Cover Image: Ancestor Trouble

Ancestor Trouble

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Member Reviews

Truly titled, this book. As I read, it felt that the reckoning came in tides, presented in a wide-ranging narrative of the author's family members and their experiences (as she understands them), separated in parts: Genealogy, Genetic Genealogy, Nature and Nurture, Physicality, Inheritance, Spirituality and Creativity. Surprising categories, I thought, but well-deployed.

Reconciliation is more difficult than Reckoning. Reckonings can be ongoing, extended and continued. . . a Reconciliation is a done-deal, a conclusion, a complete settlement on a designated or defined value. That's where I was often tossed-lost in these chapters - what was just opinion, where was the settling up. And perhaps that's the point! How does a descendant in 2022 truly settle up an abusive indenture that happened 200 years ago? The abuser and abused are long gone. It's the ghost of abuse that remains, often echoing down the years in the families of the abuser and the abused. Still, fighting phantoms is dicey work.

This was an interesting read - not the read I thought I was getting, but something altogether different. This the author's valiant attempt to consider, acknowledge and specifically point out some of the shoulders on which she stands. Ten or twenty years from now, I wonder if this same premise and effort were employed, would a completely different book result?

A Sincere Thank you to Maud Newton, Random House, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and review.
#AncestorTrouble #NetGalley
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Ancestor Trouble has so much marketing that I was excited to read this memoir. Unfortunately, it was much more an investigation of the history of genealogy than the author's personal family. I found it to be dry and I wouldn't have chosen this book if I knew it was more of a textbook than a memoir.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC for an honest review.
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Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review. Being someone who is interested in genealogy, I really liked this book. It was interesting and has some great points about genetic genealogy. Some of the information was not new to me but it was still something that kept my interest.
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DNF at about 25% felt this was trying too hard to be scholarly in between the bits about the authors ancestors. Some interesting ideas posed but not really an enjoyable read for me and just couldn’t push through. Thanks to #netgalley and the publisher for this copy of #ancestertrouble.
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"Ancestor Trouble" by Maud Newton was an interesting memoir about the author's family history and thoroughly examining genealogy. A wonderful mix of family drama, stories of the past, of trauma, abuse, and racism, mixed with a deep knowledge of nature as well nurture, and its attributes on personalities and choices. Thank you NetGalley, the author and publisher for the reader copy for review. All opinions are my own.
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I am a big genealogy geek and amateur researcher. I was very intrigued by the premise of this book but the execution did not suit me as well as I had hoped. 
It was a bit disjointed with discussions of her family members, then big picture genealogy issues and questions. I would have liked to see more editing for clarity in this book too, there would be relatives mentioned at various points and it was hard to keep track. I found myself not very engaged in the book.
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I loved parts of this book and found other parts difficult to get through.  It ranged from memoir to history to social commentary.  I really appreciated the way the author grappled with the difficult parts of her anecestory.
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With questions about her own family's troublesome past, Maud Newton paints a picture of the connections between us and our ancestors. Her research began with exploring the idea of genealogy and how it has evolved and changed over time. Like any good mystery, her family had secrets and how she went about trying to solve them is fascinating.

She explores how she went about finding clues and verifying them while discussing issues like 'nature versus nurture'? Do we look alike? Are talents passed down the generations? What about DNA's role in proving relationships? The reader won't necessarily come away with answers but will have a new depth of understanding.

There are numerous notes attached but you can read the book without stopping to refer to them. The details may be about the author's family, but the reader will likely recognize similar patterns in their own lives.

Besides a rendering of the author's family tree, there are photos of her ancestors. An index is included.

