It was 2007 when California State University, Northridge Distinguished Alumnus and financial journalist Bill Griffeth’s book By Faith Alone was published. The CNBC host, fascinated by his genealogy and skilled in investigation, wrote the book about the 400-year history of his family and United States’ Protestant history.
Now, Griffeth ’80 (Journalism) says, “I feel like that book needs to be moved from the non-fiction section of the library to the fiction section.”
Griffeth, prodded to take a DNA test by a cousin, did so in 2012 — and discovered that the man who he thought was his father really wasn’t. Griffeth shares the personal and wrenching experience in his new book, The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir. Published in September, the memoir tells a story Griffeth hopes reaches people on a human-interest level, but he wants to motivate others to seek the answers to their own family questions.
“I realized this could help some people who find themselves in the same situation or know people who are in the same situation,” Griffeth said. “I can tell you there are a number of stories I’ve heard of people who have found themselves in the same situation. I think it points to the impact DNA testing is going to have, not just on medical and biotech, but on society itself. We’re going to find a lot of secrets uncovered as a result of that.”
For more than a decade, Griffeth has been passionate about genealogy — a passion that grew from an email exchange he had about family history with another cousin. He serves as treasurer on the board of trustees for the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Griffeth said he had a feeling something was odd about his family because he was far younger than his four siblings.
When he took the DNA test and learned of the results, it was a huge shock, he said. Griffeth spoke to his 94-year-old mother, and she admitted the truth: The man whom he’d called his father for his entire life was not — not biologically, anyway. Griffeth was the product of an extramarital affair.
“It was emotionally a very, very rocky time for me,” Griffeth said. “I went through all the stages of grief. I started with denial, went into depression, then anger — a lot of anger — and now I’m at acceptance.”
Griffeth said he never thought about not writing about his experience. He had three published books prior to The Stanger in My Genes: By Faith Alone, Bill Griffeth’s Ten Steps to Financial Prosperity and The Mutual Fund Masters. After receiving the results of the DNA test, he wrote in a journal some of his thoughts and emotions — and then got to work on the book.
Since the book’s publication, Griffeth has promoted it heavily, unafraid to tell a story that, to some, would be too personal or painful to share. The co-anchor of CNBC’s Closing Bell doesn’t know where his future in genealogy is going, but he said he feels this may open the door to more research — for himself and others.
DNA testing has been vital to the fields of law enforcement and biology, but Griffeth said he feels that research institutions can also benefit from this tool in the social sciences.
“It can be used for scientific purposes like finding treatments — maybe cures for diseases — but it’s also a social science in many ways, and I think it needs to be viewed as that as well,” Griffeth said. “It’s not just about the DNA in us, but the stories that that DNA can tell about our past and who we are. It helps us form a more accurate picture of our personal identities.”
For more information on The Stranger in My Genes: A Memoir, go to http://shop.americanancestors.org/products/the-stranger-in-my-genes-a-memoir?pass-through=true