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Ancestor Trouble

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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 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, 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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About fifteen years ago, my grandfather did an extensive genealogy project that went back dozens of generations in our family, and when he completed it, I remember leafing through the pages in awe that it was possible to link yourself to ancestors from hundreds of years in the past, using books, family documents, and databases that specialize in connecting distant relatives. I found Maud Newton's journey through genealogy to be so fascinating. She shares her own personal story, but also what she learned during her research on genes and eugenics, family traits, and the relationship between those who share segments of DNA. There were so many interesting bits about how people thought traits were carried from parents to offspring before scientists discovered the genetic sequence and how it works. This was full of information but didn't read like a research paper. Newton did a wonderful job adding enough personal touches to make this feel like a complete nonfiction book. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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In Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation (March 29, Random House), author Maud Newton (who adopted her first name from an ancestor she’s intrigued by) explores her family’s story as she’s researched it alongside chapters addressing the most recent advances in the DNA revolution, some of the ethics of genealogy, and her reckoning of her identity with the more troublesome aspects of her family history.

Much of this family history is of the tall-tale variety: a great-grandfather alleged to have killed his friend with a hay hook and a grandfather who married 13 times and was shot once. It was quite interesting to follow along as she researched and discovered that much of it was true, piecing together what was known from public record and trying to fill in the gaps herself.

But the personal stories felt repetitive, and at around the halfway point my interest waned. I just couldn’t get that invested in her story, and it felt like some of the family members’ stories, or at least the salient highlights, were being told multiple times.

Newton’s biggest issue was with her father, who was racist, among other unsavory characteristics. This is of course one of those highly tricky topics to navigate in your own head — how did I come from someone who I so fundamentally disagree with, what does it mean that this person is a part of me, etc. And it’s a topic I find really compelling, but this book could’ve been edited a bit more tightly. I was out of steam at that halfway mark and skimmed the second half. There is some well-told information about the sociological and scientific sides of the genetics story, but none of it felt particularly new.

My favorite element was her descriptions of her grandmother, who wielded some truly delightful southern sayings. I think this is one where individual mileage will vary depending on how invested you can get in the memoir aspect or if you haven’t read a lot around what’s currently happening in the field of consumer genealogy research.
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Quick Take: The process of learning our ancestry can help us understand ourselves and our families better.

Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton is an exploration of family and what your genealogy can teach you about yourself.  Newton came from a dysfunctional family.  Her parents married to “produce smart children” in some kind of eugenic experiment (her father was extremely racist).  Not surprisingly her parents' marriage didn’t last.  Newton uses her genealogy research as a way to feel closer to her alienated family and to try and understand where she came from.

This book is filled with information about genealogy, why we might want to track it and how possible it is. With the development of sites like and 23 and Me, testing your DNA and connecting with close relatives is easier than ever.  

I found the parts about her family history interesting, and I like the idea of uncovering secrets in your family's past.  Unfortunately, the rest of the information was a bit boring and didn’t hold my attention. I think what could have made this book better was more of a memoir/auto-biographical take.  The few stories she told about her parents and her family life made me want to know more about HER and how she developed.  Also, how learning about her family emotionally impacted her.  

If you are interested in genealogy and family history, I would recommend this book to you.  After reading this, I got more interested in my own genealogy and called my granny to get more information on my family tree.
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With a combination of biography and keen observations of the world, Newton captures her personal family history with candor and honesty. The family stories she presents are both intriguing and awful. However, this book is more than just a family history, it is a captivating essay on what makes us ‘us’, on the need in each of us to understand where we come from. Well written, captivating, and essential, I thoroughly enjoyed Maud Newton’s ‘Ancestor Trouble’. Thanks to NetGalley and the author for a chance to provide an honest review.
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An inspiring read about genealogy and one woman’s unconventional southern family, I want to thank NetGalley for the copy in exchange for an honest review.
A great read!
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I was grabbed by the title and a limited idea of what the book was about.  I didn't realize so much of it would be describing and explaining the oddities of how heredity works.  Because I already knew quite a bit about that I was hoping that the book would be primarily about the "trouble" that heredity caused.  The author gives very, very detailed descriptions of certain ancestors but I kept expecting that part of the narrative to go somewhere more interesting.  This book has receiving a ton of positive previews and readers will be able to decide for themselves.
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Disappointed. Not as good as I thought it was going to be and a tad predictable. It is still a readable book.

Thanks to Netgalley, Maud Newton and Random House Publishing Group Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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It took me much longer than I care to admit to read this one and I am not sure why. Typically I love books like this, but I found my attention wandered a lot as I was reading. It is well written, so that is not the issue. It could just be that for now I am kind of burned out on memoirs. I have no doubt others will enjoy this excellent story.
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I related to this book so much. Like the author, I have had sporadic bouts of genealogy fever, staying up late into the night searching digitized records and DNA matches. I've also had difficult relationships with the generations of my family that I've known personally, and can understand the desire to balance understanding of the past and present. For pedantic old-school genealogy purists and there are many of those, I know from experience!), this book may grate, as it's neither a how-to nor a chronicle of Maud Newton's training. It's a family memoir. I didn't read it straight through, and I sometimes had trouble remembering the various family members after picking the book up again--it could have used a little more framing to help readers keep track of everyone. But I'll round my 4.5 stars up to 5.