BOTTOM LINE: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free e-copy of "Ancestor Trouble" by Maud Newton from NetGalley/Random House for my honest review.
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this copy. I truly loved this book. What a great story.
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This is a fabulously structured French braid of a book, deftly bringing together many lines of inquiry: stories of Maud Newton’s eccentric family, apocryphal and researched; her interest in genealogy; the legacy of white supremacy running down her ancestral lines; epigenetics—the study of how (or whether) environment can alter genes and inherited traits; spirituality; how we relate to our ancestors and what, if anything, we owe them; and the way all those strands come together to form each and every one of us. It’s both cerebral and heartfelt—she’s got wonderful control of language and tone, and can talk about matters of faith and ephemerality without getting mired in new-ageyness. I try to stay away from reviewer-speak but the phrase that comes to mind here is tour de force, so I’m going to stick with that. Fascinating stuff,; I’ll be featuring Maud on Bloom in the next couple of weeks.

Bloom interview: https://bloomsite.wordpress.com/2022/04/05/maud-newton-on-ancestors-imaginative-spirituality-and-old-school-blogging/
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This review is the result of reading the uncorrected e-book version provided by NetGalley and Random House.  I very much appreciate the opportunity afforded me to read advance copies and provide reviews.

When I saw this book on NetGalley in the “History” category, I immediately requested it, primarily due to my intense interest in genealogy and thought it might be a book of interest to readers of the magazine.  The book had been touted as one of the most anticipated books of 2022, the New York Times calling it a “literary feat”.  Wow!
I have to honestly say, however, that I have decidedly mixed feelings about Ancestor Trouble.  While Maud Newton (a pseudonym she borrowed from great-aunt Maude Newton Simmons; her birth name is Rebecca) is to be commended for a well-written and researched book, the more I read the more I lost interest.  Wanting to give it a fair shot, however, I did read the entire book.

From its beginning pages the reader will learn that Newton’s family history is complicated (and colorful), and it becomes increasingly obvious she is troubled about certain parts – not unlike all of us I imagine as we delve into our family past (warts and all!).  For about half the book I read with a great deal of interest as she interspersed family stories with thoughtful essays on various genealogically-related topics like DNA, heredity, nature vs. nurture, temperament and spirituality.  

However, I must admit I began to grow weary of oft-repeated references to her family’s past sins of racism and genocide (Native Americans).  As one reviewer put it, she spent a great deal of time on “retrospective guilt”.  Certainly, there are a number of people for whom this angle would play well.  However, after awhile it became tedious for me.
Again, I emphasize the book is well-written and well-thought out.  It is obviously written with a perspective quite personal to Ms. Newton.  

I often look at how other people have reviewed books I’ve read, and I’m not alone.  While there are a number of glowing reviews, there are just as many who, like me, have mixed feelings.  Ancestor Trouble is filled with a number of fascinating stories, but in the end I’m not certain it’s a book even the most avid reader of this genre would read to the very end.
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Interesting, well-written mash-up of memoir/study of ancestry as a scientific, social, personal, and spiritual phenomenon. The memoir part was intense; all ancestors and family histories are full of imperfections, but Newton’s were...extra. I appreciated that she was upfront about how hungry she was for her biological ancestry to have a deeper meaning and enjoyed following the journey she took while seeking that.
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An interesting philosophical look into family past, genealogy, and becoming yourself. Our family history can tell us so much about ourselves today and it’s never going to not be cool. Really great book for historians and genealogy lovers.
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I’m glad I read this book and I’d give it a 3.75 if I could be more specific. Know that it’s an incredibly ambitious book, first of all. Besides the part I was really interested in—the author’s research into and discoveries about her genealogy and family history—she goes to some other pretty wild places. Ancestor worship in various cultures and times, burial rituals, healing? of whole ancestral lines at a time, and a huge amount of philosophy and history that partly, I confess, I just skimmed. That part just wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure it is some people’s, and they will be very satisfied with her thorough scholarship and excellent writing. 

I wanted to read it because she went about studying her rather wild family and mostly confirming its crazy stories through genetic DNA and other methods, and I love stories like that. It did not disappoint.
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Having always been interested in genealogy and family history — partly because so much was hidden from me because of distance, divorces, and deaths, and having loved the personal memoir Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, I thought Ancestor Trouble would be right up my alley. Much of it is — but, because there’s such a fine line between so much in life, I’m not sure Newton achieved her aim here. 

