Saturday, January 7, 2017

Review of "The Stranger in My Genes" by Bill Griffeth

For Christmas I received a new book from my Godmother Jody. It was a title I requested; one that made my inner adolescent giggle. "Hee hee hee. A Stranger in my Jeans? Hee hee hee." But really it's a quite serious topic and one that I have sort of encountered in working with others researching their family history.

Bill Griffeth is a news anchor on CNBC's financial news program, Closing Bell. In his personal life, Griffeth is a genealogy enthusiast. He has seriously researched his family history for a long time. As many of you know, DNA testing is a new tool in the genealogist's toolkit. It helps to restore lost connections between other cousins researching family history.

In the past I have blogged about how my DNA test helped me to learn the maiden name of my 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Carillion-Henry. You can read that post called Spelling and Genetic here

In recent months, though, I have been working with a woman who is now in her 70s and just learned through a dying aunt that who she thought was her biological father was not. That is enough of a revelation to deal with but in Bill Griffeth's case he learn through a standard genealogy DNA test that who the man he knew as his biological father could not have been.

Griffeth never saw it coming. He had invested years in researching his Griffeth family history. Was this his family anymore? That question results in an entire exploration of how one defines family and the difference between genealogy and family history but I digress...

When Bill's cousin contacted him with the jarring news, the first reaction of everyone he shared the news with was complete disbelief. The first conclusion was that it had to be an error in the testing. His saintly mother could have never strayed from the man that Bill had never questioned was his father. Had his family been hiding this secret from him his whole life? How was he going to confront his elderly mother about this?

Griffeth explores all these questions and all the associated emotions that come with such a discovery.

I have gifted close to a dozen DNA testing kits to friends and cousins in the last few years and never have I every thought that perhaps I should prepare myself to confront such an issue but obviously it happens. In the 100 or so clients I have worked with through my part-time job as a genealogy librarian, many have come to me without any knowledge of their father, or mother for that matter. Several have been adoptees, orphans, or raised by a single parent. In one instance a client burst into tears when I found her uncle's Social Security Death Index record. I was taken aback by the emotional reaction. Despite that fact the man would have been close to 115 if he were alive, it hurt this 80 year old woman to hear her favorite uncle had died. Could you imagine if she had learned he wasn't her uncle?

If you are interested in the impact DNA testing could have one you or someone you love, read The Stranger in My Genes. I loved! I finished it in one day. And it brought to me an awareness of the emotional trials one might face in exploring their own genealogical truth.

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