The Stranger in my Genes – A DNA Test That Changed a Life

Bill Griffeth, anchor of CNBC’s Closing Bell, and now author of the book, “The Stranger in My Genes” had something startling to say in a recent interview:

“My father wasn’t my father….and I blame this man…Max Blankfeld.”

No, Max isn’t Bill’s father, but Max is the COO of Family Tree DNA, established in the year 2000, the company that ran Bill’s DNA test.


You can watch this great interview here.

This is absolutely wonderful exposure for DNA testing, whether for heritage, ethnicity or genealogy and yes, to see if your Y DNA matches the line you think it will. Using DNA to confirm your family lineages is something every genealogist should do.

After the initial, shocking, finding, Bill wanted a second opinion, so he ordered a second test from the National Geographic Society’s Genographic project. The results confirmed that Bill’s original test was correct. It was only afterwards that Bill discovered the irony that Family Tree DNA is the partner to the National Geographic Society and the Family Tree DNA on-premises lab runs the tests for Genographic.

Bill’s story isn’t unique, by any stretch, but every person who makes an unexpected discovery in either traditional or genetic genealogy has a unique and interesting story to tell. Everyone’s story is different and begins a journey. Many people, after that initial discovery, use genetic genealogy to solve the mystery of their missing ancestor, whether it’s a parent or further back in time.

Here’s what Amazon has to say about “The Stranger in my Genes”:


“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, parents, and others—and we see Bill measure and weigh his own difficult choices as he confronts the past.”

You know, I am going to have to read this book. I hope that everyone who reads this book DNA tests.

Personally, I find it amazing, as one who began their genetic journey in 2000 or 2001, that 15 years later, I can watch Max on CNBC. I’m so proud of what Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan have done with Family Tree DNA, taking it from a startup company, forming a partnership with the National Geographic Society and ultimately, becoming the foundation of an entire industry.

I suppose it would be unprofessional to jump up and down, shouting “WooHoo” and “Way to go Max!”, but that’s what I wanted to do when I saw this interview!!!!  This segment is great exposure for genetic genealogy.



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23 thoughts on “The Stranger in my Genes – A DNA Test That Changed a Life

  1. I haven’t read the book, but I definitely will. I have an 1860 “non paternal event” in my mother’s mother’s paternal line, and we have known about it for many years. The shock came when two male cousins from that line tested y-dna and their results didn’t match what we thought was the biological father’s surname. In fact, the shock reverberated down the line and as you can imagine, created a lot of questions, doubt and yes, even anger. The logical conclusions don’t mean much when the emotions of your family are involved, and as a project administrator, this is something I deal with often. Having it happen in my own family, I hope, makes me more compassionate and careful about how I address it, if asked.

    That said, I have a question, Roberta, and I hope it is not inappropriate to ask. If it is, just ignore it, but I wanted to know if you could explain why two males with the same surname who match 67 out of 67 y-dna markers would not match on their autosomal dna? They are 2nd cousins 1x removed.

    Thank you so much!

    • They are right on the cusp of where they may or may not match. You don’t mention where they tested, but Ancestry strips out segments with their Timber algorithm and that might be just enough to keep them from matching, if they tested there. At Family Tree DNA, they could be just under the threshold. If you have their DNA at GedMatch, lower the thresholds to 500 SNPS and 5 cM and see what you get.

      • Thank you, Roberta. They both tested at Family Tree DNA, but only one is on Gedmatch. I will urge him to do that. You are the best!

  2. Very readable book of a personal story that did change a life. It definitely shows the use of DNA testing to further family research. I have the Kindle Version making it part of my portable DNA “library.”

    • Robert, McBrayer is in my direct ancestry. I would love to talk to you about yours. My McBrayers were in Spartanburg Co. SC. and Buncombe Co. NC in the late 1700s. Allied familes are Forrester/Forest and Justice.

      • I’d be glad to talk with you further. My line goes through the Carolina’s and further to Kentucky and Indiana. I am 8th generation in America from William and Rebecca who settled in the area of Chambersburg, PA. Let me know the best way to contact you.

      • I would be happy to talk with you further about our ancestry. My line in America begins with William and Rebecca McBrayer who settled in the area of Chambersburg, PA, in the 1730’s. From there into the Carolina’s, Kentucky and Indiana. I am 8th generation in America. I have access to a lot of family data. I have tested with AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, 23&Me and MyHeritageDNA, Let me know the best way to contact you.