Ancestor Trouble begins simply enough: Newton talks about the physical similarities she shares with her father — from whom she is estranged. She brings in her mother, her personal feeling of unbelonging with her two parents — highlighting the differences that separate them, alongside the inherited traits and behaviors from both. Newton relates a good number of relatable family stories — alongside her dissection and research into the truth of these stories and predecessors who felt like characters to her up to that point. But Newton quickly allows her research and desire for some sort of personal reckoning with her past to overwhelm the purpose of the book. 

Ancestor Trouble quickly gets weighed down by being too often dry and overly textbook. Whenever she isn't on a directly personal exploration of her ancestors, Newton inserts information on the history of anything and everything related to genealogy, genetics, and accountability. It feels suspiciously like filler, but it also has the texture of a common problem with researchers: knowing when enough is enough. You don't need to include everything you found or know or can link. 

She winds her way back around often enough to her personal stories and familial ties, but overall Ancestor Trouble lacks a certain amount of focus and cohesion. By the halfway mark, her aim feels more like a purge, rather than simply relating her findings or existing solely as a personal journey.

A little too all-encompassing and I think I it gets away from her a smidge. 

However, relating to Newton is easy. The weight of relatives, past and present, can sometimes be so pressing and disconcerting that I understand her desire to push herself into the depths and try it from different angles. Her disconnect with, and struggle regarding, her more troublesome relatives from her past is, while not directly relatable, certainly draws my empathy. She's honest and frank about the enslaved people in her family's history, her father's racism, and the mental health issues — her own and her relatives'. Newton is at her best when she's exploring her family tree and the tree's roots, and then deciphering the way it overlays with what she already knew or assumed.
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In this decidedly colorful memoir, Maud Newton (who writes under the name of an ancestor) explores her family history while including information about ancestor rituals in other cultures. I was drawn to this book because genealogy is one of my hobbies; I have traced several ancestors back to (and beyond) the Revolutionary War, and I found the addition of her family history interesting. The part that dragged on for me was the detailed descriptions of the rituals of other cultures, some more obscure than others. I’ll admit that I finally ended up skimming over some of it. I also felt Maud had a bit of a fixation with her family’s racism, both in action and in words. Her father, a lawyer who married Maud’s mother in order to have smart children, is blatantly racist, while the rest of the family is less obvious. 

I felt as though I was reading two separate books; one about the history of a family from the southern United States, who are not all that far removed from being plantation owners, who had the casual racism and the certainty of their ethnic superiority, and another book with the extensively researched death and ancestor rituals of other cultures around the world. While I found sections of the book interesting, I found the book to be disjointed and somewhat difficult to get in to.
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Oh my. I liked the very well researched history and political thoughts behind ancestry and genetic testing. They were very clear and she linked them to her personal experiences quite well. 

The author is very frustrating in her interactions with her family, she admits she often doesn’t realize say, the racist subtext in her Grandmother’s words until years later looking back. But her parents are both abusive and neglectful and while she does cut off her father, she keeps going back to her mother and it’s very hard to read. I don’t think she has fully dealt with any of it and it is difficult to wade through because of that.
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There were moments in this book where I was sure that the author was talking about my father and it really freaked me out. Making peace with having no relationship with him has been a difficult thing for me, much as it was for the author and her father, but again, like the author, I did it for my own mental health. For much of this book, I could [<i>partially</i>] relate to what the author went through with her parent's [<i>though my relationship with my own mother has never been anything but wonderful. She is an amazing person who raised my sister and myself on practically nothing and we have never had a silence between us</i>].  The rest of the book was more tricky for me. 

