Book review: Author takes a deep dive into a fascinating family tree in ‘Ancestor Trouble’ | Entertainment

By Penny A Parrish The Free Lance–Star

My Mom’s ancestors, way back, were supposedly Dutch pirates. A cousin did some genealogy research that puts relatives in the New Amsterdam area (now New York), but there’s nothing about pillaging on the high seas. That is the only interesting rumor I’ve heard about my family.

Maud Newton, on the other hand, has many stories to tell. She is estranged from her father de ella, an aerospace engineer turned lawyer who she describes as a racist with a vile temper. Her mom de ella is more of a free spirit who pastored a church in their living room and rescued cats. When her parents divorced her, Maud was relieved.

Then there is her grandfather, who supposedly was married 13 times (she finds records of most of these unions). And a great-grandfather who killed a man with a hay hook. And going back even further, a woman in Massachusetts who was accused of being a witch. Photos of many relatives of her help make her descriptions of her more vivid.

“Ancestor Trouble” is more than a search for those who came before, however. Newton shares research and analysis into ancestry.com and 23andMe, detailing how genome information is constantly changing on those sites. She talks to experts about the use of those data banks and DNA to solve crimes or find birth parents. As the technology changes and expandsthe ethics may become even more murky.

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Newton was always a person searching for answers. She is the child of two parents who married only because they thought they would have smart children. Love never entered the picture. So Newton also looks at eugenics, religion, nature vs. nurture and ancestor worship. She not only wants to know who her ancestors were, she wants to know how who they were affects her. Many suffered from mental illness or were alcoholics—will those traits transfer to her down the road?

I found parts of this book rather technical, but overall, I found her journey to discover who she is and where she came from fascinating. Her writing de ella can be vivid, as in this childhood scene about breakfast with her father: “Many mornings, he’d start making cheese toast for my sister and me, and as the heat clicked on, we’d hear the roaches scrabbling . He’d remove the bread and cheese, douse the toaster oven with Raid, wait a minute or so, and put the toast back in to cook. Sometimes bugs staggered out.”

Thankfully very different from my family tree.

Penny A Parrish is a freelance writer in Stafford County.

Penny A Parrish is a freelance writer in Stafford County.

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