  3. What a thrill to see Max on TV!! I’ve exchanged emails with him and never heard his voice before, so it was very special. And, I used to Watch Bill on CNBC all the time, so it was an added bonus. I tell FTDNA frequently, how much people enjoy having done their DNA with them. For those of use who did tests in the early days, it’s wonderful to see how they have grown. Seeing Max, knowing he and I are indeed, distant cousins, also made me feel even closer Oh yeah, Roberta, I’m a kickin; it up and woo hoootin’ right a long with you!

  4. Hi Roberta, I will read this book too. I am one of the people who found a shocking result from DNA testing. My grandfather’s family is still an unknown quantity, but now I know I shouldn’t be looking for Wilson’s (my maiden name). In 1999 I started learning about doing genealogy research in order to figure out my grandfather’s family. We knew no one in his family and I found it odd that he left no footprint of himself in any records, chalking it up to the fact that Wilson is such a common name. I decided the only way to figure out something was to test my brother’s Y-DNA in 2005. Then after years of looking for matches and getting none, I ordered the Family Finder test at FTDNA in 2013. About 8 moths later I was contacted by someone who had a very close match to my brother and whose mother had a closer match. The surnames were ones I had never heard of in connection with my family. We worked together for about 7 months and finally figured out the surname we had in common was Coffey. Then I looked at my brother’s Y-DNA results and amazingly there were three men who had tested in 2010 who matched my brother named Coffey! So now we are trying to find the MRCA since we still don’t know any particulars about my grandfather and how he came to be.

  5. Love these small world events. I ordered the book from NEHGS last week and it arrived THIS morning. Lo and behold, I opened my email just now and YOU had an article about this very book! What serendipity, eh? Am just beginning it, and am now even more excited to read it ; ) BTW, I love FTDNA!!!

  6. I ordered the Kindle version after learning about the book from Thomas McEntee. I found out about my father and his birth name the traditional way – a clue from my half-sister and what her mother had found (wife1) and confirmed by research. Later, DNA ( both FF and Y from FTDNA) proved that we were 50% Askkenazi, not part Cherokee(0%) as the story we had been told by my father. His birth name was Schwarzbaum and the man we thought was his father was his stepfather, surname Mitchell.
    As we branch out in our family research we should all be prepared for a surprise. Now – I want to watch the video.
    Thanks for writing this. I hope it helps out Bennett and Max. Both have personally reached out to me and offered help – especially Bennett. That is a company I want to work with!

  7. Just finished the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I have already recommended it to several family members and friends.

  8. Just got the Kindle version and am a few chapters into the book and loving it. I have never heard of the author (not being from the US), but I think he must be very brave to expose his personal life for all to see.
    I will recommend this book to both the DNA support group I administer and to members of my local Family History Society. Well done Bill.

  9. I must order this book too. I have a simlilar story. I adopted as a two-year old in 1957, and only found out who my mother was in 1998. She was already dead, so i relied upon my her sister and others close to her to tell me who my father was. I met him once. I look much like his son, and rather much like him as well. The man did have an affaire with my mother about the time of my conception. He refused to do a DNA test and forbade me from approaching his son. I never saw him again, but i spent the next eighteen years researching his genealogy, convinced that he was my father. In 2015 i finally found a grandson of his (son of his daughter) wiling to do the FTDNA autosomal test. In Feb 2016 the shocking outcome: we are not related. I was devastated, and began immediately to take steps to find out who my true natural father was. The Court still refused, when approached by me, to reveal the name of the father which my mother herself had given. So i followed a method found at an adoption site on internet, whereby i first divided my matches at AncestryDNA and at FTDNA into maternal and paternal ,based upon ”in common with” using my many maternal relatives who have tested at thos two sites. (23andMe was much less usefull, as most of my matches there have no trees, and are anonymous). I then inserted all of my ”paternal matches” family trees into a file. Eventually, after a couple months, i saw that five trees of AncestryDNA matches intersected at the names John Whittaker and Hannah Berry of Manchester, England. ( I check all trees thoroughly for inaccuracies!) All of them match me and each other, which means that this couple are my own ancestors. Their children emigrated to NY, and some later to Michigan. Soon thereafter i found several other trees which intersected at the names Jung and Steinmetz, from Rheinhessen, Germany. One FTDNA match, and 2 AncestryDNA matches descend from this couple, who are also my own ancestors. THeir children also emigrated to NY, and some later on to Michigan. Then i searched for a marriage between the descendants of these two families, Whittaker and Jung (changed to ”Young”), Evenutually i found the marriage, the only one, in a county nearby to where i was born. They are my paternal grandparents. Luckily i found photos of most of these ancestors on internet. I even have a photo of the two sons of this Jung-Whittaker couple, one as a baby, the other as a young man. The young man looks incredibly like me, and must be either my uncle or my father. You can’t immagine my joy and satisfaction! Thus, within a few months of finding out the devastating truth, that the man i thought had fathered me, in reality did not, i did find out through genetic genalogy the identity of the family to which my natural father belonged. Both brothers are dead, so i shall not meet htem, but i am so glad to know that one of them is my father. Thanks to FTDNA and AncestryDNA! and the ever-growing DNA data banks, and the methodology that i found at one of the on-line adoption sites.