Had this just been a book about her parent's and her relationship to them and also with her grandparent's [<i>we all lived with my maternal grandparents and my aunt from the time I was 10 until I was almost 17 and it was some of the best times of my life</i>], I  would have like it much more. There were just so many parts that were [for me] boring, confusing, or I just didn't understand it [I am not really a science person] and unfortunately, this made the book just drag for me. The parts that really intrigued me didn't outweigh the parts that didn't and some of her ventures caused me to both skim that chapter, and wish that she had been wiser in her search. 

I did realize that I am no longer that interested in giving my DNA to a place like Ancestry or 23andMe - the fact that they keep information from you and that it isn't nearly as accurate as they profess, makes me seriously wonder if I really want to do it. As much as I'd like to learn about parts of the family that I don't know anything about, the information she shares about these companies makes me much more hesitant. 

Overall, it was an okay read [<i>I will say that one really needs to read the acknowledgments at the end - those were just magnificent</i>] - I know that people love this and I am glad it worked for them. For me, it only partially worked and there were absolutely moments where I was ready to throw in the towel - I am glad I didn't, but really could have done without some of the chapters in this book. The stuff that helped me deal with the ongoing issues with my father and made me realize again that I have made the correct decision is the absolute best thing that came out of reading this. 

I was asked to read/review this by the publisher and I want to thank them ["Random House Publishing Group/Random House], NetGalley, and the author [Maud Newton] for providing the ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.
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Maud Newton’s Ancestor Trouble traces her genealogy from an abusive father focused on white supremacy, a mother who rescues cats and performs exorcisms, a grandfather who is said to have been married thirteen times, a great grandfather who died in a mental institution, another ancestor accused of being a witch and many ancestors involved slavery.   Maud searches through each of these lives to find similar characteristics and to learn if they are the reasons behind her own anxieties in life. 
Newton explores genetics, epigenetics, spiritual traditions and the debates over intergenerational trauma to help determine how much her ancestors have contributed to the person she is now. 
I was intrigued by the title. I have spent many hours researching, listening and comparing stories of my own ancestors.  Newton provided many tips to assist with searches and explained how Ancestry.com and similar companies worked. Many of her stories were interesting.  Her grandfather Charley Bruce’s story showed that family folklore is not always passed downed correctly.  Sadly, I lost interested about midway through.  I had trouble keeping up with which relative was which and soon became overwhelmed with the focus on racism. I kept thinking somewhere there had to be something good in one of her ancestors.
Thank you Maud Newton, NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group-Random House for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
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This is a “reckoning and a reconciliation,” a memoir (of sorts) about a woman, Maud, who is researching her ancestry.  A good summary falls in “It was the Internet, and particularly the rise of Ancestry.com, that transformed genealogy into the mainstream hobby.”  The book provides much detail on tools, resources, people, and trends available to the reader for researching ancestors.  As the author aptly stated, the book is her “intensive genealogical sleuthing.”  A major focus is diving into the relationship between her ancestors and her individuality.  The author looks at familial physical and behavioral traits and ties them to herself.   I honestly had no interest in researching my ancestors; but after reading this book, I’m now interested!  

The book covers a gamut of topics, such as, the dirt and grit of familial relationships and the skeletons in her ancestry closet (including mental illness, abuse, slavery, witches, Indians, murder).  It is not limited to just her specific ancestry but the broader topics of epigenetics, psychology, racism, ancestor veneration (religion), and “ancestral medicine.”  One area that the author took a leap of extreme (my opinion) is diving into contacting the spirits of her ancestors.  

A risk in knowing your ancestry is discovering the bad, sometimes downright evil, things your ancestors committed.  This author had to learn “how to make amends.  Unlike my ancestors, who stayed silent or who used their words to manipulate and maintain power over others, I can acknowledge and own this history.”  Before diving into our ancestry, we must be prepared to cope with the results.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an in-depth memoir especially on the topic of genealogy.  

Thank you to Netgalley and the book’s publisher, Random House, for an advanced reader’s copy.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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