Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Review of a True Genetic Genealogy Story: "The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir" by Bill Griffeth

DNA tests can reveal family secrets. When a "secret" has been hidden on the Y chromosome causing the tester's DNA to not match his own surname, we call it a "non-paternity event." Somewhere in the past, whether they were aware of it or not, one of the fathers who shared that Y-DNA was not a biological father. And, though the term "non-paternity event" sounds very scientific and cold, the results of realizing one of these events is in your tree can be shocking.

Over the past few days, I have followed Bill Griffeth's story as he tells about his own Y-DNA test results and how they affected him. After taking a Y-DNA test at the request of his cousin, he received an email in October of 2012 which broke the news harshly: "Your father was not Uncle Charles."

Bill could not believe that his highly moral mother could have had an affair. He refused to believe the test results and decided to take another test. He was hoping the test company had made a mistake.

The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir, which was released last month, is a wonderfully told tale of how one man attempted to reconcile the startling discovery that the father who raised him was not his biological father. He had spent years researching his Griffeth family and even wrote a book about them: By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of American Protestantism. Bill shares of conflicting emotions as he decided whether or not to share this information with others. His biggest question: should he ask his mother, who was in her 90s, about his birth or would it hurt her too much after keeping the secret all these years?

I've also recently read three other books that I believe would interest most genealogists:

 I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe is the fictional tale of Rosetta whose young husband decided to fight in the Civil War. Not wanting to be left behind, Rosetta disguised herself as a man and signed up to fight by his side. Learning about the daily life of these soldiers and how they suffered and died was heartbreaking, but also insightful as I research my own Civil War ancestors.

Maude, written by Donna Foley Mabry, tells the  life story of Donna's grandmother, Maude. Maude first married when she was "barely over fourteen years old" in 1906 and follows her throughout her lifetime. The reader follows Maude through events like the 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression, and both world wars. This wonderfully told story gives insight into what it was like to live through each of these events, and Maude's story was absolutely fascinating.

Someone's Daughter, by Silvia Pettem, was a book that was recommended during my Excelsior's "Practicum in Genealogical Research" class this summer. The author was a volunteer at an annual cemetery event where she came across the grave of a "Jane Doe" who had been murdered over 50 years earlier. Silvia hated to see this young woman remain unidentified. Jane Doe must have had friends and family somewhere who had always wondered what had happened to her.  So, Silvia embarks on a long journey to determine Jane Doe's identity. Along the way, she encounters others who have searched for missing loved ones for decades. An incredible use of genealogy skills to help identify some unknown victims of crimes and other missing individuals.


  1. You hooked me with the phrase "non-paternity event." Thanks for putting a spotlight on these interesting books!

    1. It was a fascinating book! Let me know how you like it. :)

  2. I'm the author of "Someone's Daughter" and appreciate you including the book here and for your kind words. I do want to make sure, though, that if you read the hardcopy, please go to my website to read the Epilogue, (This is already included in the Kindle edition.) Thanks!

    1. Hi, Silvia! I did happen to read the Kindle edition, but I appreciate the note. It will be helpful for anyone else reading my post! :) I loved your book! What you did was amazing. Thanks for stopping by my blog!


The 1828 Will of Peter Close's Relict: Catharine Elizabeth Close

Yesterday, I shared the 1810 will of my 5th great grandfather , Peter Close of Armagh, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Peter's wife, Catha...