a tryst that heretofore she had kept from everyone — in some ways, even from herself.
“Did Dad know?” he asked her.
“No,” she said. “And I really didn’t know myself until just now.”
At times reeling even as he stayed cool for viewers of “Closing Bell,” Griffeth grapples to fill in the empty spaces. Who was his biological father? Along the way, he takes readers on a figurative and literal journey through the family history he once thought was all there was to him, of New Englanders and Nebraskans.
Over the course of hundreds of years, it is likely that at some point along the way, the paper trail and the gene trail diverge for many of us. When the ancestor is far removed, genetic genealogy can reveal where on the globe our lines lead but not as much to whom. Fortunately for Griffeth, it was not too late to uncover origins papered over by the legal documentation of his life.
Just who was this man who sired Griffeth? Griffeth conceals the late man’s name with a pseudonym as he puts his reporter skills to work in investigating his life story.
For those enticed by genealogy and genetics, “The Stranger in My Genes,” published in 2016 by the New England Historical Society, is a swift read about the shake-up over Griffeth’s make-up.