  10. I just finished the book. What a great story! After discovering I was the product of an NPE earlier this year, I could identify with many of the emotions that Bill talked about. My mother had passed by the time I found out. So, I was unable to ask anyone questions. Just reading the interactions between Bill and his mother helped me understand how my discussions with my mother might have gone and helped me with a large amount of understanding and closure. On top of all of this, Bill’s compassion and understanding of his current and new found family members was very heart warming. I also liked how he wove the changing values of different generations into his story. We frequently base our viewing of past events through glasses tinted by current values. This can make these events extremely hard to understand. Context is everything in these situations. I highly recommend this as reading for anyone who has or is contemplating DNA testing.

  11. I wanted pictures of grandparents and great , great grandparents . I had no idea at age 58 theur was any question about my parentage.

    I did the test and expected to see my father whom i found at age 17 and had known all this time and my mother when after being patient for months none of my father on my birth certificate came up and all of these strange names popped up. Names i had never heard let alone in my family.

    I asked my 90 year old father for a paternity test he says ” i have nothing to hide” i bought him its a girl card to put the rests in i was so sure he was my dad.

    When i got the results saying zero percent i almost had a stroke again. Long story short he knew i wasnt his and didnt want to hurt me. Mom knew and kept it a secret and lied through her teeth but i had to ahut my feelings down because she was dying but she rold me my fathers name confirming what i had found . My father died in 2006 i found out about him it was 2014. Mom died i was so angry after she died i let it out all te anger i could not go to her funeral. 3 years of counciling and ptsd i will never be the same. I wish i had never found out this way. But i a glad i know who i looklike . And i met my uncle and one sister i will be meeting more.

    No one should ever go through this parents should be truthful. I think al kids should be dna tested at birth and tested againsy parents then if it is not the father by law the named people must test and she must tell or go to jail.

    • Donna, I am the keeper and writer of my paternal history. With one other helper who was experienced, we took 4 years to complete 900 pages of our Tree and the Written stories and pictures, etc. Other than my Aunt, not many others were interested. Since then, all of the immed family have passed on. It is now 2017, and I will be 70 years old next month.

      One person missing from all this long and hard family tree work, was the son of my Uncle. I paid a Private Invest. to look for him and only found his mother, who said he was happy and had a good life and good health and loved his stepfather. This was in 2004, before closing up the work on the Book. Fast forward to June of this year… He found my tree on Now we are all reunited.
      In July, he wanted to do DNA at, with me managing it. So I did, of course. He is certainly a relative and matches folks on my tree that I am not matched to. Hence…. I AM NOT BIOLOGICALLY RELATED TO any of them.!!! Remember, I’m almost 70. I am also 51% Jewish, they have none. It is doubtful that my father had any idea. I suspect it was her ex husband who she had to return to briefly to get the final divorce papers from even though she had already married my father. Never knew my mother, met the family though, when I was 57.

      I know others with stories similar to you, and they had same reaction and counseling, Although I was raised Atheist, I always told them I was Jewish and they would laugh and laugh. Right before my father died, he asked me what my obsession was with the Holocaust and Jewish people. I told him I had no idea, but i will know one day, and the next day he died. That was 2004, so no type of testing was invented yet for ethnicity.. Now the only thing I want to know is the actual name of her ex, not his stage name (they are also deceased).. so that I can put in the Jewish Surname. For pulling me out of my 4 day ‘shock’, my husband took me to Best Buy and bought me a brand new computer. I’m now fully ‘armed’ to find the missing names, due to the fast processor in this new computer! i believe you and I were given different parents to raise us, I really believe that.! Best to you to always.

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