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to review a temporary digital ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
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I think we have all asked or at least wondered ‘Who are we?’ ‘Where did I come from?’ Genealogy has become very popular and samples of DNA have introduced many people to the trails of their ancestry. Do the stories that we have heard match what we learn from a swab or from the research we have chosen to do?
Family lore had presented an often troubled tree; murder, mental illness, prejudice, multiple marriages and eccentricities. An interest from early childhood, Maud Newton has taken this task to hand and heart and has authored a fascinating and powerful story, part mystery/part memoir. From her DNA to reading various clippings, census and the writings of her aunt, the research is as extensive as it is revealing. Unearthing what you thought you knew and what you learn is not always easy but it is part of the ‘bones’ of a family and it adds substance to Maud’s personal journey. In the end, it is a journey of healing, of reconciliation and of forgiveness.
My thanks to NetGalley, Maud Newton and Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest book review.
Highly Recommended.
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Come on, we all love a juicy story about dysfunctional families--they make us feel so normal! Maud Newton goes raking through her family's past, unearthing some really awful stuff even in the last generation (her father would scratch out the faces of black children in books that shows Black and White kids playing together.) When most people read this, it will be hard to keep the look for horror off their faces between the unabashed white supremacists and the people locked up in county insane asylums for egregious behavior. 

I feel for Maud, trying to reckon with all this. But she swerves way off the track when she starts writing about the practice of ancestor worship and how they can work to support us. She believes that we must atone for the our ancestors' deeds, a daunting thought and seemingly impossible task.

"Ancestor Trouble" is her journey.  It covers a lot, so much that it is too much to take in. But it raises the question about whether we are responsible for our ancestors' acts, and if so, can we ever make it right.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for an ARC.

I wanted to like this more than I did.  There's some interesting threads here about genealogy and where we come from and how our family makes us who we are, but as a whole I kept finding myself distracted.
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I was so excited for this book and recommended it to many students based on the premise. I started it but then put it down and have to say, I have not been compelled to return to it. 
There's nothing explicitly wrong with it - I just didn't feel hooked in by it. It's very well-written but also intellectual and academic (a bit) and at this particular moment, I just don't feel eager to pick it up at night. I want to read this book and hope that in the future I can start over and enjoy it in the way I'd hoped. I do think it has a lot to offer for folks interested in writing family histories or doing archival research into their personal stories.
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Maud Newton's book attempts to measure what we inherit from our ancestors and the ways in which they shape our lives (both as influences and as patterns we reject and try to reshape our lives against).   She starts with her own complex and tumultuous family.   She begins by investigating some of her family's more dramatic stories (Did her grandfather really marry thirteen times? Did her great-grandfather really kill his best friend with a hay hook?) and ranges through a wide variety of subjects connected to the idea of inheritance (a sample: and 23andme and the complicated ethics of genetic family trees, ancestors who enthusiastically owned slaves and helped eject Native Americans from their land, ancient Greek and medieval concepts of conception and inheritance, epigenetics and the possibility of inherited trauma, the current and changing science on likelihood of mental illnesses being inherited).  I appreciated Newton's ability to depict the complexities of these changing ideas, and I always enjoyed the parts of the book where she took us step by step through a research journey.  I was never quite sure where this book was going to head next, and at times I wanted more of a through-line to connect these complicated ideas together.  I did find myself thinking about the implications of her research every time I closed the book.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free earc of this book; my opinions are my own.
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Family relationships are difficult and always have been. A focal point of Ancestor Trouble highlights how our family past shaped us, impacts us in the present, and affects our future if we allow it. There can be a lot of darkness in our ancestors’ lives. “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Ancestor Trouble dives into deeply personal family issues of the author. At the same time, it weaves social issues into the personal. Genealogy lore is explored. As a genealogist, I enjoyed all of the different aspects of Ancestor Trouble.

However: This book is much more than a memoir, and the breadth of topics was somewhat overwhelming. I believe that I was feeling overwhelmed as I received an e-arc of this book, in exchange for a review, from NetGalley. If I would have been holding a physical copy of the book and was reading for pure pleasure, I would probably have relaxed and taken the luxury of cherry picking  chapters to read again. Don’t let my personal foibles stand in the way!

My solution to feeling overwhelmed is that I’m going to purchase the book once it’s released. For anyone who enjoys memoirs, wants to know more about genealogy, and is interested in dynamics of family relationships, this is a book to own. 

The bibliography alone makes it worth it to incorporate this book into your reading. In fact, I’d give the book a 5 star rating simply for the bibliography. Ancestor Trouble is worthy of any genealogist’s library.

**This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**
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